This painted trillium is a Michigan endangered species that can be found in a few pockets of St. Clair County. It is more widespread in the eastern United States.

This painted trillium is a Michigan endangered species that can be found in a few pockets of St. Clair County. It is more widespread in the eastern United States.

Photo provided by Andrew Bacon

Local experts discuss precautions for endangered plant species

By: Sherri Kolade | C&G Newspapers | Published May 2, 2018

 The eastern prairie fringed orchid is a federally threatened and Michigan endangered species.

The eastern prairie fringed orchid is a federally threatened and Michigan endangered species.

Photo provided by Andrew Bacon

METRO DETROIT — When you think about endangered, native plant species and how you could help with conservation efforts, you might not have to look too far. 

Rare or endangered plants could be right outside your door.

Michigan’s endangered and threatened plant species are protected under state law, according to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, an arm of the Michigan State University Extension.

There are hundreds of species that experts in the field want to keep protected.

Brendan Nolan, the owner of the Troy-based Plants for Ecology, said that there are a lot of rules and regulations that go into how one can harvest endangered plants.

“If you go into a protected area and, for instance, see trillium, nobody in Michigan is allowed to harvest that,” he said. “The only way you can get trillium from Michigan is if it is rescued from an area that is going to be developed.”

Trillium is on the list of the state’s endangered plants.

Nolan added that anyone building on a parcel of land has the right to make an agreement with a developer to rescue any endangered species that they might find on the property.

“Contact the (Michigan Department of Natural Resources) and some other environmental organizations … to let them know that you found this (plant), because that helps them map where to find these species,” Nolan said, adding that it also helps with cataloging the species.

Nolan said he believes that people who find an endangered species on their property have a responsibility to protect it.

“I personally think you are obligated to protect them,” Nolan said. “There are simple things, like if you are putting in a path somewhere or something, you can relocate the species.”

He said the Michigan Department of Natural Resources can help instruct people on how to relocate an endangered plant.

“A lot of times you’re going to find situations like that (if) you are landscaping,” he said.

“You can usually treat it as a rescue. You can remove them, sell them or relocate them somewhere entirely different,” Nolan said. 

He said the line is crossed when people take such seeds and plants from nature to make a profit.

“Because what you are doing is taking viable species out of their natural environment,” he said. “If they were left there, protected and undisturbed, there is a good chance they will reproduce and increase population.”

Some of the plants on Michigan’s endangered and threatened list are Skinner’s gerardia, leadplant, heart-leaved arnica, western moonwort, raven’s-foot sedge and false violet.

Nolan said that if you go to a reputable, ethical nursery and they are selling an endangered species, they probably procured that species from an organization that does plant rescues or from an out-of-state organization where the plants are not endangered.

Andrew Bacon, director of the statewide Michigan Nature Association, said that when it comes to caring for Michigan’s prairies, prairie fens and savanna communities, some type of “disturbance regime” is needed, such as controlled burns. Those habitats house many of the rare plants that can be found in Oakland, Wayne, Monroe, Washtenaw, Lenawee and Livingston counties.

“Historically, these communities and plants adapted to having fire pass through their landscape periodically, which would prevent the establishment of too many trees and the production of too much shade,” he said. 

Bacon added that as the region was settled and developed, fire became less common in the landscape, and as a result, more trees and shrubs were able to establish themselves in these historically prairie and savanna landscapes. 

“As a result, these areas have been transitioning into different types of forests, and the wildflowers within them have been becoming lost as they can’t live in the shade,” he said, adding that clearing brush and trees and performing prescribed burns are “some of our most important management tools for the prairies, prairie fens and savannas, which include the eastern prairie fringed orchid and small white lady slipper.”

Bacon said his organization  cares for many of Michigan’s southern forest areas as well, which did not have the historical fire regimes and have a more standard spring wildflower diversity.  

“These areas, as well as most areas in Michigan today, still are threatened by invasive species, which can outcompete flowers for resources and essentially crowd them out. So we spend a fair amount of time managing invasive species too,” Bacon said.

John DeLisle, principal ecologist of the West Bloomfield-based Natural Community Services, said that his organization participates in the biological assessment of endangered species, which can include forest stewardship plans, federally funded ecosystem restoration projects and more.

“A lot of the areas of concern, which are (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) designated, (are) contaminated watershed areas like the Clinton River watershed, the Rouge River watershed, the Detroit River watershed,” DeLisle said. “These projects were prioritized for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding.”

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative advances causes to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world — the Great Lakes, according to its website,

DeLisle said that his organization is involved with some of the EPA’s federally funded ecosystem restoration projects.  

“The one that is most notable that we are working on is the Belle Isle flatwoods,” he said.

The Belle Isle flatwoods, according to, are a 200-acre wet-mesic flatwood, a globally rare forested wetland, located in the eastern area of Belle Isle Park in Detroit. 

DeLisle said that there are two protected plants in that area, as well as several protected amphibians. The area also is home to endangered reptiles and birds.

“We map and delineate habitat locations of endangered plants (and) animals as part of those projects if we are doing restoration,” DeLisle said of the reconfiguration of a strait channel or a drainage ditch. “If it is one of the protected ones, we would take precautions to make sure we are planting seed at the time of year where equipment would not disturb ... the reptiles and amphibians.”

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