Without the need to draw insects for pollination, the pogonia has lost its necessity to be showy and fragrant.
Molly Sperduto, USFWS recovery coordinator for the species, says that the small whorled pogonia grows in the Nanahala National Forest in North Carolina, and she hopes that means it will be found in the nearby Smoky Mountains.
The pogonia has been highly sought after by collectors," said von Oettingen.
Unlike the peregrine falcon, which needs cliffs, or the trout, which needs a certain water temperature, the small whorled pogonia occurs in habitat von Oettingen describes as nondescript.
Another major breakthrough in habitat research came when Molly Sperduto, a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, developed a model, or system, for predicting small whorled pogonia habitat in New Hampshire and Maine.
In theory, the map showed locations where researchers could expect to find the small whorled pogonia.
To their delight, a trial survey in New Hampshire and Maine turned up 10 previously undiscovered populations of small whorled pogonia.
The predictive model has tremendous implications for identifying and protecting endangered species habitat, and in the case of the small whorled pogonia, the discovery of several new sites is one reason for a proposal to change the status for the plant from "endangered" to "threatened.
A group of landowners and town officials in New Hampshire worked hard to protect about 300 acres of land where the world's largest population of the small whorled pogonia lives.
And now, as biologists find more populations and help to protect more acres of habitat, the small whorled pogonia may soon no longer have to struggle for survival.
The small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides) occurs sparsely in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Ontario, Canada.