By Cait Williamson, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin

Dr. James P. Bennett, a retired research botanist with the United States Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Botany, has spent his life studying and protecting rare plants. His research has focused on the impact of air pollution on plants, specifically on lichens and State Natural Areas in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin is losing plant species as part of the global biodiversity crisis,” said Bennett, who also serves on the Foundation’s board. “Funding for inventorying, monitoring, preserving and restoring rare species in our state is dwindling, so I decided to establish the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund to meet these needs.”

Jim Bennett collects samples at Warner Park (photo courtesy of Jim Bennett)

Today, the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund through the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin provides a perpetual source of support for the restoration, monitoring, inventorying, and preservation of rare plant species in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is home to more than 3,200 taxa (species, subspecies, varieties and hybrids) of plants, including 336 rare or endangered species. Many of Wisconsin’s rarest and most vulnerable plants are threatened by habitat loss, competition from invasive species, and a changing climate. Funding is vital to helping the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other partners in the preservation of our state’s plant diversity.

Woolly milkweed (Photo by Dave Seils)

Wooly milkweed (Photo by Dave Seils)

According to Kevin Doyle, a botanist with the DNR, limited resources for rare plant research and preservation means that managers and field crews need to prioritize efforts to fight off invasive species and habitat loss. The Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund has funded several of Doyle’s projects to study and protect rare plants.

“The reality is that there aren’t many funding opportunities to work on rare plants,” Doyle said. “The Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund is one of the few. Plants make up a huge part of our natural heritage, but are often overlooked – in part, I assume, because they don’t have eyes or ears or fur. But rare plants are used in medicine and food, they supply the air we breathe, and they can even tell us about the health of the place we live.”

Wooly milkweed (Photo by Kevin Doyle)

The Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund has funded a number of recent projects, including:

Developing resources for rare lichen conservation on the DNR’s website. These resources will provide natural resources professionals and the public with important information on rare plants, and are effective tools for on-the-ground conservation.

Surveys of wooly milkweed (Asclepias lanuginosa) as a joint effort between the Botanical Club of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Data have revealed that very few populations in Wisconsin are successfully producing fruit.

Data collection and conservation of the federally threatened Dune Thistle (Cirsium pitchen) found in Door County and across the Great Lakes sand dunes, a habitat threatened by development, as well as the invasive seed-predating weevil that dramatically reduces seed viability.

Updating the rare plant profile pages on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation website. The updates included technical descriptions of important plant characteristics, guidance comments for short- and long-term management of individual plants, photos of plant species, and natural community and ecological landscape scores, which show the relationship of a given species to its surrounding habitat.

“Supporting the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund ensures there is a place for the important, plant-specific work here in Wisconsin,” Doyle said. “The more people who contribute to the fund, the larger the projects we can take on, and the more impact we can have on ensuring the permanent protection of Wisconsin’s native plant species.”

You can help protect Wisconsin’s plants by making a dedicated contribution to the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation fund today. To make a donation, visit and click ‘Donate,’ or call us at (866) 264-4096.