These falling stars of the plant world could become extinct.

By Kier Holmes
February 19, 2020
gardener potting plants
Credit: Getty / Pekic

Ask most people to name an endangered animal, and you quickly get answers like the giant panda, the snow leopard, or the African bush elephant. But ask a person to name an endangered flower and the name game gets more difficult. Why? The obvious reason is that elephants, for instance, are way more adorable than say, Solidago ouachitensis. But plants and flowers are no less important in the grand scheme of things.

According to National Geographic, the term endangered species means, "A type of organism that is threatened by extinction." The two main causes of plant and flower endangerment? Loss of habitat and loss of genetic variation. Humans, unfortunately, continue to encroach and threaten natural habitats through housing, agriculture, and industry developments. Also, overfishing, overhunting, and monoculture crops (the agricultural method of growing just one varietal) can lead to the loss of genetic variation, which means that a species can't develop a resistance to diseases or adapt to environmental changes as quickly. So, what steps can you take to help prevent an engendered plant or flower species from slipping into extinction? Start by voicing your support for conservation of threatened species by writing to elected officials in your local state and national government or consider joining a local conservation group. With that said, here is a selection of threatened flowers protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Tiburon Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis subsp. neglecta)

Tiburon Paintbrush is a federally listed endangered species known to live in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a semi-woody, branching perennial that grows to approximately two feet tall. The flowers are yellow to red with yellowish bracts that are sometimes red-tipped. This plant blooms from April to June and is thought to be pollinated by hummingbirds and other insects.

Merced Clarkia (Clarkia lingulata)

An annual found in oak woodlands in the sandy soil of the Merced River Canyon, Merced Clarkia bursts into bright pink flowers from May to June; it was originally listed as rare in 1982 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. But after an herbicide application damaged the population 1984, it was changed to endangered in 1986. The bloom is threatened by grazing, fire, road maintenance, and encroaching invasive species.

Western Prairie Fringed Orchid (Platanthera praeclara)

This wetland orchid can be found in native, grassy, moist meadows in only five Midwestern states. The Endangered Species Coalition estimates there are only 172 populations of this plant; only four have numbers larger than 1,000 plants. This plant's main threats are fires, overgrazing, development, and global warming. The orchid is fairly unique: It releases its fragrance only at night and relies on the Hawk moth for pollination.

Rough Popcornflower (Plagiobothrys hirtus)

Rough popcornflower, a two-foot-high annual herb and member of the borage family, with small, white, daisy-like flowers, was federally listed as endangered without critical habitat by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in January 2000. A recovery plan was published in 2003 to help protect and restore the species. Though it was once found widespread on the floodplains of the interior valleys of the Umpqua River in Southwestern Oregon, draining of wetlands for agricultural and urban purposes has altered the valley, thus reducing a suitable habitat.

Oahu Stenogyne (Stenogyne kanehoana)

A member of the mint family, this climbing vine was purportedly extinct in 2000—until an unexpected sighting in 2004 confirmed that it still existed. Growing only in the Waianae Mountains in Oahu, this rare plant has thick wooly leaves and strongly tubular flowers that are white or yellowish with pink tips.

Ouachita Mountain Goldenrod (Solidago ouachitensis)

Known only in the North-facing slopes of the Ouachita Mountains along the border of Oklahoma and Arkansas, this perennial—with tiny bright yellow flowers that attract bees and butterflies—prefers to live in a moist, cool climate. Growing two- to three-feet-tall, and blooming late summer into early fall, this plant is listed in the Center for Plant Conservation's National Collection of Endangered Plants.


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