A tip of my garden hat—and hoe—to the volunteers rolling up their sleeves to rescue native Michigan wildflowers from construction sites in Leelanau County.

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This brigade of wildflower rescuers makes up a volunteer arm of the Leelanau Conservancy, and they have been at it for 24 seasons, digging up, potting and keeping plants healthy for a big Memorial Day weekend wildflower sale.

Before bulldozers arrive at construction sites, they’ll meet three days a week for two-hour-plus digs to harvest native flowers like trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit, ferns and other native plants that won’t survive the excavators. (Most of these plants need dappled sunlight, which is gone once the woods have been clear-cut for driveways, new home sites or home additions.)

Digging up trillium

Photo by Emily Tyra

Leelanau Conservancy volunteer manager Lindy Kellogg shares that this is a “condensed, intense rescue. There are about five weeks when the spring flowers come up that we know where they are to dig them.”

She adds that they are constantly on the lookout for landowners who are going to be doing work on their property, to “let us come in and save those flowers,” she says. With an uptick of “property changing hands and new construction in the area, those folks might be able to learn a little about the conservancy and, in a roundabout way, help us out.” (To sweeten the deal: they also get a tax credit and can keep some of the saved flowers to plant elsewhere on their property.)

Tens of thousands of native plants and wildflowers have been saved over the past two decades.

Trillium in a bucket

Photo by Emily Tyra

Digging up trillium in a yard

Photo by Emily Tyra

Those on the Leelanau Peninsula who would like to save plants on their own property or anyone who’d like to help as a volunteer can head here. And if you are curious about planting your backyard with spring ephemera, know that wildflowers have built-in brawn in addition to their beauty. They are essential to Northern Michigan’s forest ecosystems, evolving along with birds, insects and animals, which have a symbiotic relationship with the plants. Fun fact: “Trillium are actually spread by ants,” shares Joanie Woods, a founding member of the wildflower rescue crew.

I’ll look for you among the sea of potted wildflowers on the Leland Village Green Friday and Saturday of Memorial Weekend, starting at 9 a.m. each day. Word on the street is to get there early—on Friday if possible—to shop for more than 1,000 plants representing 30 to 50 species: violets, trillium, columbine, bellwort, ferns, jack-in-the-pulpit …

Trillium in pots

Photo by Emily Tyra

Photo(s) by Emily Tyra