top of page
  • Jeff Hansen and Jan Johnson

Biodiversity at Ritchie Cemetery

This post is a report on our efforts, through December 2021, to document biological species at Ritchie Cemetery. Topics include: cemeteries and biodiversity, exploring Ritchie Cemetery as a habitat, plants, insects, fungi, and birds.

Tall bellflowers at Ritchie Cemetery.

Tall bellflowers (Campanulastrum americanum), Ritchie Cemetery, July 2021.


Cemeteries and biodiversity

“Researchers are just beginning to recognize
the role of burial places as protectors of biodiversity.”

So said a writer for Scientific American in a February 2021 website article entitled “Graveyards Are Surprising Hotspots for Biodiversity. The article highlighted a newly-released academic paper about plant diversity in small family graveyards in China, and pointed to other recent scientific studies. It also cited work done in Illinois, where more than 40 cemeteries are listed in the state’s Natural Areas Inventory because of their high-quality native flora—with nearly half of them protected and managed as “ecologically important” sites.

Even a quick internet search yields other references to a number of scientific papers and general articles about biodiversity characteristics of old cemeteries. In 2019, a research paper published in Global Ecology and Conservation surveyed and summarized 97 studies on the subject conducted worldwide. The authors also identified and made recommendations for further investigations, which makes their work a good starting point for those interested in the status of academic studies.

The intent here is not to do a deep dive into the research, but to introduce a premise: there is a growing body of evidence that even small, lightly-managed older cemeteries can have value as preserves for biodiverse communities of native species.

The question then becomes—what is Ritchie Cemetery's biodiversity profile and how significant is it, especially in the context of the cemetery’s urban setting? We don’t know, but we think there is merit in asking the question. Depending on the answer, there are implications for how the cemetery might be managed by the City of Topeka in the future. The first priority must always be to respect and honor the memory of the people buried at Ritchie Cemetery. If it turns out the cemetery is also a biodiversity asset, however, protecting it as a habitat becomes another consideration in the City’s decision-making.

Our interest in this springs from what we have learned so far about the things that live at Ritchie. Biological life at the cemetery has been part of our project since the beginning. Jeff’s first visit in 2019 was prompted by a search for a wildflower. Once there, he was taken with the number of native plants he saw—and also concerned by the extensive inroads made at the cemetery by invasive Amur honeysuckle. Soon thereafter, he organized the first volunteer workdays to start removing honeysuckle. Jeff also initiated a project on the iNaturalist website to document species observed at the cemetery.

At first, the species inventory focused on identifying plants at the cemetery, but it has since expanded to include all types of living organisms. The more we have seen, the more we have found to appreciate. By periodically posting our findings, we hope others will come to share our interest, including those with expertise to help evaluate how distinctive the cemetery’s biological profile might be.

What follows is our first status report, based on observations made at the cemetery through December 31, 2021.

Exploring Ritchie Cemetery as a habitat

View of cemetery from southeast corner area.

Ritchie Cemetery sits atop a hill that ranges in elevation from approximately 945 feet to 965 feet within the cemetery boundaries. It provides an upland habitat that is largely wooded, although it also features a fairly sizeable clearing. The Shunganunga Creek is nearby, but does not abut the cemetery tract. The soil type is a silty clay loam. To our knowledge, Ritchie Cemetery’s 3.7 acres have never been cultivated or professionally landscaped, although remnants of memorial plantings still exist. The cemetery land has been minimally maintained through the years, including a lengthy stretch circa 1930s-1950s when it was mostly neglected. These are just a few of the factors that establish a context for the types of species to be found at the cemetery.

In presenting information about the flora, fauna, and fungi at the cemetery, we will use some of the taxonomic terms from the scientific classification system. For those unfamiliar with biological taxonomy, the system is hierarchical and has many levels. Major levels are identified in the left hand column of the box below, ranging from the general (kingdom) to the specific (species). The adjacent column is an example showing the hierarchy for one of the flies observed at Ritchie Cemetery, the Northern Plushback. The term “taxon” (plural “taxa”) is a general one used to refer to any of the classification levels.

