June 13, 2005
Tom Farrell, 605-745-4600
Wind Cave National Park -- A botanist working on contract for the U.S. Forest Service has discovered a rare form of Moonwort Fern, Botrychium campestre, in Wind Cave National Park. Dr. Donald Farrar, from Iowa State University, was hired by the U.S. Forest Service to determine if this moonwort fern, Botrychium campestre, a plant that only grows a few inches high, was to be found anywhere on the Black Hills National Forest. When he was unable to locate the plant on Forest Service land, he began looking on National Park Service land and quickly found it.
Dr. Farrar said, "What is significant about this find is what it tells us about the prairie in the park. There is a very high diversity of native plants here and the discovery of this plant tells us this is a very healthy environment. This is the best native mixed-grass prairie we've seen in the Black Hills."
This plant is commonly found on prairie remnants in Iowa and Minnesota and eastward through the Great Lakes area. Elsewhere this far west, it is currently known from a single site in eastern Colorado. This is the first time it has been found in the park or the Black Hills since a single plant was collected in 1973, and it marks the end of a ten-year search by Black Hills Forest Service botanists to relocate the species.
Wind Cave National Park's biological science technician Marie Curtin said, "The park strives to preserve mixed-grass prairie plant diversity that has disappeared from vast areas of the Great Plains. Discovery of a relatively large population of Botrychium campestre indicates that our Vegetation Management Program is on the right track."
By the end of his visit to the Black Hills, Dr. Farrar had found three locations for the plant, two in Wind Cave National Park and one on a small remnant of high quality prairie on U.S. Forest Service land.