Rough White Lettuce (Prenanthes aspera)
I recently got a call from a colleague at another local museum. He's trying to learn about prairie, and seeking to protect a small parcel near where he grew up. The parcel turns out to be one that I already know fairly well, and since it's just a few miles from Bluff Spring Fen, I agreed to meet him out there a couple of weeks ago. While there, we (mostly he) found a really rare plant that I'd never seen before. The wild lettuces in the genus Prenanthes are mostly woodland plants. There's a wetland plant called smooth white lettuce (P. racemosa), and a really rare plant of dry prairies called rough lettuce (P. aspera). There are just a handful of small colonies in the Chicago metropolitan area, including this one. We found a total of 5 plants in this population.
P. aspera is reputed to be relatively easy to cultivate. If someone is able to cultivate some plants in a seed garden, they should be able to provide it to some of the other prairie restoration projects that have appropriate habitat, and it may be possible to significantly increase the number of places where it grows. It's one of the really rewarding things about restoration- the opportunity to help really rare species hang on.
Did I mention that there was ripe seed and that we collected just enough to grow some out in a seed garden?