Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thismia americana

Here is a timeline of Thismia americana, as well as a collaged list of descriptions of the flower. Thismia americana was only ever found in Southeast Chicago. Its closest relative is found in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania. It is a tropical flower that blooms for three weeks a year in August. No one knows how it found its way to the prairies of the Midwest. The only known existing specimen is housed in a cabinet on the third floor of the Field Museum.

1912 – An unknown flower is first discovered in a wet prairie near 119th & Torrence Avenue, Chicago

1912 – Norma Pfeiffer, discoverer of Thismia americana, begins to collect specimens of the flower for five summers

1916 – Thismia is last seen in the place it was first discovered

1949 – Using a map from Pfeiffer, Field Museum botanist Julian Steiermark searches for Thismia with six eminent colleagues

1972 – Pfeiffer delivers her specimens to the Field Museum

1989 – Pfeiffer dies at age 100

1992-1996 – Intensive search fails to find the flower

1995 – Thismia americana declared extinct (although it continues to be listed in books on American botany, due to the possibility that it may still exist

2009 – Planning in progress for the most extensive hunt of Thismia

2012 – Centennial search

glabrous and white
delicate blue-green
translucent white
tiny pearl
tiny flowering
size of a pencil eraser
quarter of an inch
mystery that still haunts —
and helps — the Calumet region
elusive buried treasure of
the Calumet prairies
one of the most curious plants
of the world
of conservation concern
possibly extinct
feared to be extinct
believed to be extinct
easily overlooked

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