My Trip to the Woodshed
I’ve been the co-steward at Bluff Spring Fen since the mid 1908s. In that time, I have only run afoul of the agencies that oversee activities at the site once. The incident involves this plant species, the downy yellow painted cup (Castilleja sessiliflora).
DYPC grows on morainic hills, much like the kames that we have at the Fen. There are a series of really fine examples of these hill prairies out near Rockford, Illinois. DYPC is a rare plant in Illinois. In fact, the plant is formally listed as endangered in Illinois. One of the Rockford prairies where it grows, Rogers Prairie, is a beautiful example that remained unprotected well into the 1990s. In addition to a fine, diverse plant community, Rogers Prairie is home to a remarkable array of rare prairie insects. This rarity is not limited to prairie butterflies- Rogers is home to rare moths, leafhoppers, spittlebugs, and grasshoppers. As a result, a number of prairie entomologists were out doing inventories and surveys prior to protection of the site.
One day in about 1995, a friend and I were getting together. She was distraught. Somebody had bulldozed a single rut, one blade wide, up the side of the hill prairie. Naturally many folks were concerned. Fortunately this would be the extent of the damage that was incurred. My friend was lamenting the rich plant community that was damaged, and mentioned that there was even DYPC there. The plant was setting seed while she was there, so she gathered some from the dirt thrown up by the bulldozer. Having collected the seed (which she just happened to have with her), she now had no place to put it. My friend knew full well that I was on the management team of a site that had perfect habitat for this species.
I was in a quandary. We did not have permission to bring this species onto the site. Worse yet, it was a listed species, so the regulations are stricter. I decided that it was unlikely that anything would come of the seed. Rather than throwing it away, I took it off her hands and scattered it on one of our hill prairies, expecting that to be the end of the story.
Two years later, the first blooming DYPC showed up at the Fen, right where I had scattered the seed. It was healthy, vigorous, and located in a very prominent spot where everyone saw it. At that point, I really had to let people know that this was the result of a deliberate species introduction rather than a spontaneous emergence from the seed bank. My trip to the woodshed was quite mild (I was told to keep good records of this sort of thing, and not to do it again without permission). Fortunately for me, when it came time for me to request official permission to bring another endangered species, the swamp metalmark butterfly, onto the preserve, I received it with no hesitation. So apparently my transgression was not held against me. Today, we continue to have a population of DYPC at the Fen. It’s in bloom this week