Friday, 13 February 2009

Endangered beauty: Maryland's wildflowers

Maryland is more than just the Baltimore Ravens, Michael Phelps and the best steamed crabs in the country. The state also boasts a very rich topography, with mountains, farmlands, wetlands and marshes, quarries, numerous waterways and coastal plains. Such diversity affords Maryland's residents with four perfect seasons that nurture some lovely species of native plants and flowers. Native plants are ones that occur naturally, evolving and adapting to the region's soil and climate, well before humans introduced other plants from far away places, like Europe. These plants play an important role in our eco-system as they provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies and other desirable wildlife all year long. Many of them enrich the soil. Their root systems help rainfall permeate the earth, reducing erosion and runoff which improves water quality.

As vital as these beautiful plants are, they are becoming increasingly endangered and some even extinct (check out the growing list of endangered plants, complied by the Wildlife and Heritage division at Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources). According to Wesley Knapp, botanist for the Wildlife Heritage Service, habitats can limit the number of plants through degradation, i .e. deer who eat too much of them, other invasive species are taking over, and of course the sprawl of development. As Maryland blooms with new places to live, work and shop, many habitats are being killed which lessens the pervasiveness of some plants. As of 2008, more than 450 varieties of native plants, shrubs and trees have been registered with the Wildlife and Heritage Service as endangered.

While many of these native plant species may be unfamiliar to most, there are some that you may recognize such as Jacobs Ladder, euphorbia and campanula. While you may know wild carot, or Queen Anne’s lace, and Black-eyed Susan’s (our state flower), these plants are not considered endangered, just native. If you love wildflowers and don’t know much about them, buy a copy of Finding Wildflowers in the Washington-Baltimore area, by Cristol Fleming and head out for a hike to one of Maryland’s 40-plus state parks. The rarer species may be harder to spot, but you have a good chance of running into the more common types.

Native flower spying has its limits. If you encounter any of the native plants that are endangered, be it in the woods or the side of the road, don’t pick it, says Brenda Alexander, Deputy Director of Public Works for College Park. She explains that by picking it, even with the intention of replanting it in your own garden, prevents the plant from reseeding itself to reproduce. By digging it up, you are removing it from its natural habitat and introducing it to a possible inhospitable environment, reducing its chance of survival to nearly nil. Instead, she recommends appreciating the native flower for its beauty by photographing it or identifying it through a flower journal.

If you love Maryland’s native plants and flowers, there are many nurseries that sell them in the area. See the source list at the bottom for contact information . Preserving native species by creating a native plant garden is a great way to continue the life of these beautiful local treasures. As for the endangered ones, we can only hope they get more attention as important contributors to Maryland’s beautiful landscape.

Best places to see Rare/Endangered Flowers and Plants-
Soldiers Delight Environmental Center, Owings Mills, MD

Idlewild Park, Easton, MD

Elliott Island, Dorchester County, MD

Pocomoke River State Forest, Snow Hill, MD

Patapsco State Park, Ellicott City, MD

Arlington Echoes Education Center, Millersville, MD

Gwynns Falls Trail, Baltimore, MD

Places to buy Maryland native plants:
Adkins Arboretum, a 400-acre garden and preserve dedicated to conserving the regions native plants.

Babikow Greenhouses, Baltimore, MD

Chesapeake Natives, College Park, MD
Earthly Pursuits

Environmental Concern, Inc., St. Michaels, MD

Maryland Natives Nursery, Perry Hall, MD

Caltha palustris
Chelone glabra
Lobelia cardinalis
Lobelia siphilitica
Acer rubrum
Campanula americana
Euphorbia purpurea
Cypripedium pubescens
Catalpa bignonioides

Special thanks to:
Wesley Knapp, Botanist, Wildlife and Heritage Service- Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Paula G. Becker, Volunteer Coordinator
MD Natural Heritage Program,MD Dept. of Natural Resources

Brenda Alexander, Deputy Director of the Department of Public Works- City of College Park


joi said...

these pics are gorgeous!! have u thought about publishing them?? Lots of magazines would be very interested in your spying-eye for flowering delights!!

Anonymous said...

Indeed, they are stunning. Can someone comment on, or give a list of Maryland flowers that are specifically threatened by the overpopulation of deer? Thanks.