Since 2000, Plants of Concern volunteers and staff have monitored and assessed trends in rare plant populations in the Chicago region. We collaborate with public and nongovernmental conservation agencies, landowners, and volunteer groups. With over 280 species and 1100 populations monitored to date, POC is making significant progress towards four major program goals:
- Collect standardized data on most of northeast Illinois’ known rare plant populations
POC has collected data on 70% of the populations of listed (endangered and threatened) species known in Illinois, as well as on populations of 100 non-listed, regionally rare species.
- Educate people about rare plants and rare plant monitoring
Over 800 volunteers have been trained in POC protocol over the life of the program, and this number grows every year. We retain about 60% of our volunteer community scientists from year to year, and many of these valuable partners report to us that they learn about rare plants and local ecology from their participation in the program.
- Collaborate with public and private landowners
We’ve worked with 130 landowners, including forest preserve districts, departments of natural resources, land trusts, non-profits, and private landowners. We share plant population data collected at these sites with the landowners, creating a mutually beneficial partnership.
- Engage researchers in analysis and use of POC’s long-term datasets
The data collected by POC are a trove of valuable information, and we strive to partner with researchers who can help us learn more from it.
The Race to Save Rare Plants
Plants of Concern (POC) volunteers help monitor the rarest native plants in the Midwest, including wildflowers, grasses, trees, and ferns —species that are in danger of disappearing from the landscape forever. Teams of community scientists visit hundreds of populations each year, counting plants, measuring population sizes, and evaluating threats. Then what?
Where Do POC Data Go?
The data are assessed and then shared with approved partners, including landowners, state agencies, and researchers. (Because rare plant location data are highly sensitive, POC and its partners must approve all data sharing).
Long-term monitoring data for plant populations provide critically needed baseline information to answer questions about why populations are rare and what drives population changes over time. In collaboration with researchers, we continue to delve more deeply into the complex dynamics of rare plant populations. See our Research page for more information about these important partners.
What Do POC Data Tell Us?
Since 2000, more than 280 species have been monitored by POC community scientists, partners, and staff. What do these data tell us? Find out more about the background and ecology of select rare species and how POC volunteers have helped them.
This video, produced by the Chicago Botanic Garden, showcases native Illinois orchids and Plants of Concern's role in monitoring them.
Plants of Concern volunteers are an essential part of a team that includes scientists and researchers. The research team includes a wide range of specialists, including a molecular ecologist at the Chicago Botanic Garden and a doctoral candidate who studies rare plant conservation.
Holly Bernardo is a Ph.D. student at Washington University in St. Louis. She studies rare plant conservation from multiple angles. In her collaboration with Plants of Concern, she is conducting viability analyses on a range of rare plants in Illinois. She has three goals for this project:
- To compare the viability of state protected (endangered and threatened) versus nonprotected rare species;
- To determine what characteristics of a rare species make it more or less likely to receive protection status (e.g. restricted geographic range, habitat specific);
- To determine if the characteristics that make a rare species more likely to receive protection status accurately predict the species most in need of protection status (i.e. those with the greatest risk of extinction).
This work will result in detailed population viability assessments of many rare Illinois plants that can be used to further the conservation efforts of those species and their habitats.
Jeremie Fant, Ph.D.
Jeremie Fant is a molecular ecologist at the Chicago Botanic Garden who is interested in the genetic diversity of rare species. Even though we tend to think of them as a collective group, every rare species has very different reasons for its rarity. So although Dr. Fant’s work focuses on genetic data, he believes that field data is an invaluable component of all his studies, helping to ensure that the biology and ecology of the species inform the outcomes of the genetic analysis. He has worked with Plants of Concern on a number of species including Cirsium hillii, Asclepias lanugunosa, Castilleja sessiliflora, and Ammophila breviligulata. Visit his research webpage.
The following is a list of his publications that includes Plants of Concern data:
Kim, E.S., D.N. Zaya, J.B. Fant and M.V. Ashley (2015) Genetic factors accelerate demographic decline in rare Asclepias species. Conservation Genetics 16(2) pp. 359-369.
Fant, J.B., R.M.Holmstrom, E. Sirkin, J.R. Etterson, and S. Masi (2008) Genetic structure of threatened native populations and propagules used for restoration, in a clonal species, Ammophila breviligulata (American beachgrass). Restoration Ecology 16 (4) pp. 594-603.
Fant, J.B., Susanne Masi, J.M. Keller, and R. Mann (2007) Investigating the reproductive health of Hill’s thistle (Cirsium hillii) populations in the Chicago region. Chicago Wilderness Journal 5(1).
Dan Fink has been a Plants of Concern monitor since 2010. He has a master’s degree in geography and environmental studies from Northeastern Illinois University. Bogs and their associated plant communities, particularly carnivorous plants, fascinate him. These interests led him to become a monitor for Plants of Concern. Monitoring northern pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) for Plants of Concern influenced his master’s thesis topic selection. In 2012, with the support of POC, he completed his thesis “The Geographic Distribution of Sarracenia purpurea in Illinois and its Associated Species.” His research culminated in a census of all of the known sub-populations of the northern pitcher plant in Illinois and survey of the plant species sharing its habitat. This research now serves as a historic documentation of pitcher plants in Illinois, and also illustrates the importance of protection and management of the few sites where the plants are found.
Rafael Urbina-Casanova is a Ph.D. student in the Plant Biology and Conservation program at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. His research focuses on the influence of genetics on local extinction of small plant populations, and how genetic rescue and habitat restoration could help to improve their conservation status. In collaboration with Plants of Concern he will identify threatened populations that would benefit from future genetic rescue. In this first step his goals are:
- To identify populations where effective demographic trends may be masked by clonal reproduction and/or that may be experiencing low levels of sexual reproduction due to genetic erosion.
- To create a monitoring protocol of reproductive fitness that adjusts for a wide diversity of taxa.
This work will allow further testing of genetic rescue on declining populations, and will broaden the POC protocols to include reproductive fitness and evaluate possible causes of observed declines.
We would also like to acknowledge past sponsors who made the growth of Plants of Concern possible through their generous funding and support:
- Patagonia (2017)
- Illinois Department of Natural Resources (2015)
- Toyota TogetherGreen (2015)
- Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (through the Citizens Advisory Group of Waukegan) (2012-2015)
- Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund, Illinois Department of Natural Resources (2004-2014)
- Garden Club of America (2010-2014)
- National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (2012)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2012)
- Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation (2010-2011)
- Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network (2009)
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (through Chicago Wilderness) (2001-2009)
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, POC in Wisconsin (2008)
- Conservation 2000, Illinois Department of Agriculture (2006 - 2007)
- CorLands (2004)