U of M researchers find earthworms are threatening Minnesota's state flower

Updated: July 22, 2019 10:23 PM

Researchers at the University of Minnesota say earthworms are threatening the state flower, the Lady's Slipper.

The researchers have been studying how earthworms impact forests around the state, and found that earthworms are changing the soil of the forest floor and those changes are threatening the Lady's Slipper.

Professor Kyungsoo Yoo and a team of researchers conduct surveys to count how many worms are present in wooded areas of Minnesota. He said they're observing greater numbers in places where they previously didn't live, and believes they are introduced in a variety of ways, such as by people who use them to fish or garden.

Earthworms eat the leaves that fall from trees and litter the forest floor.

"That's a problem because they are eating up the layer that is important to many plant species, that are important to Minnesota, like the Lady's Slippers," Yoo said.

Yoo said the Lady's Slipper needs a thick layer of moist leaf litter to survive. But, if the worms are eating too many leaves, the flowers are exposed and less likely to survive.

The Lady's Slipper is an orchid with white petals over a pink pouch. It grows wild around Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said the Lady's Slipper grows in "Spruce and Tamarack bogs, swamps, wet meadows, wet prairies, and cool, damp woods."

The Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State said the flower has been protected by state law, meaning it's illegal to pick, uproot or unearth, since 1925.

Yoo hopes that understanding the changes to the forest will help Minnesota find a way to protect and preserve the rare state flower.

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Leah McLean

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