A rose by any other name may smell just as sweet, but what about a blackspore spillwort? Or cabbage on a stick? Do you even know what cabbage on a stick is supposed to smell like? A lot better than you think, most likely, but the problem is you’ll likely never get to smell either of those because they are gravely endangered.
In pursuing NetCredit’s research on the most endangered plants in every state, you’ll not only notice the plant names are absolutely fantastic, you’ll also see how human impact has changed the habitats of plants that have existed for centuries — and why we should consider local flora when making decisions, lest we live in a world without blowout beardtongue.
Alabama: Canebrake pitcher plant
One of the nastier endangered species on the list, this cylindrical plant emits nectar near the opening of its tube to attract insects, then proceeds to drug them with said nectar so they fall into the tube, never to be seen again. The carnivorous pitcher plants are only found in about 11 spots in two counties in central Alabama and have been on the endangered list for over 40 years.
Alaska: Aleutian holly fern
If you’re the sort of person who likes to travel to unreasonably remote places to find exceptionally rare life forms, Adak Island in the far Aleutian Islands should definitely be on your list. It’s home to the 150-or-so remaining Aleutian holly ferns, a six-inch plant whose biggest threat is trampling by non-native caribou. How very Alaska. Fortunately for the fern, human destruction isn’t too much of a danger as it sits in the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge where people — if not caribou — are barred from harming its habitat.
Arizona: Nichol’s echinocactus
Also known as Nichol’s Turk’s Head cactus for its resemblance to a turban, you can spot Nichol’s echinocactus during the daytime by its bright red flowers, which bloom from noon until sundown. Interestingly, this plant is found only in South Central Arizona, as well as one small patch in the Sonoran Desert in Mexico. It’s been hypothesized that the cactus once stretched across the whole desert, but habitat destruction and other factors split the populations up.
Arkansa: Southern spicebush
A member of the robust spicebush family, this particular variety — also known as pondberry — is found almost exclusively in northeast Arkansas. Its name comes from its tendency to live in wet areas like sand ponds and bottomland forests, and wetland destruction in the region has led to its endangered status. Its plump, red berries aren’t poisonous and are said to taste a little bit like a cinnamon grape.
California: Ventura marsh milkvetch
In America’s most populous state, only one small population of this herbaceous perennial is known to exist, on a coastal back dune near Oxnard. The few remaining plants all live within about 2,800 square feet on a plot of land that was once used for dumping petroleum waste. Scientists don’t know much about what the plant needs to survive, but it’s thought to be wetland-native, a habitat that’s degraded 80-90 percent in California. So much so the plant was thought to be extinct until 1997.
Colorado: Clay-loving buckwheat
This high-altitude desert flower is one of the few plants that can survive in the harsh clay hills of southwestern Colorado. Found mostly in two counties, Delta and Montrose, the pink flowers have become crucial to the over 50 species of insects in the area as a rare form of vegetation. The plants live 20-50 years, but only about 278,000 were found to exist in the last survey, done in 2009.
Connecticut: Sandplain false foxglove
One of the heartier plants you’ll ever find, this hemiparasitic plant thrives in desolate places, a poetic sign of colorful life in burnt-out landscapes and overworked fields. Though it needs some other life form — like grass or shrubs — to grow from, it blooms a brilliant pink flower to contrast its surroundings. The flower lasts for only a day, however, so you’ll have to be quick if you want to see it.
Delaware: Canby’s cowbane
Though this plant has over 50 populations, spread mostly over the southeast and Chesapeake Bay regions, its Delaware population has been driven near the point of extinction by agricultural activity and fire suppression. The tall, flowery plant can grow up to five feet in wetland areas and develops a massive network of underground roots to support entire populations.
