Gallery: Protecting Rare Plants at Negwegon State Park

Negwegon State Park encompasses 4,100 acres of wetland forests and Lake Huron coastline in northern Alcona County. It is home to globally rare dune ecosystems and a small population of the federally threatened Pitcher’s thistle, a unique plant found in this corner of the Great Lakes and nowhere else on Earth.

Circium pitcheri grows on sunbaked sand dunes in the transitional space between water and woodlands. It forms a rosette of spindly, olive-green stems and lives for up to seven years, weathering seasons of wind, waves and plowing ice sheets before it flowers in its final year. Birds and pollinating insects feed from its pale pink blossoms. After flowering it dies, leaving behind seeds to—hopefully—sow the next generation of Pitcher’s thistle on the open sand.

A single Pitcher’s thistle plant

As relentless as Lake Huron can be, it’s the effects of invasive species—particularly spotted knapweed—which deliver the heaviest blows to populations of Pitcher’s thistle and other native plants at Negwegon. But Huron Pines and our partners are punching back.

On Aug 11, Huron Pines stewardship staff and ten volunteers, including those with Friends of Negwegon State Park, spent the morning hand-pulling spotted knapweed plants from the dune shoreline of Lake Huron.

Removing these invasive plants doesn’t just clear space where native ones can get a footing. In a sinister twist, spotted knapweed emits a chemical from its roots which keeps other plants from growing nearby. Pulling knapweed out by its roots cuts off this contamination, and bagging and hauling the plants away for disposal ensures their seeds aren’t left behind. This August workday netted 200 pounds of knapweed.

“We’re seeing larger populations of Pitcher’s thistle in areas where there used to be individual plants,” said Logan Hawley, Coastal Stewardship Team Lead for Huron Pines. “We’re finding new, young populations, which means seed germination is more successful and is a good sign our work is having the desired effect.”

Similarly, students of Alcona Community Schools have contributed to this effort to protect Pitcher’s thistle by pulling invasive plants under the guidance of MSU Extension and Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI).

Friends of Negwegon State Park recruits volunteers and organizes work days for this and other park improvement projects. Learn more about their organization here.

This project is in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Stewardship Division and is supported in part by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Sustain Our Great Lakes program.

Here’s a gallery of scenes from the Aug 11 workday.

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