Major taxonomic levels.

With one exception to be described shortly, the iNaturalist website is the principal platform we have used to document species observed at the cemetery. Between May 1, 2019 and December 31, 2021, 790 observations (i.e. sightings) were made and recorded for the Ritchie Cemetery in Topeka KS project on iNaturalist. The total includes 449 species. About half of the observations (394) are considered “research grade,” i.e. at least two people who reviewed the observation agreed on the species identification. Nearly two-thirds (288) of the species had at least one research grade observation.

The chart below displays a breakdown by selected categories.

Species overview, by category.

Chart Notes

  1. The iNaturalist observations are not the result of a structured study, so they should be regarded as an incomplete, early snapshot of what surely is a much larger and more complex picture. The total number and breakdown details will change markedly with the collection of more data.

  2. Species counts are based on iNaturalist’s methodology. The counts always include species which have been identified at the species level (such as American robin, gray squirrel, red mulberry tree). The counts may include unidentified species under certain circumstances, which can be illustrated with the following example. One of the insect observations at Ritchie Cemetery is an unidentified species of robber fly. While the photos documenting the observation do not provide enough information to pinpoint the species, they are sufficient to identify it as being a member of the Efferia genus. Because the observation is the only one at Ritchie Cemetery from that genus, it is reasonable to conclude that a unique species is represented, even though it can’t be identified. Therefore, the unidentified Efferia is included in the species count. It would not have been included, however, had there been other observations from the same genus.

  3. Much work remains to be done to get a better handle on fungi and insects (as well as other types of animals).

  4. The iNaturalist dataset through 2021 significantly understates the number of bird species seen at the cemetery. The documentation platform preferred by most birders is eBird, and its species count for Ritchie is nearly three times that of iNaturalist’s. Therefore, the detail section on birds will be based on data from eBird rather than iNaturalist.

  5. We have not attempted to quantify the extent to which the identified species are represented at the cemetery. Some species may have been observed only once so far, while others are relatively plentiful.


Starry Campion (Silene stellata) and Hairy Woodland Brome (Bromus pubescens).

The inventory of plants reported on iNaturalist for Ritchie Cemetery through 2021 comes closer to being complete than do any of the other taxonomic groupings. However, new plant species were still being identified in the fall of 2021—more than two years into the project—and we anticipate others may yet be seen in areas previously inaccessible because of dense brush. Further, some types of plants, especially grasses and sedges, need more attention to determine if species have been overlooked.

According to the most recent numbers supplied by the R. L. McGregor Herbarium at KU, approximately 2,435 plant species grow in the wild in Kansas. The total includes: 2,200 vascular plants (flowering broadleaf plants, trees, grasses and grass-like plants, shrubs, and vines); plus 235 bryophytes (mosses, liverworts, and hornworts). About 535 species were introduced from other geographic areas and the rest are native to the state.

For Ritchie Cemetery, the 273 plant observations on iNaturalist through December 31, 2021 included:

  • 161 total species

  • 158 species with species-level identifications (133 of which were research grade)

  • 110 native plant species and 48 introduced species

We have one note of caution about the breakdown between native and introduced species. The total for introduced plants includes three species that could be either native plants or garden escapes. The purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), and New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are native to Kansas, but cultivars of these species are also marketed commercially. Because we are not confident that the three species at Ritchie are native, we have counted them as introduced.

The chart below displays summary information by types of plants.

Plants at Ritchie Cemetery, by type.

Notes: 1) Graminoids include grasses, sedges, and rushes. 2) Forbs include flowering broadleaf plants. 3) Trees, shrubs, and vines are woody plants, whereas graminoids and forbs are non-woody. 4) One species at Ritchie Cemetery—the common pawpaw (Asimina triloba)—can have characteristics of either a tree or a shrub. We counted it as a tree.


Forbs dominate the plant leaderboard at Ritchie, representing more than 60% of the identified species. Trees are a distant second, followed by graminoids. Approximately 70% of the plant species identified to date at Ritchie Cemetery are native to Kansas.