Florida: Avon park rattlebox
By plant standards, the Avon park rattlebox is relatively young, as it was only discovered in the 1980s. This plant is only known to exist in three sites in Central Florida, one of which is not protected and therefore extremely susceptible to extinction. Despite its colorful leaves, its lack of flower and fruit production make it “reproductively challenged.” Fortunately, Florida researchers have found ways of transplanting seeds to protected areas, and hope to see the population improve.
Georgia: Blockspore spillwort
It would be easy to overlook these short, grassy plants that grow only a few inches tall in flat-bottom pools in eroded granite. That’s probably why their biggest threat is people, vehicles, and horses trampling over them. Though 13 populations exist along the Georgia-South Carolina piedmont, only four are in protected areas. And five have been previously destroyed by quarrying activity.
Hawaii: Cabbage on a stick
Though the name sounds a little like a hipster street food, Hawaii’s most endangered plant looks a little more like a miniature palm tree than anything you’d eat. Its population became especially emperiled when its main pollinator, the hawkmoth, went extinct in Hawaii. Now it only exists on remote cliffs of Kauai, where a botanist does the pollination for them. Should you be lucky enough to find cabbage on a stick, you’ll also be treated to fragrant yellow flowers that perpetually smell like Hawaii.
Idaho: Hermit milkvetch
This perennial is found mostly in Utah and Colorado, with small pockets in Eastern Oregon and even fewer in Idaho. The plant has been endangered since 1987, under constant threat from urban development and mining. Not surprising since it’s found mostly in areas rich in purple clay at high elevations.
Illinois: Running buffalo clover
Some plants depend on tiny insects for pollination. Others depend on massive herds of buffalo. This tiny perennial with stems only a few inches long thrived in ground perpetually re-tilled by thundering buffalo, bringing up fertile soil from the bottom and distributing its seeds. As that population grew near extinction, so did this plant. And though it has strangely survived thanks to trucks and jeeps now turning over soil, it’s still highly endangered.
Indiana: Short’s goldenrod
Botanist Charles Short, for whom the plant is named, first discovered this plant along the falls of the Ohio River in Louisville in 1840, a population that no longer exists due to dam construction. Only two known populations are still around — one in Kentucky and the other in the Harrison-Crawford State Forest in Indiana. Though the exact location is under wraps, the plant grows best near rocky slopes and river banks. So follow the Blue River through the forest and you just might get lucky.
Iowa: Blue giant hyssop
Though “giant” might be a bit of a stretch, these upright wildflowers grow two to four feet tall and one to three feet wide, with large blue flowers. The plant tastes like anise or licorice if you eat it off the vine but has traditionally been used in salads or dried in potpourri. It was also used by Native Americans in the plains states to treat coughs and fevers, and though it’s rare in Iowa, it can be found readily in Minnesota and other nearby states.
Kansas: Mead’s milkweed
One would think a plant that thrives in tallgrass prairies would do just fine in Kansas, but hay mowing and commercial and residential development have destroyed a lot of its habitat. What’s worse, that destruction has led to what’s known as habitat fragmentation, where small islands of this foot-tall plant are left with little genetic diversity and therefore smaller chances of long-term survival. Mead’s milkweed is listed as threatened, not endangered, which means there is still some hope. Re-introductions in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois have yielded promising results.
Kentucky: Filmy angelica
Most commonly found in higher elevations in Appalachia, this plant is only endangered in two states: Kentucky and Maryland. It boasts a bright white umbel, made of smaller umblettes, giving the plant a complex, cauliflower-like look. Though bees are its main pollinator, the flower seems to intoxicate them, indicating a possible level of poison.
Louisiana: Louisiana quillwort
This small, fern-like grass thrives near tannin-colored streams in riparian forests, able to survive while submerged in over 20 inches of water. That said, only three populations are known to exist in Louisiana — one each along Thigpen and Clearwater creeks, with a small population of four plants along Mill Creek. Its largest threats have been water pollution and deforestation affecting the tree canopy above, which destroyed a fourth population years ago.
