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Chicago Is Home To More Super-Rare Plants Than You Might Think

By Justin Breen | September 19, 2016 5:21am | Updated on September 20, 2016 11:50am
 Despite the destruction of most of its prairie and woodlands, Chicago's city limits are still home to numerous threatened and endangered Illinois plants.
Chicago's endangered plants
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CHICAGO — Some of the state's rarest plants can be found in Chicago.

Despite the destruction of most of its prairie and woodlands, Chicago's city limits are still the home of several endangered and threatened Illinois plants.

Endangered means the plant is seriously at risk of extinction; threatened means it's vulnerable to endangerment.

Those plants, according to Illinois Native Plant Society president, Christopher Benda, are:

Pitcher's thistle (Cirsium pitcheri)
Shining ladies' tresses orchid (Spiranthes lucida)
Marsh speedwell (Veronica scutellata)
Sea rocket (Cakile eduntula)
Seaside spurge (Chamaesyce polygonifolia)
Blue hearts (Buchnera americana)
Grass pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus)
White lady slipper orchid (Cypripedium candidum)
Kalm's St. John's wort (Hypericum kalmianum)
Dogtooth violet (Viola conspersa)
Prairie sundrops (Oenothera perennis)
Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium montanum)
Starflower (Triendalis borealis)
Downy Solomon's seal (Polygonatum pubescens)
Cousin it sedge (Carex bromoides)

"It might surprise people to learn that there are rare plants that occur within the city of Chicago, but the city is located in a very diverse area," Benda said. "Tiny refuges remain for rare plants in places where the habitat has been protected."

Benda said the plants are small patches of "appropriate habitat" in Cook County forest preserves, and city dunes and Chicago Park District land.

"The plants I listed are highly conservative and will not occur in people's yards. They will only occur in the appropriate habitat, of which very little remains in the City of Chicago," said Benda, a botanist with the Illinois Natural History Survey and a graduate of the University of Illinois.

Exact locations of the plants weren't divulged because of the possibility of poachers finding them.

Chicago was transformed from prairie to farmland, and then into an urban metropolis.

The city is also home to a very small population of cactus on the Far Southeast Side.

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