Native Plants at Ritchie Cemetery. The distinction between “native” and “introduced” is an important one, especially when considering the biodiversity question posed at the outset. In reviewing the native plants at the cemetery, we looked at one of the indicators used by botanists and ecologists to evaluate native plant communities—the “coefficient of conservatism” ratings developed in Kansas by the R. L. McGregor Herbarium and Kansas Biological Survey at the University of Kansas.

The coefficient of conservatism (abbreviated as either “CoC” or “C value”) is a numerical rating—on a scale of 0 to 10—of the extent to which a plant can adapt to conditions other than those found in its original native environment. Plants with a low C value are highly adaptable and can readily survive in a variety of environmental settings, including disturbed areas. Plants with a C value of 0 are the weediest on the scale, while a score of 10 means that a plant has a set of specific survival requirements that can only be met when conditions conform to those in its original native habitat. The presence of plants with high C values indicates that the area in which they are found is a high quality native flora site. There are relatively few plants in Kansas with C values of 9 or 10. Of the native plants in the state with C values, only 32 have a value of 10; 54 are scored at 9.

The following chart displays the C value distribution for 108 native plants identified at Ritchie Cemetery (excluded are two moss species, which have not been assigned C values). No plants at the cemetery have a value of 9 or 10. The highest-rated plants at the cemetery include Michigan lily (C8), Midland fawnlily (C7), and green dragon (C7).

Coefficients of conservatism chart.

The photo composite below presents a sampling of native plants at Ritchie Cemetery; similar composites have also been prepared for the insect, fungi, and bird sections. Numbers on the eight photos correspond with those of the brief comments which follow them. Most of the plant photos were taken either in unmown wooded portions of the cemetery or in early spring, before the first mow. The clearing—which is mowed—may well have native species of grasses and other herbaceous plants that have not yet been detected because of the mowing.

Photo composite of plants.

1) Oenothera speciosa is best known in Kansas as showy evening primrose, but the common name used by iNaturalist is pinkladies. Petal color can be white, pink-tinged, or predominantly pink. White is the most common color in eastern Kansas.

2) Purpletop tridens (Tridens flavus) is one of the seven native grasses observed at Ritchie Cemetery. Other native grass species may be present, but not yet observed or identified.

3) The downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens) is the less common of two violet species documented at the cemetery; the other is the common blue violet (Viola sororia).

4) Smooth Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) grows in numerous places at Ritchie Cemetery. Once done flowering, the plant produces dark blue berries.

5) Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is a woodland wildflower which is quite distinctive and easy to identify when flowering.

6) This specimen of longbract spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata) blooms each year at its streetside spot along 27th Street. In 2021, several others were also seen blooming in the north part of the clearing, an area which is mowed regularly.

7) The short-point flatsedge (Cyperus acuminatus) is one of four types of sedges identified at the cemetery. Sedges can be difficult to identify, so there are likely more species at Ritchie than documented to date.

8) There are 17 species of native trees at Ritchie, including three oak species. One of them is the bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), noted for its large acorn and fringed acorn cup.

Introduced Plant Species. There are about 535 non-native species in Kansas, 178 of which are considered by KU’s R. L. McGregor Herbarium to be invasive to varying degrees. Invasive species are of concern because they can spread unchecked and threaten both ecological systems and economic activity, principally agriculture. A subset of the invasives list—the “transformers”—includes 28 plants which are the most undesirable and greatest threats. Transformers have the capacity to “change the character, condition, form or nature of ecosystems over a substantial area….”

Other invasive plant lists, based largely on the work done at KU, have also been drafted by the Kansas Native Plant Society and the Kansas Forestry Service.

Of the 48 non-native species identified at Ritchie Cemetery, 33 are categorized as invasive by the McGregoror Herbarium. Most are not on the list of transformers, but five of them are: Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii); Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica); garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata); Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), and Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana). The Bradford pear seedling has since been removed. Of the four remaining species, Amur honeysuckle has gained the most notoriety in northeast Kansas, and for good reason. One out-of-state botanist called the shrub an ecological disaster. The Kansas Forest Service regards it as “...a major threat across Kansas, reducing biodiversity of both plants and wildlife, significantly reducing native plant regeneration where it’s become established.”

