Connecticut's Endangered Plants

by Janet Novak • Winter 2002 (Volume 29, nos. 3 & 4)

The Plant Conservation Volunteer program of the New England Wild Flower Society has just completed a successful year of monitoring rare plants in Connecticut. The program's purpose is to increase knowledge of rare plants and their conservation problems. Volunteers are trained in survey techniques and in recognizing rare plants of concern. They then volunteer to survey particular sites where state-listed plants have been reported. This was the program's first year in Connecticut; it recruited 28 volunteers, several of them CBS members.

About 45 plant populations were monitored. If the rare plants were found, they were counted, their health was assessed, and any threats to the population noted. Data from the surveys are expected to be used in future plant conservation plans.

Some of the surveys proved easy. One of my assignments was monitoring a population of lizardtail (Saururus cernuus) reported at a particular pond. The lizardtail was still there, thriving along nearly the entire pond shore, and the survey could almost have been done from the parking lot. Some of the surveys were needle-in-a-haystack hunts, such as an attempt to rediscover yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) last reported in 1936 somewhere on a site several square miles in extent. Participants in that survey enjoyed some nice hikes in the woods, but had no success at relocating the orchid.

The PCV program did yield some notable finds. Arieh Tal rediscovered barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides), a plant listed as "believed extirpated" in Connecticut. Martha Tonucci succeeded in finding a population of winged monkeyflower (Mimulus alatus) last reported in 1914. And Carol Auer found hyssop hedge-nettle (Stachys hyssopifolia) that also hadn't been reported since 1914. Overall, 25 plant populations of 14 different species were located. The plant conservation volunteers also found new populations of several rare plants, the most exciting being winged loosestrife (Lythrum alatum var. alatum), another plant previously believed extirpated here.

The PCV program hopes to expand its Connecticut operations next year. The goals are to double the number of rare plant populations monitored, and to begin habitat management projects to benefit particularly threatened populations. The program hopes to recruit at least twelve new volunteers in Connecticut; people are especially needed in the northeastern and northwestern parts of the state.

CBS members interested in volunteering should contact program director Chris Mattrick at (508) 877-7630 ext. 3203 or cmattrick@newfs.org, or use an application form available on-line.