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  Group Monitors Rare Plants in Will County Preserve
  Posted: 7/28/2016
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Tracy Chapman

Staff and volunteers from a group called Plants of Concern explored a Will County forest preserve this summer in an effort to track down two rare species.

The Plants of Concern (POC) group arrived on June 8 coated in bug repellent, toting water and wearing long sleeves, long pants and floppy hats for their expedition in the preserve, which is not being named because the plants are so rare. The group worked with Forest Preserve District of Will County staff to locate and count shore St. John’s wort (Hypericum adpressum), a state endangered species; and tubercled orchid (Platanthera flava herbiola), a state-threatened species.

Shore St. John’s wort – a plant that has been discovered in only three Illinois counties – features a yellow flower with five petals and 13 or more stamens. The delicate tubercled orchid is only 1-2.25 inches tall, but it has a spike of whitish- or yellowish-green flowers that can grow up to 10 inches tall.

POC members marked each plant cluster with a brightly colored flags. Later, the flags were used to estimate how many plants were located in various preserve plots. The June foray was all part of ongoing work to assess the health of rare species.

POC was created in 2000 by the Chicago Botanic Garden to monitor rare plants in the region, and the group works closely with area partners like the Forest Preserve District of Will County, said Rachel Goad, POC manager. The group trains 100-200 volunteer citizen scientists to monitor hundreds of species across northeast Illinois and northwest Indiana, she added.

“These dedicated people care deeply about natural areas and rare native plants, and some even become conservation advocates, ecological site stewards, or amateur experts (in the best sense of the word amateur) about their species and its habitat,” she said in an email. “The program would not exist without their hard work.”

The District has been working with POC since its formation. With 22,000 acres in the Forest Preserve District, having extra help to track and assess rare plants is invaluable, said Juanita Armstrong-Ullberg, the Forest Preserve’s natural resource land manager and liaison to POC.

“Since 2001 we have monitored 28 species at 15 Forest Preserve sites,” she said. “The data collected in the field provides valuable information about these rare plants, including their habitat, associated species, overall health and management success.”

Working with the POC for the past 16 years has led to many fruitful forays, Armstrong-Ullberg said.

“Together we have learned much more about all of these rare plants, not only in Will County, but also statewide, since there are many other local organizations that also participate in the Plants of Concern program,” she said. “The program provides valuable information, and the District is proud to be a part of such an amazing program and partnership.”

For more information on Plants of Concern, visit www.plantsofconcern.org.

St. John's wort photo by Lonny Cain
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