Google Earth image of Ritchie Cemetery.

By the mid-2010s, Amur honeysuckle had overtaken significant portions of the understory at Ritchie Cemetery, the approximate extent of which can be seen in this April 2016 image from Google Earth. Because the honey- suckle leafs out earlier in the spring than most trees and other flora, the green foliage in the image is predominantly honeysuckle—notably in the northeast section and along the western and northern borders. The area covered by dense honeysuckle growth in 2016 is estimated roughly at .75—1.0 acre.

The photo below provides a ground-level view of just one of the areas at Ritchie Cemetery affected by honeysuckle. In the fall, Amur honeysuckle retains its foliage longer than most other species, which makes it stand out as much in late autumn as it does in early spring. All of the yellow-green foliage in the background is honeysuckle. The space in the foreground, between the honeysuckle and the camera, was also filled with honeysuckle until recently removed by volunteers working at the cemetery. Amur honeysuckle can reach heights of 15-20 feet or more; at Ritchie Cemetery, however, the larger bushes are more typically 6-10 feet tall.

One area at cemetery affected by honeysuckle.

Another invasive plant which has reached problematic status at the cemetery is wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), a vine which spreads as a dense groundcover, but which also climbs trees as a thick woody vine. Wintercreeper has spread extensively as solid groundcover in some of the wooded areas at Ritchie. It is also found in smaller patches throughout the cemetery, as well as on some trees.

Moonseed vine surrounded by wintercreeper

On the right is a native moonseed vine which has, for the time being, managed to survive in the midst of a solid blanket of wintercreeper. Presence of the wintercreeper stifles growth of some native plants and completely crowds out others. In this case, the moonseed was having to compete with both wintercreeper and honeysuckle—a situation frequently encountered at the cemetery.

As alluded to earlier, since 2019 a small group of volunteers has worked each fall and spring to remove invasive species from Ritchie Cemetery. First organized by Jeff Hansen and now coordinated by Don Taylor, the primary target of the volunteers has been Amur honeysuckle, although work has recently begun on wintercreeper as well. Other problem species, such as callery (Bradford) pear and tree of heaven saplings, are removed when they are seen.

Much work remains to be done, but the results of the volunteers’ efforts are becoming increasingly apparent and impactful—not only visually because of the areas that have been opened up, but also in the reemergence of native plants. Some examples of native species observed in cleared areas include: Michigan lily (C8), green dragon (C7), Midland fawnlily (C7), jack-in-the-pulpit (C6), cut-leaved toothwort (C6), white fawnlily (C6), late figwort (C5), tall bellflower (C4), sweet joe-pye (C4), yellow giant hyssop (C4), rose vervain (C3), and tall boneset (C2).

In addition to addressing the invasives, volunteers have also recently started trimming areas around grave markers and the flower beds adjacent to 27th Street.


Bird grasshopper nymph (genus Schistocerca)

In its Insects in Kansas reference book, the Kansas Department of Agriculture estimates that 15,000-20,000 species of insects can be found in the state—a helpful frame of reference compared to statewide totals for iNaturalist observations, as well as the very modest number of species identified to date at Ritchie Cemetery.

Insect species observed in Kansas and reported on iNaturalist total approximately 3,500, of which about 2,400 are considered research grade. For Ritchie Cemetery, the 241 insect observations on iNaturalist through December 31, 2021 included:

  • 162 total species

  • 114 species with species-level identifications (92 of which were research grade)

  • 48 species without species-level identifications

The chart below gives an overview of the insect observations, by order, at Ritchie Cemetery. The ten insect orders are identified by their common names (e.g. Flies, Beetles, etc.) and listed in descending order by the number of insect families identified within the order. Also shown are the number of species associated with each order.

Insect families and species, by order.

The 162 insect species come from 83 different insect families. Flies have the largest number of families, with 18, while Butterflies and Moths have the most species, with 37. The top four orders (Flies; True Bugs, Hoppers, and Aphids; Ants, Bees, Wasps, and Sawflies; and, Butterflies and Moths) account for 78% of the 162 species.

