ALPENA, Mich. — The Pitcher’s thistle is a unique kind of plant. It requires very specific environmental conditions to go through it’s life cycle. They live in sand dune areas on the coastline and will spend the better half of a decade spreading their roots down into the ground. During their final year, they blossom, drop their seeds and then die.
Communications Associate with Huron Pines, Chris Engle says the lack of these habitats make it difficult for the Pitcher’s thistle to thrive. “This coastal dune and soil habitat is very rare in Northern Michigan,” he said. “There’s only a few pockets where places like this exist.”
Another threat to this plant is the invasive species, spotted knapweed. It’s known to out-compete native plants, taking in more nutrients and starving the surrounding vegetation. Huron Pines has located and is now working to remove spotted knapweed from Negwegon State Park in Ossineke where Pitcher’s thistle has been found. “Locally, we’re working with friends of Negwegon State Park to inventory Pitcher’s thistle here on this coastline and then remove spotted knapweed with the help of volunteers,” said Engle.
Engle added because it’s a native species, Pitcher’s thistle plays a large role in it’s community. “Whether it’s a food source for native animals or insects,” said Engle. “It produces seeds that are eaten by native birds. It’s blossoms are used by pollinating insects like beetles or the monarch butterfly. So, just like any native plant species it has an integral role in it’s native community.”
Engle says it’s a good feeling to help keep the Pitcher’s thistle alive in Northern Michigan. “It makes me feel good to be in the presence of plants like this and to see them thriving here, in such a beautiful place too. Its great.”