Former mine site now home to millions of orchids

May 12, 2016

From outdoor concert venues, to golf courses, to underground BMX race tracks, former mine sites have been reclaimed for many uses. National Geographic published an article on another reclaimed mine site, this one is now covered by millions of flowers.

The Benson Mine in in Star Lake, NY, just 96.5 km (60 miles) south of the Canadian border was once the world’s largest iron ore mine. At its peak, in the 1940s, it supplied iron ore for the war efforts and later was a primary source for the automotive industry. It was closed in the 1970s and is now home to millions of flowers.

The colorful flowers are growing atop a wetland that formed at the base of a pile of tailings—crushed rock left over when iron ore is extracted from its surroundings. As part of her research, graduate student Grete Bader tallied up the plants within 20 predefined plots, and her work suggests wildflowers now cover the hundred-acre wetland.

That includes staggering amounts of native terrestrial orchids, such as the rose pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) and the grass pink (Calopogon tuberosus). The site also boasts the state’s largest collection of threatened pink shinleaf (Pyrola asarifolia), National Geographic reports.

“A million individuals of any given species is ridiculous,” says Bader, who studies conservation biology at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). “But I was seeing hundreds of individuals in each dense patch, and when you extrapolate that up, it’s believable.”

To see the entire story, and photos from the site now and as it was, visit the National Geographic site.


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