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Plant restoration in the Badlands

Submitted Photo Stiff Stem Flax (Linum rigidum) collected in the North Dakota Badlands. Photo by Doug Wurtz.

To loosely translate from Norwegian to English:

fri = free, lufts = air’s, liv = life

The English equivalent= Outdoor Life

I was embarrassed!I was co-leader of a tour group consisting of archaeology and history enthusiasts from twelve states. One of our stops on the tour was the South Unit of the North Dakota Badlands.

While enjoying the flora and fauna of one of my favorite places in the state, I was asked to identify some of the plants we were walking on and by. I was able to confidently answer only about a quarter of the questions.

I was embarrassed.

The new Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is scheduled to open in 2025. The library will be located just west of the Burning Hills Amphitheater near Medora. When construction is complete, the native vegetation that was disturbed will be restored to its original state. To accomplish that, teams of plant scientists (botanists and phytologists) are in the Badlands collecting seeds and plants that will be stored and/or grown in greenhouses to repopulate the prairie.

After we returned from our tour, I noticed a story asking for volunteers to work with the plant scientists in the Badlands to help collect the seeds and plants required for the restoration project.

Still stinging from embarrassment, I quickly signed up and joined plant scientists from Resource Environmental Solutions (RES) on a day of collection in the Badlands. Our objectives that day were three of the plants that would be used for revegetation at the library:

– blue gramma grass (Bouteloua gracilis)

– stiff stem flax (Linum rigidum)

– woolly plantain (Plantago patagonica)

With bird song and Latin names for plants filling the air, I quickly became confident of at least three native Badlands plants.

An internet search reveals that “…floristic studies… have documented the presence in the badlands of a least half of the 1300 species present in the flora of North Dakota.” (https://library.ndsu.edu/ir/bitstream/handle/10365/4341/228go94.pdf?sequence=1)

If there are at least 650 species of plants in the Badlands, I’m going to have to pick up the pace of learning them all. At a rate of only 3 per month, I will be well into my second century of life before I have them all mastered.

Nevertheless, I’m headed back out to the Badlands next month to work with my new friends at RES to collect more seeds. I’m determined to increase my knowledge of plants and improve my ability to identify them when questioned.

Learning the Latin names of all the plants is another matter.

Doug Wurtz grew up near Ryder and graduated from Minot State University. His retirement activities include nature photography as well as serving as a Certified Interpretive Guide for the State Historical Society of North Dakota. He is past president of the North Dakota Archaeological Association. Doug and his wife, Linda, live in Bismarck.

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