This space is often used to educate readers about invasive plant species, but this time we’re going in the polar opposite direction with species so rare that they are endangered or threatened.
An endangered species is one that is on the brink of extinction. Threatened species are those likely to be at the brink in the near future. Wisconsin has a Natural Heritage Working List which includes the endangered and threatened species along with 192 others of “special concern.” The federal government has its own list of endangered species and there is some overlap with Wisconsin’s list. All the lists include animals, fish, reptiles, mollusks, lichens, and insects along with plants, but we are going to focus on plants here.
Wisconsin has 2,366 native plant species. Native plants are those that were growing here prior to European settlement. Of those native plant species, 344, or 14.5%, are either endangered, threatened or of special concern today.
You might wonder how these plants came to be in danger. Habitat loss from development for farming, industrial parks, parking lots, cities and subdivisions; erosion resulting from the aforementioned development; dams, stream and river re-routing or draining; crowding out by invasive plants; climate change; and over-harvesting can all be factors. Some of the plants on the lists might not be affected by any of the above, but might be just at the edge of their natural range in Wisconsin, making them rare here.
What should you do if you find a plant that is endangered, threatened or of special concern on your property? First, count yourself lucky! Not many people are fortunate enough to lay eyes on the listed plants.
All plants growing on your property belong to you and you can do whatever you wish with them except you cannot process or sell them if they are listed as endangered or threatened. If a plant is also federally listed, you cannot sell it or transport it across state lines. However, if you discover an endangered or threatened plant on public land you cannot remove or transport it at all.
I know that Badger Sportsman readers are for the most part concerned about preserving our natural heritage and will do everything they can to protect it. Reporting a rare plant to the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Conservation Program is the first step. From them, you will learn from biologists what makes your property special enough to support such a rare species. There may be tax advantages and cost share programs that will help you conserve the natural environment on your property. And you can take pride in the fact that you are being a good steward of Wisconsin’s plant and animal life.
Don’t worry that if you report a rare plant that your property will be overrun by trespassers or that the DNR will take away your right to do what you want with your property. Your report is confidential and no information is released other than to you. Nothing will go to the media and your report is exempt from open records laws.
The Wisconsin DNR has a Rare Plant Monitoring Program where each year trained volunteers spread out across the state searching for and documenting rare plants. While the program was put on hold during 2020 due to COVID-19, the annual report from 2019 can be found here: http://wiatri.net/inventory/rareplants/volunteer/newsletters/2020newsletter.pdf. This annual report is way more interesting than annual reports generally go – lots of photos and no dry language. The most exciting event reported in 2019 is the discovery of a rare plant called English sundew, an insect-eating plant, in Ashland County. This plant hasn’t been seen in Wisconsin for 40 years!
Keep your eyes open and maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones who discovers a rare plant.
Wisconsin’s Endangered and Threatened Species List: https://p.widencdn.net/byxof6/ER001
Wisconsin Natural Heritage Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species List: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/NHI/documents/NHIWorkingList.pdf
Wisconsin’s Rare Plants: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/endangeredresources/plants.asp
Wisconsin Species also on the Federal Endangered Species List: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/lists/pdf/Wisconsinspplist10Jan2018.pdf
REPORT A THREATENED OR ENDANGERED SPECIES
RARE PLANTS BY THE NUMBERS
2,366 total native plants
344, or 14.5% are rare
72 listed as endangered
58 listed as threatened
192 listed as “special concern” meaning they are suspected to be in decline
6 federally listed plants in Wisconsin
• Northern monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense)
• Dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris)
• Eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea)
• Dune thistle (Cirsium pitcheri)
• Prairie bush clover (Lespedeza leptostachya)
• Fassett’s locoweed (Oxytropis campestris var. chartacea)
163 with a very high potential for extirpation from the state
2 plants are endemic to Wisconsin, meaning they’re found nowhere else in the world:
Fassett’s locoweed and cliff cudweed.