Emily: Hey! We're in a boat with Robb! Rob: I'm Robb.
Emily: And our friend, Trevor.
Trevor: Hello! Emily: And we're on our way to go find one of the rarest plants in the world.
It's found on an island.
Langham Island, in the Kankakee River.
What's the plant? Rob: What's the plant? Emily: Yeah.
Rob: It's Iliamna remota.
The Kankakee Mallow.
Emily: And it is one of the rarest plants in the world? Rob: Yeah.
And it's a real looker, too.
Emily: Yeah? Rob: Yeah it's, uh, as far as plants go, it's pretty foxy.
Emily: Yeah! Rob: Yeah.
Emily: And, uh, this is the first time in over a decade that somebody has seen this plant in bloom on this island and we get to be some of the first.
Rob: And then also, all the viewers get to be, Emily: Yeah! Rob: that also.
Emily: Here we go! Rob: Hooray! Emily: It'll take a while.
We gotta row there.
[Brain Scoop theme song] Emily: Langham Island is nearly twenty acres of bedrock protruding out of a shallow portion of the Kankakee River in Illinois.
In 1872, Reverend E.
Hill, the first botanist to ever survey the island discovered the Kankakee Mallow, a species of plant endemic only to the island.
Meaning, this twenty acres island is the only place in the world where the Kankakee Mallow grows in the wild.
Until the 1950s, the island was owned by the McGreuder family and we have documentation of it being a fallow farm field in 1938.
In 1966, the island became a nature preserve after the Kankakee River State Park was formed.
Trevor: It really wasn't until John Shwegman and Bill Glass came here in the 1980s that they did a full, floristic survey of this island.
Emily: What they found is that most of the island's Kankakee Mallows had disappeared and were being replaced by invasive species, like the Chinese amur honeysuckle.
Honeysuckle – is evil! The island was subject to a number of controlled burnings and the species was saved, but the public interest eventually died away and in 2014, a local group discovered that once again the Mallow was nearing extinction.
So, a few groups of passionate volunteers have come together to help save the Kankakee Mallow, including Habitat 230 and the Friends of Langham Island.
Rob: We can't stress enough is the fact that Habitat 230, Friends of Langham Island, they're just groups of people who believe that native plants and animals and flora and fauna they deserve the right to live just like any other Emily: Yeah! Rob: person.
Emily: Let's go find the Kankakee Mallow! But first, we're gonna put up some signs! Trevor: So we're gonna go down this hill here and put in a nature preserve sign, so this island has been a nature preserve for quite a long time, but it has never really had official signage.
We'll put it kinda down in this, the bottom of this hill here.
Emily: I'm gonna drive this post into the ground.
For nature! Oh god it's heavy! Hahahahahha [clanking pole as it's driven into the ground] Ah that's pretty good.
It's gettin' there.
I'll do one more.
Well we were not helping.
There, I'm tightening some nuts.
Trevor: It's perfect.
Emily: As the sun comes out.
Emily: We're gonna pull some invasives.
This is, uh, Sweet white clover.
It's one of the nastier invasives.
It's a biannual.
Which means it lives for two years and it's first year it's very low to the ground, it's growing it's roots.
and in it's second year, it shoots up these very tall, uh, flower spikes and each plant can make thousands of seeds, um, and so we're pulling it out of the ground trying to get the whole root.
So, not what you did.
Um, and then we're breaking it to cut off that energy from the root to the flower so it stops making seeds.
Trevor: Here we go, here's a root.
Rob: Here's a root.
Emily: There it is.
Wow! So does it do that thing where it panics if you pull it up and don't bend it Rob: Right.
Emily: and all of the energy goes from the root and it's like "we got to go guys!" and then, and then it just, like, gets all the seeds to disperse right away? Rob: That's what I've been told, and that's what I'm sticking with.
Let's get this.
So, this is what it looks like.
to pull a bunch of invasive clover.
I'm gonna bend it.
Man, this stuff get's everywhere.
'Cause there's a lot of this stuff.
It's gonna take forever, but we'll do it.
