Decline of wildflowers in forests worries scientists

Sprawling housing developments, hungry deer, invasive plants, and other threats have sent many forest wildflower species in the U.S. into decline. Scientists say there are limited studies and surveys available on the delicate flowering plants, known as spring ephemerals, because they are only visible above ground for a few weeks of the year and/or may go several years without flowering at all. But the few records they do have indicate reason for concern. Historical data from Wisconsin reveal an 18 percent decline in the richness of native species, including spring ephemerals and other wildflowers, over the past 50 years. Though in many parts of the Eastern U.S. forest density is actually increasing as abandoned farmland returns to its original state, research is beginning to show that much of the natural diversity, including wildflowers, is lacking. “Our forests are becoming less interesting,” says scientist Tom Rooney. “It’s similar to going to an art museum, and each time you go, there are a few pieces of art missing.”