Wildflower Rescue Works to Protect Leelanau’s Ecosystems

For decades, the Leelanau Conservancy Wildflower Rescue Committee has been working to save countless native plants from development. Learn how this group is responsible for protecting Leelanau’s ecosystems.

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Leelanau Conservancy’s Wildflower Rescue Committee (WRC) began in the fall of 1999 when friends Patty Shea and Joanie Woods decided to join forces to save native plants from destruction.

Patty had previously been involved in a similar group downstate. As she and Joanie watched the construction boom grow in Leelanau, they felt compelled to save wild-flowers like trillium and Jack-in-the-pulpit that were being demolished at building sites.

More than two decades later, their group of dedicated volunteers continues to dig up wildflowers at construction sites each spring, saving countless precious plants from being plowed under. They also take pride in educating the public about the crucial role native plants play in Leelanau’s ecosystems.

Native wildflowers are more than just a welcome sight each May—they’ve evolved over centuries along with animals and insects that share a symbiotic relationship with the local flora. In order to promote healthy ecosystems, WRC sells the salvaged plants each year over Memorial Day weekend at the Leland Village Green, giving new life to the wildflowers and donating the proceeds to Leelanau Conservancy projects. Any leftover flowers are planted in the conservancy’s natural areas.

Many of the rescued plants have also been donated to public gardens, such as Old Settlers Park in Glen Arbor, Leelanau Children’s Center, The Old Art Building in Leland, Munson Hospice House in Traverse City and the Leland Village Green.

WRC volunteers save primarily woodland and shade plants that are found in hardwood forests. They go into a site before a road is constructed, a driveway is built, a building site is dug, etc., and they remove the flora. Any plants protected by Michigan law are legally dug with the permission of the property owner—volunteers do not dig rare or endangered plants, and all specimens are inspected for disease by the state’s agriculture department.

Volunteers often dig in the spring and fall—the best times for plant survival. While schedules can vary, the group usually digs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the morning for about an hour. WRC members always go as a group and only after receiving a signed agreement with the property owner, which releases the owner from any liability. They’ve worked with private individuals, the Leelanau County Road Commission, local excavators and builders, developer Jack Armstrong, The Leelanau Club at Bahle Farms and Cedar Valley Ridge.

Last year brought new challenges with the pandemic—digs were canceled, along with the annual plant sale. At the time of publication, conservancy staff said they intend to resume digs and the plant sale in 2021, but were still planning the logistics.

For the most up-to-date information on the Wildflower Rescue Committee and their Memorial Day flower sale, visit their webpage.

If you’re interested in volunteering, call 231.256.9665 or email Lindy Kellogg, the events and volunteer manager, at [email protected]

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