[Photo:Wild petunia (
), a Maryland state rare plant. Credit: Brosi]
When the weather is extreme, it’s good to check in on your neighbors and make sure they’re okay. All the more so if your neighbor happens to be a rare plant, “You still there? Everything alright?”
That’s just the kind of good deed a small group of students, led by Frostburg State University’s Dr. Sunshine Brosi has started this summer at Harpers Ferry. They’re revisiting spots where rare, threatened, and endangered plants have been recorded before, to see if the plants are still around and in what numbers, and to document conditions at the site. It’s a
happening through an agreement between the park and Frostburg through the Chesapeake Watershed Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CW CESU).
These vulnerable plants can be tricky to find of course. They may not appear every year, and some tend to grow in out-of-the-way habitats like limestone-red cedar glades and limestone-dolomite barrens. So the team is going to be searching over the next three years in short stints during spring, summer, and fall.
Already this summer, the team has confirmed finding a population of the small flowering plant called wild petunia (
), a state rare species in Maryland. This low-growing, purple-flowered plant occurs in
open woods, glades, prairies, and fields and could potentially
be easy to overlook.
The Maryland state threatened Shumard oak (
), which can’t hide nearly as well as Ruellia, is also on the search list, but is not yet confirmed. The Shumard oak is a southern species that comes up into Maryland along the C&O Canal and thrives in uncommon areas of rich, limestone bottom-land. Shumard oak looks similar to the more common scarlet oak. (It is also one of several host plants for moths and butterflies including the Maryland state endangered Edwards’ Hairstreak (
So the Frostburg team certainly has their work cut out for them. In addition to tracking down these plants in their old haunts, the search team will look for other similar habitats within the park to try and find any new populations.
And the upshot of all this? Knowing where rare, threatened, and endangered plants are and what’s going on around them will make it easier to protect them from invasive or encroaching plants and pests, or even landscape-level threats like high deer populations or the absence of naturally occurring fir
es. If no one checks on them, they could disappear and leave us wondering, could we have done something to help?
This project is facilitated by the Chesapeake Watershed Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CW CESU). The CW CESU promotes stewardship and integrated ecosystem management of natural and cultural resources in the Chesapeake Watershed through collaborative research, technical assistance, and education. To do research with CW CESU, please contact Danny Filer at 301-689-7108.