I’ll talk more about this project for a while as it unfolds, but basically at my job at the Field Museum, we have an herbarium with approximately 3 million plant specimens collected from around the world, over a long period of time.
This is leafy prairie clover (Dalea foliosa), a federally endangered plant that lives in four different states, usually in gravelly dolomite prairies. This particular specimen was found on Langham Island (home of the Kankakee mallow) and hasn’t been seen there in over a century. It was probably collected to death by this botanist, in fact. We have three of the five plants he found there in 1872-73.
Myself and some of the other Friends of Langham Island noticed our collection here still has seeds attached, so utilizing THE POWER OF SCIENCE we are going to try and germinate some of these seeds for eventual reintroduction to Langham. Essentially we are de-extincting a genetic line that was prematurely snuffed out due to over-enthusiastic botanizing. We plan on getting the proper permits and using all available information to make this reintroduction a success, including the reestablishment of its known associate species, most of which are also extirpated. If modern human disturbance and destruction result in extinction of a line or whole species, don’t we have a responsibility to try and reverse some of that if we can?
I love the idea that we have so many plants we know have come from populations that are no longer there and we can use this information (or even the seeds of the original plants) to help direct our restoration efforts. Even if these 130 year old seeds don’t germinate, we are still going to do all we can to bring back D. foliosa to Langham. So it can be the most healthy and biodiverse version of itself we can picture.
It’s so much fun to imagine what is possible by looking at what once was commonplace and is now gone. We CAN get hope from loss!