Return of the species



1. Wolves. Endangered?
2. Wolves on the rebound
3. History of extermination
4. Midwestern wolves

5. Causes of extinction
6. Trumpeter swan sings
Wisdom of reintroductions
8. Helping the plants
9. Moving the plants

10. Genetics movement
11.House flies!












  Furry and feathery creatures get headlines. Do plants need help?

Five luscious red petals surround red anthers and stamens. The flower nods down from a green tube--shaped structure.
Abutilon menziesii, the flowering maple from Hawaii, is endangered.
Courtesy University of Hawaii Botany Department

As the public focuses on showy creatures like the California condor and the gray wolf, a silent wave of plant extinction sweeps the planet. A study by the Nature Conservancy, found that "about one-third of U.S. plants and animals are of conservation concern" -- in some danger of being eliminated from at least part of their ranges.

The report said "Plants...receive low marks overall, with many of our most beautiful wildflowers in peril. ... A startling 5,121 flowering plant species are at risk, fully one-third of their total number."

percent number
presumed extinct 0.1 17
possibly extinct 1.0 159
critically imperiled 6.3 979
imperiled 9.6 1,486
vulnerable 15.8 2,480
total flowering plants 100 15,495
Source: The Nature Conservancy: Priorities for Conservation (withdrawn from the web)

The threat to plants

Another indication of the rate of plant extirpation -- local extinction -- came from a recent study of Middlesex Fells, a 1,000-acre park north of Boston. Expert botanists surveyed the park in 1894 and found 422 plant species. Less than 100 years later, after a century of protection, only 300 of those species remained (see "Plant Census ..." in the bibliography).

The disappearances were blamed on:


Trails, which open and dry out the forest

Trampling by visitors

Fragmentation of nearby habitat. Roads and other development may have prevented pollination or the dispersal of seeds by invertebrates.

Weeds. The rapid growth of 64 exotic plant species crowded out native species.

Since the disappearance of 122 plant species equaled "only" a bit more than 1 species per year, only a careful study could reveal the extirpations.

On the brighter side, amateur and professional botanists in New York State have rediscovered 61 rare plants that had not been seen in the state for at least 15 years. The "Lazarus" species included nine grasses, 13 sedges, seven aquatic plants, and 32 wildflowers (including two orchids). The average time since the previous sighting was 46 years.

Can they reintroduce plants to the wild?


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  The Why Files   There are 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 pages in this feature.
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