Maine: Furbish’s lousewort
Furbish’s lousewort lives right along the Maine-New Brunswick border, clinging to the northern bank of the St. John River and disappearing completely from some areas before mysteriously popping up in another. It was thought to be extinct in 1975 before showing up again in 1976 and depends on the volatile river to spread its seeds. Interestingly, it was also the first plant ever named after a female botanist when Kate Furbish discovered it in 1880.
Maryland: Barbedbristle bulrush
Only about a hundred of these tall, slender plants with bristled exteriors exist in Maryland, on private land just outside a state wildlife management area in Frederick County. Outside the state, only a dozen other populations exist, with nine of those containing fewer than 70 plants. Most also sit on private land, so if you want to see one your best bet is hiking through the George Washington National Forest in Virginia.
Massachusetts: Adam and Eve
Also known as the putty-root orchid, this plant is the only member of its genus and boasts a single leaf all winter that dies in the spring, replaced by green and purple flowers. Though endangered in Massachusetts, this twin-formed plant grows over much of the eastern United States and Canada.
Michigan: Michigan monkeyflower
The Michigan monkeyflower is quite particular about where it will grow, only existing along silty shorelines near the great lakes. Because it depends on both the muck soil and a constant flow of freshwater, erosion, development, and other changes to the shore can wipe it out quickly. As of now, only 15 locations exist of these bright yellow flowers, all along the Upper Traverse and Straits of Mackinac.
Minnesota: Minnesota fawnlily
Finding this flower is nearly impossible, not only because it’s endemic to only three counties in southern Minnesota — and nowhere else in the world — but also because the flowers are barely a quarter-inch long. That’s likely why it’s also known as the dwarf trout lily and rarely spotted in nature.
Mississippi: False rosemary
Given this plant is mostly endemic to Florida and has the word “false” in the title, you might think it was some sort of emblem for identity theft. But rather it’s a quite beautiful plant that grows along the Gulf Coast from Florida into Mississippi, giving off smells of soft lavender and boasting soft needles like rosemary. Though it’s found in three states, it’s still listed as federally endangered.
Missouri: Virginia sneezeweed
Until 2000, it was assumed this plant only existed on the western slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, with about 30 sites in the region. But at the beginning of this century, the plant was found in eight counties in southern Missouri. There’s not much explanation as to why or how the plant skipped over Tennessee completely, but it’s listed as endangered in both states and threatened federally.
Montana: Streambank wild hollyhock
These high-altitude, sun-loving plants are colorful giants, growing up to 80 inches tall with robust, purple flowers. It’s one of the first things to thrive after a wildfire, and the reduced tree cover gives it ample sun and room to grow. That’s probably why it’s so popular among elk, deer, and other animals in fire zones, as they feast on it following a blaze. That said, fire suppression is a big reason why it’s become endangered, as it does not do well in the shade.
Nebraska: Blowout beardtongue
In the vast sand dunes of Nebraska and Wyoming, the howling winds deposit sand from the windward side of the dunes to the leeward side, creating small depressions that fill with sparse vegetation. The plants inside are known as blowouts, and the rarest among them is the blowout beardtongue, with its soft purple flowers. Though one might think a species born in harsh conditions to be hearty, any change to the dune environment can ruin its habitat, so things like off-road vehicles and dune reconstruction have led to its endangered status.
Nevada: Amargosa niterwort
If you’re going to live alone in the middle of the Nevada desert, you’re gonna have to be pretty hardcore. And the Amargosa niterwort is tough as they come, living in high-salinity clay soil in areas no other plant can survive. Nearly all the plants are found in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, but mining and urban development projects in other parts of the state have pushed it into Nevada’s southwest corner.
New Hampshire: Jesup’s milk vetch
Though this fern-like plant is incredibly durable, surviving both the long, dry summer and long- icy winter in New Hampshire, climate change and soil erosion along the Connecticut River had dwindled its numbers to about 1,100 in two sites by 1987. Since then, botanists in both New Hampshire and Vermont have worked tirelessly to replant seedlings along the high water mark on the river banks with some success, upping the numbers to just over 2,000 by 2011.
