Plants in Peril

Plants in Peril

Endangered, Exploited or Extirpated…oh my!

There are over 5,000 plants (5,679 to be exact) currently listed either federally or by state as threatened, endangered or various other protected statuses.  Woody vegetation or trees make up 470 of the plants on the list. They aren’t cute and fuzzy like the many listed animals so plants don’t get as much press, but that does not diminish the importance of preserving these species. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the federal legislation which is supposed to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. States have their own versions which may be more inclusive of sensitive species in their state but cannot exclude federally listed species….in other words all federally listed species must be protected by the state but not all state listed species are officially ESA listed.  Phew!  For more information on the Endangered Species Act, measures taken and success stories visit: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/index.html.

The ESA categorizes listed species as either “endangered”, meaning in danger of becoming extinct throughout all or a significant portion of its range, or “threatened”; meaning a species likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.  Other protected statuses used by different states include, but are not limited to; exploitably vulnerable, extirpated, historical, possibly extirpated, rare, special concern etc.  Check out http://plants.usda.gov/threat.html for your state’s listed species and in depth information about statuses.

Reveal the Root Cause

So how did it come to this?  5,000 is a lot of plants at risk for extinction. Two major causes are habitat destruction and invasive species, although climate change isn’t helping either. Habitat destruction has been ongoing for as long as the human race has been expanding. Construction of homes, clearing land for farming and disposal of waste all contribute to habitat fragmentation and degradation of habitat quality.

Human travel is the method of choice for introduction of invasive species, transport of firewood across state lines, clinging to hulls of boats, embedded in crates or pallets or even purchase of nonnative plants from the local nursery all contribute to their spread. Most invasive species are vigorous, tolerant of variable conditions and resistant to diseases and insects which would kill native populations. These characteristics make them especially suited to take over a niche, putting pressure on and slowly edging out native populations.

Thanks to the ESA and other federal and state regulations much is being done to protect native populations and listed species while discouraging the introduction of invasive species as well as monitoring and removing individuals and communities.

Why worry?

Our native plant populations are the  basis for the health and well being of our wildlife, who have evolved along side them and are dependent for food, shelter and forage. The disappearance or replacement of plant species throws the trophic web out of whack and will have a magnified domino effect.  Also, biodiversity, the variety of plants and animal species within the environment, is important because of the interaction and dependence among animals and plants and their environment. Biodiversity keeps plant and animal population strong and healthy, should a disease affect one species the ecosystem will survive, while a monoculture (an entire community made up of one species, common with crops) would get wiped out.

Communal Cooperation

What can we do to help? There are a lot of options for keeping invasives out of our landscape and protecting threatened and endangered species and they all begin with awareness.

  • Use the link above to learn about the endangered plants in your region. Visit this link; http://plants.usda.gov/java/noxiousDriver#federal to find out about invasive, noxious and banned species in your area.
  • BUY NATIVE!  Native plants are not only beautiful, but will take less energy and work to keep healthy, they are adapted to live in your region, with its specific climate, weather and fellow ecosystem members.  Additionally native species will attract birds and pollinators necessary for their mutual success.
  • When you are looking to add to your landscape ask your arborist and/or plant healthcare specialist about species and placement in your landscape.  And if you find invasives on your property consult your arborist for help in identifying, proper removal and disposal.