Plant unseen in 40 years found in Wisconsin

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ASHLAND COUNTY, Wis. (WFRV) – A rare carnivorous plant and 59 never-before-seen populations of other rare plants were located by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Rare Plant Monitoring Program, according to the DNR.

The DNR says Wisconsin has 2,366 native plant species and 344, or 14.5 percent, are considered rare. Those are listed as endangered, threatened, or special concern.

In 2019, 60 trained volunteers were dispatched to locations across Wisconsin. They submitted over 250 reports of rare plants they found, including 59 populations in areas of the state where they had never been documented before.

“This is the most productive year we’ve ever had from the standpoint of volunteers finding rare plants in new locations,” said Kevin Doyle, a DNR Natural Heritage Conservation botanist who coordinates the program. “These new discoveries are very exciting. They help increase our understanding of the number and locations of rare plant species so we can better monitor and protect them.”

Since 2013, the Rare Plant Monitoring Program coordinated by DNR’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program has trained and sent volunteers to check on the health and size of rare native plant populations. The DNR says the volunteer program is the largest source of rare plant data in Wisconsin and unique in the Midwest for its breadth of surveys statewide.

“The information these trained volunteers collect for us is critical for understanding how rare plant populations are doing in Wisconsin and informs our next steps like research projects or management action to sustain these rare plants,” Doyle said.

Some rare plant populations observed by volunteers last year included English sundew (Drosera anglica), an insect-eating plant seen for the first time in 40 years in Ashland County.

Volunteer surveys in the last year have also given the DNR a better understanding for how prairie turnip (Pediomelum esculentum), a rare legume confined to high-quality prairies, is doing in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, populations have dwindled as its habitat is neglected and degraded and the species is now regarded as imperiled.

The DNR says volunteers were unable to find 63 previously documented plant populations. Some have likely disappeared only temporarily as many lakes report their highest water levels in decades and have submerged vegetation. Officials say others have likely disappeared as part of a global trend in biodiversity loss.

“These efforts to address biodiversity declines can occur only because our team of rare plant monitors collect the information that tells us where to direct our efforts,” Doyle said.

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