New Jersey: Chaffseed
Once upon a time, the bold American Chaffseed spread from New England down to Louisiana and all points in between, one of the most prolific plants in the nation. But as fire suppression grew, the chaffseed — who depends on wildfires to weed out competing vegetation — thinned out and can now only be found in a handful of states along the Atlantic coast. With over half of its range destroyed, it was placed on the endangered species list in 1992.
New Mexico: Holy Ghost ipomopsis
The world’s entire population of these purple-petaled plants sits in a two-mile stretch of the Holy Ghost Canyon in north-central New Mexico. When forest fires threatened to wipe out the species, the US Forest Service took control, planting over 1,000 seedlings in 2006 with an 80 percent survival rate. The service also had inmate work crews clear the area of small trees and brush, so the endangered plant had more access to nutrients and sunlight.
New York: Arnica
Though most arnicas are found in the western United States and Canada, this particular variety, known as the lancelead arnica, has about 70 occurrences in and around upstate New York. It’s a member of the sunflower family, and its groupings are so small that even the slightest habitat disturbance could wipe out an entire population.
North Carolina: Jones pitcher plant
Like a siren of the Appalachian seepage bogs, these pretty green tubes with brightly colored flowers lure insects in with a sweet smell, only to have them slip on their waxy surface and fall deep into their digestive system. Development — particularly agricultural development whose runoff seeps into the bogs — has wreaked havoc on this plant that only exists in a small sliver of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today, nearly 62 percent of the population has been destroyed.
North Dakota: Great Plains white fringed orchid
The starburst of white coming from this orchid looks almost like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Unfortunately, that’s not so much the case for this threatened species, as its habitat in tall grassland prairies has largely been turned into farmland. Its main pollinator is the hawkmoth, which has also seen its numbers decline due to extensive use of pesticides.
Ohio: American globeflower
This member of the buttercup family is not a fan of warm weather, and while it blooms fairly well in the dreary Pacific Northwest, hotter, longer Ohio summers have not lent themselves to its survival. Nor has the drainage of many wetlands in the state, as those damp areas serve as the globeflower’s habitat.
Oklahoma: Prairie white fringed orchid
Echoing the plight of orchids all over the American prairies, these Midwestern white flowers have found much of the grasslands, sand prairies, and thickets they call home turned over to cropland. Similarly, the hawkmoth that does most of the plant’s pollination has seen its numbers decline thanks to pesticides. And its unique appearance has made the flower highly collectible, further degrading the population.
Oregon: Gentner’s fritillary
Oregon’s rarest flower is named for then-18-year-old Laura Gentner, who recognized the rare flower in an arrangement in 1941. Today, Jacksonville, Oregon — the town where she made the discovery — still has an annual fritillary festival in late March and early April to commemorate the occasion. The festival coincides with the blooming season for this red flower, which only occurs on a small number of the usually vegetative plants. So even in full bloom, Gentner’s fritillary can be hard to spot.
Pennsylvania: Smooth purple coneflower
Fewer than 40 populations of this tall perennial herb exist in America, the bulk of which are in the Carolinas and Georgia. The few that exist in Pennsylvania can be found in calcium-and-magnesium-rich open spaces, and sometimes under power lines. Like many endangered plants, it’s threatened most by the development of open land, which it needs to survive.
Rhode Island: Dragon’s mouth
Though this bright pink flower is either endangered or threatened in the United States, worldwide its population is actually quite stable. That’s the good news. The bad news is this bog-dwelling orchid has lost numbers here due to literal-draining of the swamp in Rhode Island, and also from collection because of its fierce, dragon-like appearance.
