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U.S. Forest Service

Midewin and its Plants of Concern Citizen Scientists

Volunteers Don Nelson and Gail Pyndus with Midewin seasonal worker, Steve, in the <em>Rudbeckia</em> burn  plot. Volunteers Don Nelson and Gail Pyndus with Midewin seasonal worker, Steve Bissett, in the Perdue orange coneflower burn plot, counting stems and collecting data. Photo by Emily Kapler.

Volunteers Gail Pyndus and Mike Rzepka searching  for and identifying Carex crawei. Volunteers Gail Pyndus and Mike Rzepka searching for and identifying Carex crawei on Drummond Prairie. Photo by Dani Drekich.

Mike Rzepka and Margaret Kelly counting plants  of a Valeriana edulis var. ciliata subpopulation. Mike Rzepka and Margaret Kelly counting plants of a Valeriana edulis var. ciliata subpopulation at Grant Creek Prairie. Photo by Dani Drekich.

Cattle in Rudbeckia survey area. Just one of the interesting challenges that we encounter while monitoring. Photo by Emily Hudson Richter.

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.”

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Plants of Concern Photos

Carex  crawei. Crawe sedge (Carex crawei). Photo by William Glass.

Cirsium  hillii. Hill’s thistle (Cirsium hillii). Photo by William Glass.

Cypripedium candidum. White lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium candidum). Photo by William Glass.

Dalea  foliosa. Leafy prairie clover (Dalea foliosa). Photo by William Glass.

Gratiola  quartermaniae. Limestone hedge-hyssop (Gratiola quartermaniae). Photo by William Glass.

Gratiola neglecta. Clammy hedgehyssop (Gratiola neglecta). Photo by Emily Kapler.

Isoetes butleri. Glade quillwort (Isoetes butleri). Photo by William Glass.

Malvastrum hispidum. Hispid false mallow (Malvastrum hispidum). Photo by Emily Kapler.

Minuartia patula. Pitcher's stitchwort (Minuartia patula). Photo by Dani Drekich.

Napaea dioica. Glademallow (Napaea dioica). Photo by Mo Fayyaz.

Rudbeckia fulgida. Orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. speciosa). Photo by Emily Kapler.

Trifolium  reflexum. Buffalo clover (Trifolium reflexum). Photo by William Glass.

Agalinis  auriculata. Earleaf foxglove (Tomanthera auriculata). Photo by William Glass.

Valeriana edulis var. ciliata. Tobacco root (Valeriana edulis var. ciliata). Photo by Emily Kapler.