While many of the insects seen at Ritchie are common in Kansas and generally recognizable, others are less familiar. Some may be well-known to entomologists but not to a broader public. Others may be truly atypical for Kansas. The photo composite prepared for insects provides a sampling which illustrates their variety and beauty.

Photo composite of insects

1) The fraternal potter wasp (Eumenes fraternus) is regarded as a beneficial wasp. It belongs to a large subfamily of potter wasps which build their mud-based nests using a coiling technique similar to that used in making ceramic pots.

2) The unequal cellophane bee (Colletes inaequalis) is the earliest spring pollinator spotted so far at the cemetery. It’s pictured here on one of the many Midland fawnlilies that bloom each spring at Ritchie. Unlike the fraternal potter wasp, this bee comes from an insect family that has relatively few iNaturalist sightings in Kansas.

3) This moth is a wasp mimic and is believed to be either an ironweed clearwing (Carmenta bassiformis) or an Arkansas clearwing (Synanthedon arkansasensis). Neither species has yet been otherwise “observed” in Kansas on iNaturalist.

4) The bold coloration of the end band net-winged beetle (Calopteron terminale) serves as a warning that it is toxic to would-be predators. A close look-alike, the black-and-yellow lichen moth (Lycomorpha pholus), has also be seen at Ritchie Cemetery.

5) Jikradia olitoria, or coppery leafhopper, is one of five treehopper and leafhopper species observed so far at Ritchie Cemetery. The hoppers are small and can be easy to overlook.

6) Two knowledgeable “identifiers” on iNaturalist place this robber fly species in the Neomochtherus genus. Only three observations from the genus (which each appear to be different species) have been added to iNaturalist from Kansas—all of them from Ritchie Cemetery. None have research-grade identifications, however.

7) The beautiful elephant mosquito (Toxorhynchites rutilus) gets its common name from the shape of its proboscis, not its impressive size. Adults have a plant-based diet and no interest in eyeing humans for their meals. Their larvae prey on the larvae of other, less beneficial mosquitoes.

8) The broad-winged tree cricket (Oecanthus latipennis) may be heard more often than seen, but this specimen was striking indeed, with its transparent wings and long antennae.

Fungi and Lichens

Bolete mushrooms

The mushrooms at Ritchie Cemetery are in equal parts intriguing and frustrating. We have seen many types of fungi at the cemetery, but identification has been more difficult than with plants and birds, and to a lesser extent, insects.

While some fungi species have unique, distinguishing characteristics that are relatively easy to discern, many more do not. As a result, we have less definitive information to share about what we have seen so far. There are several reasons for this—

  • We have no subject area expertise, and the fungi learning curve tends to be both long and steep.

  • In our experience, the tools available through iNaturalist are less helpful with fungus identifications than with other types of observations, in part because photographs alone oftentimes do not provide sufficient information.

  • Some mushroom species are inherently difficult to identify, even for mycologists.

  • The entire field is experiencing ongoing taxonomy realignments because of advances in research methods, especially DNA sequencing techniques.

Although readers need to be aware of those cautions and limitations, fungi are an important part of the biodiversity mix at Ritchie Cemetery.

An article published in the August 2007 Kansas Academy of Science Bulletin pegged the total number of mushroom species in Kansas at nearly 1,000; the estimate has since risen to more than 1,200. On iNaturalist, the species count for fungi (including lichens) in the state is approximately 640. Only about half that number, however, are considered research grade. In comparison, approximately two-thirds of the plant species identified for Kansas on iNaturalist have at least one research grade observation.

Through December 31, 2021, the 204 iNaturalist observations for fungi and lichens at Ritchie Cemetery included 76 species. Of the total, 55 had species-level identifications, only 22 of them research grade. The 128 differential between the number of observations and the species count is large, so additional species undoubtedly are present but unidentified.

The numbers reported above vary in one respect from the totals on the public iNaturalist website. In our dataset, we have included a Wrinkled Peach observation at the cemetery which is not reflected in the website’s public totals. iNaturalist obscured the location of the sighting because the species, Rhodotus palmatus, appears on a number of threatened species lists in Europe.

