David Remucal ’93

One-Day Apprentice: David Remucal ’93

By John Noltner

The sphagnum moss, sedges, and small trees on this floating bog southwest of Minneapolis shelter a rare treasure, a small orchid named rose pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides). While rose pogonia is not an endangered species in Minnesota, the Native Orchid Conservation Program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum looks after the long-term viability of this and all orchids native to the state. As curator of endangered plants at the arboretum, David Remucal ’93 manages the conservation programs, and it’s his job to “preserve genetic material and restore endangered and native plant species into appropriate habitats,” he says.

Remucal’s one-man office is supported by volunteers across the state whose tasks range from gathering, cleaning, cataloging, and storing seeds to propagation research. Sometimes threatened species need to be rescued from development plans or temporarily relocated and restored.

Before joining the arboretum staff in 2013, Remucal worked at the Denver Botanic Garden, the Navajo Natural Heritage Program, and the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His current job combines all that Remucal thinks is important in conservation work, including storage, research, restoration, and education.

“We are at risk of losing many potentially important plant species in the not-so-distant future,” he says. “Plants and animals have gone extinct without humans’ help for millions of years, but we are now having a direct influence on the extinction rate and causing it to increase greatly. Since we are responsible for causing this increase, we are also responsible for stopping it. The earth is like our house: we need to take care of it or it will fall apart.”

Trying to preserve plant species without public buy-in is a losing proposition, so Remucal sees education as a big part of his work. “By showcasing at the arboretum the plants we are working to save through our program, I want visitors to feel invested in supporting efforts to preserve Minnesota’s native treasures,” he says.


10:59 a.m.

David Remucal ’93David Remucal ’93 Photo: John Noltner

Difficult-to-access ecosystems, like this small floating bog southwest of Minneapolis, can help preserve fragile species. Funded by a state grant, the arboretum’s orchid project banks samples from as much of the state as possible; the work sometimes extends beyond state borders, since most of the species Remucal and his volunteers identify and protect have ranges well beyond Minnesota.


11:01 a.m.

David Remucal ’93David Remucal ’93 Photo: John Noltner

Small glassine envelopes that hold field samples of collected seeds are labeled by date, location, and species. These rose pogonia  seeds are as fine as dust and can drift off in the breeze during collection if they are not handled carefully.


1:19 p.m.

David Remucal ’93David Remucal ’93 Photo: John Noltner

Back in the lab, seeds are cleaned and separated from other plant material. Samples are dried and frozen to preserve the genetic material for the long term. Seeds are repeatedly evaluated for viability, replaced when necessary, and used to bring back lost populations. Remucal’s efforts in both orchid and rare plant conservation are part of collaborative projects among major gardens around the United States and abroad.


1:56 p.m.

David Remucal ’93David Remucal ’93 Photo: John Noltner

Remucal worked recently with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to remove endangered plants from the right-of-way for an upcoming pipeline project in a wetland outside Superior. Remucal will care for the plants and preserve their seeds until the pipeline project is complete, then oversee their return to their original habitat. Nets placed over the rescued plants prevent the introduction of foreign seeds and plants.


2:33 p.m.

David Remucal ’93David Remucal ’93 Photo: John Noltner

Remucal reviews maps to plan where to reintroduce willow cuttings in a protected natural area after the pipeline is repaired or replaced. While pipeline installations often create environmental concerns, Remucal notes that some plant species thrive in soil that is occasionally disturbed through construction.


3:12 p.m.

David Remucal ’93David Remucal ’93 Photo: John Noltner

These are carnivorous plants, bog plants, and orchids.


3:14 p.m.

David Remucal ’93David Remucal ’93 Photo: John Noltner

Preserving seeds is of little value if you don’t know how to propagate and reintroduce plants into the wild. Remucal leads research projects to establish best practices for germinating seeds and growing plants.


3:19 p.m.

David Remucal ’93David Remucal ’93 Photo: John Noltner

This small collection of kittentails (Besseya bullii) came from Carleton’s McKnight Prairie.

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