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PLANTS OF CONCERN: Monitoring Rare Plants in the Diverse Ecosystems of the Chicago Region
by Rachel Goad, Chicago Botanic Garden
September 20, 2014




The Chicago region, despite being highly urbanized, contains a diversity of plant communities that host many rare, threatened and endangered plant species. Plants of Concern (POC) has engaged citizen scientists to monitor rare flora in the Chicago region for 14 years. .

Plant communities POC works in include Lake Michigan ravines, dunelands, gravel hill prairies, dolomite prairies and grasslands.

Since its origins in 2000, POC has worked with over 700 volunteers and partnered with seven northeastern Illinois Forest Preserve Districts, The Nature Conservancy, the Chicago Park District, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Funding for POC has been provided by many collaborators, including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Garden Club of America and Openlands.

In Cook County, POC monitors 125 rare, 41 threatened and 93 endangered plant species. POC has even monitored species at Wolf Road Prairie.


Photo by Val Spale

Over 1,000 populations of more than 230 plant species are monitored at over 300 sites in Northeast Illinois, Southeast Wisconsin and Northwest Indiana. Collected rare plant population data is shared with partners to assist with ecosystem management and decisions.

Rachel trains volunteer citizen scientists and coordinates volunteers and staff from partner agencies in the Chicago Wilderness region to manage collected data for analysis.

The role of POC, staff, citizen scientists, volunteers, stewards and landowners involves:

1. Outreach training support
2. Help with monitoring tasks
3. Compiling information obtained by conservation advocates
4. Documenting regional rare plants and diversity
5. Plant research
6. Standardizing data collection protocol
7. Developing regional plant database
8. Visiting populations monitored and recording reproductive percentage
9. Tagging species such as Hills Thistle and White Lady Slipper Orchid
10. Monitoring presence of invasive species, conducting vegetation sampling and mapping monitored areas
11. Managing data database
12. Working with spatial data
13. Preparing data for analysis

Habitats Monitored

Lake Michigan ravines, including bluffs and lakefront ravines. Ravines represent a unique microclimate and provide habitat for rare plants more commonly known growing further north. Ravines were formed as glacial meltwater cut through the area to create glacial moraines.


Hutchin's Ravine

Dolomite Prairies. Only a few inches of soil covers the surface of dolomite prairies scoured to bedrock during the Kankakee torrent. Also included are gravel hill prairies, glacial outwash deposits and islands of gravel.


Dolomite prairie

Fens and Sedge Meadows. White lady slipper orchids require fens or sedge meadows and related companion grassland plants as habitat.


Rachel Goad with White lady slipper Orchids, photo by Robin Carlson, Chicago Botanic Garden

Beaches and Dunes - Illinois Beach State Park. Rare beach plants, dune stabilizing plants and grasses, lake plain prairie ecosystems.

Other monitored ecosystems include:

Mesic Prairie, Sand savanna, woodlands, 19,000 acres of grassland at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

POC is also interested in learning how bloom times of rare species and native plant communities respond to changing weather patterns and impacts of rainfall events.

To become a POC citizen volunteer or learn more about the POC project go to: http//www.chicagobotanic.org/research/staff/goad rgoad@chicagobotanic.org .

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