The Rare Pitcher’s Thistle

Door County Land Trust’s Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve is home to one of the Great Lake’s largest populations of the federally threatened Pitcher’s thistle. Pitcher’s thistle, scientifically known as Cirsium pitcheri, is only found surrounding the Great Lakes and is one of Wisconsin’s hidden wonders.

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Thanks to a partnership with the Chicago Botanic Garden, research conducted at the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal dunes has included observation of pollinating insects and a thorough evaluation of the Pitcher’s thistle population trend—which has shown a strong growth.

Over the past ten years, Door County Land Trust has been managing the dune habitat at the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve to improve conditions for the thistle by removing invasive species like honeysuckle, spotted knapweed, bouncing bet, and crown vetch.

With recent high waters on Lake Michigan and the erosion of sand dune shorelines, the populations of thistles found along the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve and Southern Lake Michigan Drive are more important than ever. The Pitcher’s thistle needs more quality habitat if it is to survive—and we believe this area is among the best habitat in Door County.

In summer 2021, Door County Land Trust and Chicago Botanic Garden launched a restoration project to restore dune habitat in the area by asking neighboring landowners to participate in the Chicago Botanical Garden’s pollinator network research. In the spring of 2023, the Land Trust is reaching out to neighboring landowners again to ask if they would allow further restoration efforts on their property.

Landowners are invited to participate in the project in the following ways:

  • Free invasive species treatment in the coastal dune habitat on your property.
  • Provide educational materials for identifying and monitoring Pitcher’s thistle plants.
  • Invite you to join a new group of volunteers to continue pollinator observations through the Chicago Botanical Garden’s community science project, Budburst.
  • Invite you to join a private event at Ship Canal Nature Preserve hosted by DCLT, with Chicago Botanic Garden researchers leading a hike about the project and Pitcher’s thistle.

Contact us to learn more about the Pitcher’s thistle dune habitat and to schedule a site visit with a researcher. Please call (920) 746-1359 or email [email protected] and include the address of your shoreline property.

Watch the Chicago Botanic Garden Researchers Speak about Pitcher’s Dune Thistle at the Door County Land Trust 2018 Annual Gathering –

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