Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Autumn Rarity

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?

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At 11:13, Blogger robin andrea said...

That's a very cool find, doug. What makes it rare? Has it been crowded out by non-natives? Is it rare for the location? Has some newly introduced insect decided to feast on it? I'm curious.

At 12:46, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Robin- Great questions all around. In part it's rare because upland prairies in Illinois have become very rare. So habitat destruction, mostly through conversion to agriculture, has played a big role. Crowding out by non-native weeds has contributed to habitat destruction in many places, and may well have played a role here. A new, invasive insect pest is unlikely.

At 16:22, Anonymous rcwbiologist said...

Do you have this species at bluff spring fen? If not, is there the correct habitat type there to plant it?

At 16:59, Blogger Doug Taron said...

RCW - We do not have the species at the fen. There is appropraite habitat, and it is habitat that we add species to. In general, our wetland communities are intact to the poin that we do not bring seed from off site to add to them. Our uplands and woodlands are another story.

At 22:15, Blogger Ur-spo said...

i forget the % of actual prairie remains; and is it growing or shrinking?

At 09:38, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Spo- the actual percentage of prairie remeining in Illinois is 0.07% The rest of your question is not so easy to answer. I'll try to do a post on it sometime this week.

At 07:13, Blogger BentonQuest said...

Such a cool find!


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