A Day in the Life of a Wildflower Rescuer
May 2012 – The night before the Wildflower Rescue outing I felt strangely like a kid anticipating a field trip back in elementary school. I laughed at myself for having the same nervous excitement over leaving the scheduled work day as I did over leaving the classroom back in my days at Leland Public School. Who knew such excitement could be brewed up over the notion of relocating wildflowers? I was ready to save some flower lives.
Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Wildflower Rescue Committee and their goals, it’s far more encompassing than just saving Northern Michigan flowers. The volunteers don’t swoop down in capes and thwart the developers from destroying precious plant species, armed only with the power of good on their side—instead they are armed with sturdy footwear, shovels, and a determination to preserve the beautiful plant species that Leelanau Country is graced with, all the time seeking to educate the public about the value of the plants to the forest and as part of ecosystems. And I was lucky enough to experience a day in their hiking boots.
I go and meet the leader for the day, Ruth Geil, behind the Leland Village Green; uncertain about what exactly I was getting myself into for the day. We load shovels, empty flats, and a couple other carpoolers into her car and head off for the Bloswick area nearMapleCity. Bloswick includes a large meadow and wooded area, eventually in the works to become a gravel pit, and therefore in need of the Wildflower Rescue Committee’s help. Ruth has been a resident of Northport for the past 3 years, having moved from Ludington with her husband a while back. Her enthusiasm is readily apparent–in fact, the same enthusiasm radiates from all 15 volunteers present that day despite the chilly air and drizzle.
The volunteers speckle the hillside, their bright raincoats breaking up the green, lush woods. I grab my shovel and dig in, trying to remember the last time I picked up a lawn tool. The process is straightforward: dig around a healthy trillium plant, gently shake off excess dirt from the bulb, and set aside in one of the flat boxes. “An important thing to keep in mind,” Ruth told me while still digging, “is to only get at the healthy ones. The ones with the green stripes have viruses and are illegal to sell. The ones turning pink are getting older, so it’s best to leave them be too.” So much I didn’t know.
I make my way along the sloping woods, passing white and yellow violets, intricate and spindly maidenhead ferns, sturdy bloodroot, and gorgeous yellow bellwort—all species being dug up to be replanted alongside the trilliums. The air is biting but it pleasantly smells of wild leeks and rain from earlier. I keep exploring and get the pleasure of talking to Erika Ferguson, a dedicated wildflower rescuer since the early 2000s. She owns property that’s considered a fragile and important part of the local ecosystem—a fact that inspired her to start preserving along side the Leelanau Conservancy. She says that “the most rewarding part about her work is saving nature from bulldozers. When we started coming to this site, there were maidenhead ferns knee-high. They were so pristine. That was enough reason to really get involved in preservation and wildflower rescue.” I am amazed at the dedication that these people put into saving our area.
The digging portion lasts about an hour before we load up the boxes full of rescued flowers into the volunteers’ cars. We then head to Sonny Swanson Farm to repot the flowers and get them ready for selling. (The majority of these plants will actually be sold during the Conservancy’s annual plant sale at the Leland Village Green over Memorial Weekend.) At a surprisingly speedy rate, pot after pot is filled, sorted and watered thanks to the efficient and trained hands of the experienced volunteers. I try my best to keep up! With the help of the friendly volunteers, we finish up and peel off our work gloves. I have to admit though, I wish my day as a wildflower rescuer lasted a little while longer—I already miss the woods crowded with trilliums and the new friends gained over the course of the day. Even after only a couple of hours, I have gained a new respect for the Wildflower Rescue Committee. They strive to preserve the natural beauty of our home, one trillium at a time. Definitely a trip worth repeating.
Taylor Jolliffe, outreach intern 2012