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Local News

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie works to conserve 'plants of concern'

The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and the Chicago Botanic Garden are pairing up to help monitor "plants of concern" in Illinois.

Volunteer and staff monitors will be keeping track of the isoetes butleri, or limestone quillwort, which is an Illinois state endangered plant, according to a news release. On a recent monitoring day, several sprouts of the elusive limestone quillwort plant were being counted and measured. It resides in one of the rarest prairie community types in the world — the dolomite prairie.

Part of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie's mission is to create a habitat for native Illinois prairie plants. Midewin was established by the Illinois Land Conservation Act in 1996 for four purposes, including protecting native Illinois prairie plants.

There are about 1,000 acres of dolomite prairie at Midewin. At the core of the dolomite prairie is magnesium-rich dolomitic limestone, which is home to specialized plants evolved to utilize poor soils, the release said. Dolomite prairies usually have shallow soils, exposed bedrock and plants that grow less densely and shorter than in other prairie ecoscapes.

"The dolomite prairie is always interesting," said volunteer Gail Pyndrus, who has been involved with the plants of concern project since 2003.

Because fewer deep-rooted prairie plants are able to grow, some rare prairie species, like the prickly pear cactus, are able to thrive. Rare birds and insects can also often be seen on dolomite prairie land. Volunteers keep track of about eight plant species in hot conditions and sometimes in areas with mud and puddles. These conditions are best for monitoring because they coincide with the highest plant growth.

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