Have you ever heard of the “Leafy Prairie-Clover”? Its real name is Dalea Foliosa, and it’s actually considered a Federal Endangered plant species. The species is normally only found in three different regions of the United States: central Tennessee, north-central Alabama, and northeastern Illinois.
The Leafy Prairie-Clover is a perennial forb. Remember, a forb is a flowering plant that is not like a grass. Theleafy prairie-clover grows only in open habitats that have thin, chalky types of soils. It likes to grow in places that have a wet spring and fall, and a dry summer.
So why is this plant endangered? Well, some say it is because the lack of management has allowed the remaining habitat to be lost to encroachment of non-native, invasive species. Others say that its due to rock quarrying and over-collecting, while some claim off-road vehicle use and grazing by rabbits and deer are the cause. While all are probably legitimate contributing factors, most agree the main threat to the species is land development and road construction.
So how could we go about saving this species? Well, there’s always the idea of just reverting lands back to their original form to promote the growth of the leafy clover. This is not as simple as it seems, unfortunately. After invasive species encroach and land has been developed, a lot of the biology of the land and soil nutrition content is irreversibly altered. There have been opportunities to restore the prairie lands at several different places in Illinois, but there is still the question of if the clover will even return and be able to grow abundantly enough to restore the species. Challenges of this restoration include the genetic factor: small population sizes have contributed to a reduction in genetic diversity.
Fear not, there are several people working on a solution to this problem. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie has facilities for handling native plants and their seeds as part of its ecological restoration program. The U.S. Forest Service has a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Chicago, and is now replanting the Leafy Prairie-Clover around the east. Alongside of those efforts, seed has been gathered from all seven surviving local populations as well. They are hoping to replant in new locations that are suitable for the clover.
Let's get to growing,
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service