With only 22 research-grade species identifications at Ritchie Cemetery, there’s clearly ample room for improvement, and that has become a goal. We recognize, however, that genus-level identifications may be the best that can be done for some observations.

Identified or not, some beautiful fungi emerge at Ritchie Cemetery when the conditions are right, as can be seen in the photo composite. Research-grade identifications have been made for numbers 6 through 8.

Photo composite of fungi

1) This mushroom is identified as Coprinellus sect. domestici, which is a section-level identification between genus and species—in this case, a firerug inkcap.

2) Several unidentified bolete observations have been made at Ritchie Cemetery, and this is one. A characterizing feature of boletes is that the underside surface of the cap has pores instead of gills. The pores are the open ends of densely-packed tubes which form part of the cap structure.

3) Identified as a member of the Helvella (Elfin Saddle) genus, this is one of two species from that genus seen at Ritchie Cemetery.

4) This mushroom is believed to be from the Russula (Brittlegill) genus. There are up to 20 species from the genus in Kansas.

5) Lichens are formed via a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae. iNaturalist includes them as part of the Fungi kingdom. This rosette lichen is from the Physcia genus.

6) Two stinkhorn species have been documented at the cemetery; this devil’s dipstick (Mutinus elegans) is the less common of the two.

7) This eye-catching Amanita has been identified as a yellow American blusher (Amanita flavorubens).

8) A fresh specimen of the green cheese polypore species (Niveoporofomes spraguei) is shown here. The large droplets were produced by the fungus through a process known as guttation.


Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Most observations on iNaturalist are documented with photographs, while eBird records are based on visual or auditory reports that may or may not include photos or audio recordings. Photographing birds in the wild can be difficult, which explains in part why there are only 27 bird species in the iNaturalist dataset for Ritchie Cemetery through 2021. Because the eBird species count of 79 for the cemetery is much more comprehensive, the following information is based on records from the eBird website through December 31, 2021.

We have not, however, simply merged the eBird information with that from iNaturalist. The eBird database contains observations within eyesight or earshot of the observer, which can include flyovers. Some of the eBird sightings at Ritchie—especially the four waterfowl species and perhaps some other large species such as hawks—may well have been birds in flight which never directly interacted with the physical environment at the cemetery. There is no way to differentiate those types of sightings, but users of the Ritchie data should be aware that they may exist.

Number of bird species, by family

A breakdown of the number of species by family is given on the left. Of the 29 bird families represented, the top three (warblers, flycatchers, and woodpeckers) account for one-third of the total species. Some bird species can be seen at the cemetery year-round (such as cardinals, downy woodpeckers, and red-bellied woodpeckers), while others are seasonal residents of the state (such as the yellow-bellied sapsucker, which winters here). Many birds, however, are migratory and only visit the cemetery as a stopover on their journeys in the spring or fall.

The overwhelming majority of both birder visits to Ritchie and species sightings occurred during late April and May, which coincides with spring migration. Of the total 79 species reported for Ritchie, 64 (80%) were seen during the month of May.

Pictured below are eight of the bird species seen at Ritchie Cemetery.

Photo composite of birds

1) Red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) are relatively new residents of the Topeka area, having arrived when their range expanded in the early 2000s. They are year-round residents of riparian woodlands, like those along the Shunganunga Creek which passes near Ritchie.

2) Ritchie Cemetery’s species list has seven types of woodpeckers, including the yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) shown here. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are winter residents of Kansas. They get their name from the line of holes they drill in some tree species, which they then use to feed on insects and the tree’s sap.

3) The black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia) is a spring and fall migrant through Kansas, although some of them stay in the summer to nest in eastern Kansas woodlands. It is a New World Warbler, which is the bird family with the highest number of species (12) represented at the cemetery.

4) Cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) get their name from the waxy red tips on their secondary wing feathers. They are primarily winter residents of Kansas, but a few may stay to nest in the northeastern part of the state. The one shown here was part of a group which made a stop at the cemetery to feed on Amur honeysuckle berries. Birds are a major vector for spreading the invasive honeysuckle.

