MNA Study Sheds Light on Rare Species

Michigan monkey-flower

The Michigan monkey-flower. Photo by Al Menk

MNA’s stewardship team recently completed a federally-funded study of the impact of removal of sediment and accumulated biomass on a Michigan monkey-flower subpopulation. The conclusions of this study could help guide Michigan monkey-flower management in the future.

The Michigan monkey-flower is a federally endangered species known in only 15 locations on earth, with only 12 considered viable over the long-term. In 1981, MNA purchased a tract of land in the Upper Peninsula that contained a known sub-population of the Michigan monkey-flower.
The monkey-flower needs mucky soil and flowing springs near the shores of northeastern Lake Michigan and the Straits of Mackinac. The plant is susceptible to nearby disturbances that alter an area’s hydrology, like road construction or development, and can threaten the viability of the few monkey-flower populations remaining in Michigan.
MNA hopes to conduct additional research in the future to better understand the needs of this endangered species. To learn more about the Michigan monkey-flower, visit the Michigan Natural Features Inventory website


At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered and threatened plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.

Michigan Monkey-Flower
By Yang Zhang

Only found along Michigan’s shorelines in springs, seeps and streams, the Michigan monkey-flower (Mimulus michiganensis) is a state treasure. This beautiful and elegant flower is the rarest of flowering plants in Michigan and only exists in a few isolated areas within the state. The flower provides food for insects and creates a soft mat of stems and leaves along pond shores.

Physical Appearance:
The Michigan monkey-flower is similar to a snapdragon and is semi-aquatic and mat-forming. The stems can grow more than 16 inches long and trail along the ground, rooting at the leaf nodes and forming dense mats. The coarsely toothed leaves are evenly distributed and are opposite each other along the stems. The bright yellow flowers are about one inch long. The upper lip is two-lobed and the lower is three-lobed with irregular red spots.

Preferred Habitat:
The monkey-flower is rare in Michigan because it is selective in its habitat—it prefers silty, sandy soils near streams and lakes. All known populations are found in clumps along the Great Lakes shoreline. The monkey-flower only thrives in cool, running spring water and prefers full sunlight. It often grows in white cedar swamps at the base of bluffs.

Life Cycle:
The monkey-flower is a perennial and blooms between mid-June to August with occasional blooms in October. Beyond the flowering period, little is known about the rare flower’s life cycle due to lack of monitoring. It has been discovered, however, that the monkey-flower produces little viable pollen and seeds. Studies have shown that the flower becomes a dormant aquatic plant in winter.

List Status:

The monkey-flower only exists in 17 locations throughout the Grand Traverse and Straits of Mackinac regions in Michigan. The number of existing plants is difficult to determine because of the flower’s mat-forming habit. It can still be found at the Epoufette Bay Plant Preserve.

Recreational and residential development is the main threat to the species. Increased construction along lakes and streams has destroyed its habitat. Because two-thirds of existing monkey-flowers are on private property, lawnmowers pose a major threat to this endangered species.

Protection Efforts:

The Michigan monkey-flower was added to the list of endangered species in 1990. Because there are so few left, it is difficult to implement a systematic program to protect the flower. The fact that most sites are on private property adds another challenge to protection efforts.

However, management has turned to education. Preventing the local hydrology from being changed by human activity is a primary concern, as the flower is greatly impacted by water quality.

How You Can Help:
At MNA, we educate people about the characteristics of the Michigan monkey-flower. By learning, you can identify this endangered plant on your property and help preserve it.

MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered and threatened species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.