New populations of rare plants discovered during DNR survey

    Courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources page on parks and recreation.
    Courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources page on parks and recreation.

    Volunteers working with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have discovered new populations of some of the Badger State’s rarest plants, including orchids and milkweeds, through the department’s Rare Plant Monitoring Program.

    A new population of calypso orchid, which is a state threatened plant, was found in a white cedar swamp near Crandon. Fewer than five calypso populations remain in Wisconsin, and the plants have eluded dozens of surveys in recent years. The most recent survey also noted the return of eastern prairie white fringed orchid to areas where it hadn’t been seen in six years. New populations of the state endangered purple milkweed were located in Kenosha County, and two other sites in western Wisconsin, according to a DNR press release.

    Over 14% of Wisconsin’s 2,366 native plant species are considered rare. That means they’re listed as endangered, threatened or special concern. Last year, the DNR dispatched 59 volunteers to areas statewide, and received 265 rare plant reports for their trouble. That included some 58 populations which were discovered in areas where they hadn’t yet been documented.

    “Our volunteers provide a huge amount of data that allows us to keep tabs on more rare plant populations than we would otherwise be able to,” said Kevin Doyle, DNR’s rare plant monitoring program coordinator. “Without their information we wouldn’t have as good an idea of what sites are becoming degraded or what populations are languishing, and where we need to take management action to help protect those plants.”

    The DNR has had trained volunteers for the program since 2013. With the program in place, volunteers provide the department with its largest source of rare plant data in Wisconsin. Check out the required training for the 2021 year here if you’re interested in becoming a rare plant monitoring volunteer. An annual report on the monitoring program is also made available through the DNR.

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.