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Rare Ohio plant found near Vermilion

By TOM JACKSON • Feb 15, 2019 at 5:00 PM

VERMILION — A rare Ohio plant, missing in action for decades, has been found alive and well near Vermilion.

Jim Bissell, curator of botany at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, says the last known sighting of Carey’s smartweed (Persicaria careyi) in Ohio that he is aware of was in Erie County in 1894.

But Bissell and some volunteers found it in 2017 near Vermilion, in Brownhelm Township in Lorain County, just across the Erie County border. It was in a Lorain Metro Parks wetland, Bissell said.

The find was announced a few weeks ago in an article in the Ohio State Nature Preserves 2018 annual newsletter. The piece by Rick Gardner, chief botanist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, states that the rediscovery of Carey’s smartweed is part of Bissell’s “incredible long list of best finds over the 40 years of botanizing Ohio.”

Gardner’s article says that Carey’s smartweed was last seen in Ohio in 1920. Asked about the differing accounts of how long the weed has been in hiding, Bissell says there may be another record for the plant he is unfamiliar with.

Bissell explains that Carey’s smartweed is part of the smartweed group of plants. Smartweeds have flowers on top and like to grow in wetlands.

Birds like to munch on smartweed fruits.

“They are important to waterfowl and other birds,” Bissell said.

The term “smartweed” is apparently a bit of a misnomer, as weeds do not differ in academic ability.

“There’s no such thing as a dumb weed that I know of,” Bissell said.

Carey’s smartweed is found in other states, but is considered rare. In Michigan, for example, it is a threatened and legally protected species that has only been spotted in six counties and was last seen in 1999, according to Michigan State University’s Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

Bissell said he likes to go to Lake Erie wetlands. He said he found half a dozen rare or threatened plants at Putnam Marsh, an Erie County wetlands that is part of Erie MetroParks.

And he suspects that Carey’s smartweed is still in Erie County.

“I want to find it in your county,” he said.

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