Midewin and its Plants of Concern Citizen Scientists
Making a Difference for Rare Plants
Every year, the crisp wind, falling leaves, and dropping temperatures mark the transition from summer to fall. The prairie’s transition from vibrant hues and lush greens into subtle tones of tan and brown also marks the end of yet another monitoring season for Plants of Concern at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. For the past nine years, volunteer citizen scientists have been monitoring rare plants at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, and adjacent Grant Creek Prairie and Blodgett Road Dolomite Prairie. In 2009, eight species were monitored in 37 locations, ranging from the inconspicuous limestone quillwort (Isoetes butleri) to the elegant white lady’s slipper (Cypripedium candidum). Thanks to the help and dedication of 14 volunteer citizen scientists, over 250 hours were logged monitoring these rare plant species.
Plants of Concern (POC) coordinated through the Chicago Botanic Garden, studies the trends in rare plant populations in the Chicago-land region, including Midewin. POC citizen scientists collect data on these rare species such as plant location, population size, reproductive output, and threats. All data is tracked from year to year in order to evaluate trends in the population and assist staff in determining appropriate management actions.
Certain species require more in-depth information such as plant height, fruit counts or herbivory information. One such plant is eared false foxglove (Tomanthera auriculata), one of the species POC monitors twice at the end of summer. On the first visit, monitors tagged 200 individuals of this colorful plant with delicate purple flowers that bloom in morning and fall to the ground once the afternoon sun crosses their petals. Then, during the last week of September, monitors hiked through the prairie in search of the plants once again. Armed with measuring tapes and data sheets, volunteers counted fruits and recorded herbivory data on the plant whose leaves had turned a rich burgundy. This last trip to monitor eared false foxglove marked the final trip to Midewin for the 2009 field season.
Altogether, volunteers came out on 14 days to monitor various rare plant species this year, a project during which they demonstrated their dedication and passion to these rare gems of the prairie. They waded through mud and standing water to get to sites, crawled through cattails, searched in seas of grasses and forbs for metal tags and counted thousands of plants. Rain or shine, they were eager and ready to meet their appointed botanizing rounds. Midewin’s Plants of Concern volunteer citizen scientists are dedicated and most of all “make a difference.”