INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. — Volunteers are working together to rescue rare plants that are only found in northern St. Lucie and southern Indian River counties.
As traffic from U.S. 1 hums in the distance, volunteers trudge through a thicket of brush.
This treasure hunt is in search of the Lakela's mint.
"We get the opportunity to rescue one of the rarest plant species in the entire world," said botanist Cheryl Peterson with Bok Tower Gardens. “When it blooms in the fall, it is covered with native bees and honey bees, a really important nectar food for the pollinator species.”
Peterson manages the rare plant conservation program in Lake Wales.
“The landowner has allowed us to rescue the genetic material from this population that would otherwise be lost,” she said.
According to Peterson, after the hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, the habitat for the plant shrank dramatically.
“So much biomass fell and a lot of invasive species came in that it really disturbed the habitats,” she said.
Kathy Madsen of Indian River County is among the volunteers searching for Lakela's mint Tuesday.
“Smell is phenomenal and the fact that they are endemic to this area only makes it even that much more special," said Madsen.
Ella Craig is a high school senior who drove down from Titusville to help.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to learn more about plants and to save the species," Craig said.
Once the plants are all collected, they’ll be taken to Bok Tower Gardens. Peterson says without work like this, the federally endangered plant would be extinct in a decade or so. She adds it’s crucial to keep it growing.
"It belongs to the future as much as it belongs to us,” Peterson said.