Rob: Do you wanna cut some honeysuckle? Trevor: Yeah we could! Look at that.
Emily: Yeah this is, uh, a formidable tool.
It's used for, um, defeating the boss in level thirteen in Final Fantasy.
Trevor: It's made of Valyrian steel and um, no.
Rob: So, cut one.
Emily: This is what we're gonna go for, this one? Rob: Kill it.
Kill this one.
[Cutting sounds] Emily: Yeahhhh Trevor: You gotta use the whole length, oh there you go.
Boom! Rob: That's a good saw! Emily: Yeahhh Emily: Wait.
The whole point of this trip is to find the Kankakee Mallow, remember? This does remind me of when we were in Peru.
Rob: Well that's what's cool about this island is there's no, the only trail is used by restorationists.
And so it's completely isolated from society.
Not too many people have a boat, and the ones who do don't know to come here to see this, so it's really untouched.
Rob: Oh, there we go.
Trevor: Here's the first one.
Emily: [gasps] Rob: Hey girl.
Emily: There it is.
that's the Kankakee Mallow.
Trevor: That's it.
Right there, in bloom.
Emily: So this is the first time in over ten years that this flower has been seen in bloom? Trevor: Yes.
On the island.
Emily: On the island.
And what is it about this flower that, like, compelled you to actually take action in such a short amount of time? Trevor: I felt it was something that we could, um, potentially save because it's an isolated area, it's not overwhelming.
It's an area that is so unique that people would want to get behind it.
Think of it like a polar bear or a panda, you know? People get excited about those things and the Mallow is definitely, in Illinois, kinda' like that.
Rob: The distance from idea to action is so short here.
We got, what, four acres cleared? Five acres cleared of the twenty, of the bigger invasive species.
Uh, and also we were able to employ that novel restoration technique of rolling the fire to, uh, to stimulate germination.
Emily: They were just laying in wait for somebody to come by and clear everything out.
So, how many Mallows are here, right now? Trevor: From zero observed plants to, to about a thousand in one year alone.
Rob: Let's go look at all of them.
Trevor: Yeah! Emily: Yeahh! Emily: [gasps] Rob: So, stately, look at this.
Emily: Wow! Emily: It's majestic! Emily: Look at it! Emily: Look at that! From extinction to seven feet tall.
I think the Mallow is such a fantastic metaphor for, like, learning and creating opportunities for things that didn't have opportunities before.
Rob: And how to participate in our community, you know? Emily: Right.
Rob: Getting rid of the selfish things that don't want to participate in our community and the Mallow, if you plant it elsewhere, it can get kinda' weedy.
But here it knows how to participate.
This is it's home community.
Emily: We brought it back home.
Rob: That's right.
Emily: What I think love the most about this story, about the Mallow, is that it's a story of hope.
It's a story of action, it's a story about how a place that you may not think is incredibly unique is actually one of the most unique environments.
Rob: It's urgent hope, too.
Rob: It's not just hope you get to, like, sit in your house and, uh Emily: Hope that someone else is working on.
Rob: Yeah, exactly.
It's hope that moves people to form a group of volunteers to come out here and restore this island, you know.
It is hope that gets feet in the water and uh, on the island.
Emily: I can't believe I get to be one of the first people to see this thing in bloom, in over, like, ten years.
Like, I'm actually feeling a little emotional right now.
Rob: Yeah, I only hope that people don't see this as a far away thing.
That, "aw this is only a gift that the people of Illinois or the people of Burbanale, Illinois get to enjoy.
" But there are like, genetic lines of plants that are waiting under the soil for you to come and save them right next door to you.
Um, and that this is, there are special things that you can have these special moments, wherever you are, and uh so that's really powerful.
Emily: Good job guys.
Rob: Good job, Trevor.
Emily: I'm gonna wipe my tears on the leaf.
Rob: Just say you're sweating out of your eyeballs.
Emily: Yeah, it's so hot Rob: So humid in my eyeballs Emily: Are you cutting sweet onions in here or something? [Brain Scoop theme music] The Brain Scoop is made possible by the Field Museum and the Harris Family Foundation.