South Carolina: Schweinitz’s sunflower
Proving that one plant’s trash is another plant’s treasure, the tall, yellow sunflowers named after father of American mycology Lewis David von Schweinitz live mostly in poor soils like thin clay. Even with little other competing vegetation, these sunflowers face massive threats from development, especially roadways, in the Carolina piedmont. It’s a shame, too, as how beautiful would a drive through the Carolinas be if the roads were lined with 16-foot sunflowers?
South Dakota: Great plains white fringed orchid
Tough times for orchids on the prairie, as three states in that region have some endangered variety of the famous flower. This one only differs from Oklahoma’s prairie white-fringed orchid by its larger leaves and stem. It’s federally endangered in South Dakota as well as in Manitoba, where only one site exists for all of Canada.
Tennessee: Limestone glade milkvetch
This purple plant’s alternate name, Pyne’s ground plum, might lead you to believe it’s some sort of fruit. Don’t get too excited — it’s actually a legume and not particularly tasty to eat. Even if you were inclined to try a bite, finding one would be tough; the entire population is limited to three sites in cedar glades within Rutherford County.
Texas: Navasota ladies’ tresses
This intricate flower is best-recognized by a spiral of white flowers that wraps around the top. It’s native to the rolling hills and oak lands of East Texas, and as the population of that area explodes, the Navasota ladies tresses’ population has shrunk. Though the plant is self-pollinating, it is still listed as endangered.
Utah: Attwood’s phacelia
Attwood’s phacelia is the odd plant named after someone other than the person credited with its discovery. In 1883, Marcus E. Jones first found the plant in Spanish Fork Canyon, but it would be 92 years before N.D. Attwood retraced Jones’s steps, finding one of the rarest plants in the world with a population of only nine. Since then, a second population was discovered, and its numbers were up to 200 by the early 1980s. Its only occurrence is on private land owned by a railroad company, so scientists are trying to establish colonies on protected land to help ensure its survival.
Vermont: Auricled twayblade
Only two counties in Vermont have populations of this green orchid, which is found mostly in bogs, marshes, and other wetlands. You can find it by stream banks in riparian forests, typically, and though its habitat is fairly stable for now, its general scarcity in the state still rates it endangered status.
Virginia: Steambank bittercress
The world’s entire population of this mustard plant lives along tributaries to the Dan River in Virginia and North Carolina. Nearly all of its populations live on private property — much of which has been converted to pasture land — so tracking its exact numbers has proven difficult. Though of the 36 known populations, some are as small as 12 plants, some as large as 1,000.
Washington: Oregon checkerbloom
Though it’s called the Oregon Checkerbloom, this plant can actually be found from British Columbia down to California and as far east as Utah. It’s a tall plant, growing to about three feet, with pink flowers about an inch long. You’ll typically find it in freshwater marshes and other damp places.
West Virginia: Shale barren rockcress
The shale barren rockcress was placed on the endangered species list in 1989, and though the discovery of a new population in the George Washington National Forest elevated it to threatened status, its population may still be in peril. Its chief pollinator, the gypsy moth, has lost numbers due to pesticides. Combined with the construction of roads and the hearty appetite of local deer, sheep, and goats, its future is still not guaranteed.
Wisconsin: Leafy prairie clover
It should surprise absolutely no one that a plant needing sun and warm weather to survive isn’t doing so well in Wisconsin. Though only 14 sites remain of this plant, it’s not necessarily the weather that’s to blame. Moreso it’s the fire suppression that’s allowed shrubs and trees to take over the open spaces where the leafy prairie clover once got sun. Though the harsh winters don’t help.
Wyoming: Colorado butterfly plant
This big, beautiful plant with broad white leaves and bright pink flowers was actually removed from the federal endangered species list last year, thanks mostly to efforts by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to work with local landowners to protect its habitat. It can be found in its newfound abundance in northern Colorado and Laramie and Platt counties in Wyoming, as well as Kimball County, Nebraska.
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