The first plant recovered under the Endangered Species Act…Drumroll please!

Robbins' cinquefoil was the first plant species to fully recover and be removed from Endangered Species Act protection. Credit: USFWS
Robbins' cinquefoil was the first plant species to fully recover and be removed from Endangered Species Act protection. Credit: USFWS

Robbins’ cinquefoil was the first plant species to fully recover and be removed from Endangered Species Act protection. Credit: USFWS

It is able to withstand some of the harshest weather conditions in New England, yet despite this, the Robbins’ cinquefoil flower (Potentilla robbinsiana) needed the protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive.

As a result of over collecting, habitat destruction and trampling, this small alpine species from the rose family that grows on the slopes of the White Mountains in New Hampshire was nearly lost forever.

For us, the story begins in 1824, when the yellow-flowered Robbins’ cinquefoil was discovered along the Crawford Path ascending Mount Washington. The footpath – now recognized as the oldest continually used mountain trail in the U.S. – was completed just five years earlier.

Over the next 150 years, hiking and backpacking boomed, and foot traffic and horses trampled the cinquefoil, creating a deep and rutted path through its habitat. Additionally, plant collectors rigorously plucked the quarter-sized plant from the mountainside.

By 1973, this once-thriving species had dwindled to a mere 1,800 in number and was considered one of New England’s rarest plants. With 95 percent of this diminutive plant’s known habitat occurring on just one acre of the mountain, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species as endangered and designated critical habitat on Mount Monroe in 1980.

Check out other stories of endangered plant and animal conservation in the Northeast – We’ve shared them throughout the year!

Shortly after, the Appalachian Mountain Club and U.S. Forest Service teamed up with the Service to relocate the Crawford Path. The New England Wild Flower Society later joined the partnership, as the agencies and two non-profit organizations began long-term biological and population studies to guide recovery efforts focused on reestablishing healthy populations of Robbins’ cinquefoil.

In order to meet the recovery goal of maintaining additional self-sustaining populations, the New England Wild Flower Society collected seeds, developed methods to rear seeds and accelerate their development, and advised on transplanting methods for ensuring that nursery-raised cinquefoil could be successfully transplanted back into the wild. Biologists from partnering agencies hiked plants and water up the mountains for years until they successfully augmented the existing cinquefoil population and established two separate populations. How successful were these efforts? Find out by reading the rest of the story here!

12 Comments on “The first plant recovered under the Endangered Species Act…Drumroll please!

  1. Hmm, I am curious as to what happened to the plants that were collected. Did anyone that collected them start a new field of them or something? Otherwise I don’t see the point of it.

    • Hi Anthony! Are you referring to the plants that were taken by collectors, or the seeds that were collected to raise in the nursery and accelerate development for transplanting? These nursery-raised plants successfully augmented the existing population and established two separate populations.

      • The 1980 proposal to protect the plant references overzealous collecting by botanists, even mentioning that this might be the cause of extirpation at one of the sites. I’ll ask our lead biologist on this species to help us understand this more and get back to you!

      • Hi Anthony – I spoke with Susi von Oettingen, endangered species biologist in our New England office. She noted that private and public herbaria — collections of plant specimens — were popular at this time. Like insect collectors that collect butterflies, moths and other insects, plant collectors would get multiple samples, preserve by pressing them and then trade. Some plants were framed, while most were put into herbaria. Does this answer your question? Thanks again for the great comment!

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  3. Pingback: Rare type of New England cinquefoil wildflower rescued from brink of extinction | The Balsamean

  4. I have seen a few of these Iam a. plant lover,and always looking for wild flowers.I live in very rural n.y. between Rochester and Buffalo.Wyoming county.I also live on a very high point in the county.I will further look for these and report back.Recently,Ive come across quite a few Trillium- spaced apart of course, but they are developing the area to a dirt bike trail. A very large competitive one.What do i do?Do I try to dig them and replace in another area,or alert someone?

  5. Just in case i ran down this morning and got the ones i could to preserve them.I already watched some get destroyed last year,in another field dug up to farm on.There was not many to begin with,I was heart broken.It appears they are tubers.I have preserved them in there natural soil and they are just up the road from there original home.I only found 4.I have 3 in my garden that I dug up in the field that was destroyed last spring,I was not aware they were endangered at the time.The good news is they have multiplied and look great this year.Meaning they are full and vibrant due to research and care.

  6. Pingback: Rare type of New England cinquefoil wildflower rescued from brink of extinction « Sylvabiota

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