5) Chipping sparrows (Spizella passerine) are spring and fall migrants through Kansas, but some also nest in northeastern Kansas. Their preferred habitat is short vegetation with scattered trees.

6) Summer tanagers (Piranga rubra) are summer residents in eastern Kansas. They have a strong preference for oak woodlands. The tanager pictured here is an immature male; at maturity, his coloring will be solid red.

7) The northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a woodpecker found year-round in Kansas. Flickers may sometimes be seen on the ground feeding on ants.

8) The eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) is a flycatcher which is seen in Kansas during the summer. Its preferred habitat is wooded streamsides, and it often nests on ledges under bridges.


We will continue to make iNaturalist observations at Ritchie Cemetery, and periodically report the results. We also encourage other visitors to the cemetery to become active contributors of observations to the iNaturalist project. Anyone can join iNaturalist, and any observation made in Ritchie Cemetery will automatically be included in the dataset for the project. Observations can be made via Android and iPhone apps, or the iNaturalist website. This iNaturalist “Getting Started” web page is the main access point for beginners in learning about the application, how to make observations, tips for making identifications, etc.

Every new observation will help in building and understanding the biological profile of the cemetery. Evaluating the cemetery as a biodiverse habitat, however, will require involvement of people who have expertise in the biological sciences. We have begun to make some of those contacts, and we are eager to see where that might lead.

In the meantime, we will continue to document the many reasons why we have come to regard Ritchie Cemetery as such a special place—not only for its history and the people whose stories ended there, but also for its beauty as a place of reflection and exploration of its natural environment.


Source Notes

(some of the links in the text are not repeated here)

Cemeteries and biodiversity

Barrett, Gary W. and Terry L. Barrett, “Cemeteries as Repositories of Natural and Cultural Diversity,” Conservation Biology, Vol. 15, No. 6, December 2001.

Fortey, Richard. “Old churchyards as fungal conservation areas,” Field Mycology, Vol. 1, Issue 4, October 2000.

Kingsley-Ma, Hannah. “A Cemetery’s Big Secret: Lots of Weird Mushrooms,” New York Times, April 15, 2021.

Lussenhop, John. “Urban Cemeteries as Bird Refuges,” The Condor, Vol. 79, No. 4, Winter 1977.

Nargi, Lela. “All the Life Thriving Among the Dead,” Sierra, October 31, 2020.

Thornton, Katie. “Why cemeteries are a surprising source of life,” National Geographic website, October 16, 2019.

Exploring Ritchie Cemetery as a habitat (for this and all subsequent sections, primarily for Kansas-filtered data and for species information). dataset download for Ritchie Cemetery Project observations through December 31, 2021. (for this and all subsequent sections).


Freeman, C. C. September 2017 and March 2022 spreadsheet updates of the “Coefficients of Conservatism for Kansas Vascular Plants and Selected Life History Attributes” cited above.

Freeman, C. C. “Go Native: From Plain to Prairie,” R. L. McGregor Herbarium & Kansas Biological Survey, slideshow presentation.

Kansas Forest Service. Facebook post, February 28, 2022.

Koffel, Thomas. “Flora of Kansas Project,” iNaturalist.

Obermeyer, Brian. “Invasive species in Kansas,” The Nature Conservancy, slideshow presentation, 2017.

Taylor, David D. "Ecological Effects of Amur Honeysuckle Infestations," Kentucky Native Plant Society website.


Salsbury, Glenn A. and Stephan C. White, Insects in Kansas, Kansas Department of Agriculture, 2000.

Fungi and Lichens

“Found in Kansas” page of The Bolete Filter website. (Note: the Kansas species came from a list supplied by Richard Kay, co-author of the A Guide to Kansas Mushrooms book cited below.)

Horn, Bruce, Richard Kay, and Dean Abel. A Guide to Kansas Mushrooms, University Press of Kansas. 1993. (Note: an updated guide is scheduled for publication in the Fall of 2022.)


Gress, Bob and Pete Janzen. The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots, University Press of Kansas. 2008.


bottom of page