Minot State University assistant biology professor Alexey Shipunov and his students have spent the past year on a botanical treasure hunt that turned up some unexpected finds, including a sandew, a cousin of the infamous Venus flytrap. The plant grows in a unique peat moss bog that stretches across the North Dakota-Manitoba border northwest of Lake Metigoshe.
"It's pretty hard to get to," said Josh Beaudoin, one of the two Minot State University students who collected plant life from the peat moss bog last summer, along with fellow student Jared Schumaier.
To get to it, the men had to wade through a "moat" about six feet wide. Its relative inaccessibility was probably one of the reasons it had not previously been well-researched by scientists, but once Beaudoin and Schumaier dared to storm the moat, they found a treasure trove of flora, including some species that had never been seen before in North Dakota.
Submitted Photo - - Minot State University students Josh Beaudoin, left, and Jared Schumaier take a break while collecting plant life at Lake George last summer.
Shipunov got a two-year grant from the Great Plains Center for Community Research and Service to conduct the project: to trace invasive plants across the state; provide a comprehensive floristic review; develop a virtual herbarium and identify endangered and rare plants.
Shipunov said much of central North Dakota -- about 40 percent of the state -- has been either completely unresearched or had gone unexamined for decades, leaving a lot of ground for the Minot State University researchers to cover.
North Dakota State University professor O.A. Stevens published the last plant diversity review in 1950 and retired NDSU professor Bill Barker performed systematic plant research from 1971 to 2000, expanding the NDSU herbarium from 40,000 to 250,000 entries, but Barker's research didn't take him up this far.
Areas that had gone largely unresearched included parts of Ward, Renville, Bottineau, Rolette, Towner, Cavalier, McHenry, Pierce, Benson, McLean, Sheridan, Mercer, Oliver, Burleigh, Morton, Grant, Hettinger, Adams, Sioux, Walsh, Nelson, Grand Forks, Griggs, Steele, Traill and Cass counties.
That leaves prime hunting ground for botanists like the fascinating peat moss bog in the Turtle Mountains, which Shipunov said it is the only bog of its kind in North Dakota and the plant life that grows there only grows in other bogs. In all, the students collected about 30 plant samples from the peat moss bog alone during their explorations.
Some of the unique plant samples found in North Dakota during their explorations included Drosera rotundifolia, found in North Dakota only once previously; and new plants for the state: Scheuchzeria palustris, Carex lasiocarpa, Carex magellanica and Comarum palustre.
"How we found out where to look at was a plot map," said Beaudoin, who said they looked in lands that were technically open to hunters. They also searched in areas such as abandoned farms, national parks, and wildlife management areas. Those are areas where the land is more likely to have returned to its natural state and the plants that grow there are more likely native to the prairies.
Shipunov said they collected samples of anything that flowers.
Students Tyson Friesen and Keila Aguilar are now cataloguing the samples that were collected. Next year Shipunov plans to send his students out to collect plant life from a different part of the state. He said he will have them do their collecting during a different time period as well so he catches plant life that flowers in a different period.
In all, about 1,200 samples were collected last summer. All the plants were geo-referenced to pinpoint where they were found and where they grow, and are being photo documented. Samples are being sent for DNA-based barcode research to University of Guelph in Ontario.
Beaudoin, Shumaier and Friesen said the hands-on experience they have gained on the research project has been invaluable and it will also be useful if they decide to apply to graduate schools.
Shipunov anticipates the project will stretch out to seven years; he is already seeking out future sources of grant funding Eventually Shipunov plans to create an online database for North Dakota flora so people will be able to log onto a website and see all the unique plantlife growing throughout North Dakota.