This map, which features some of the many overlooked endangered plant species found only in the United States, reminds us that plants are endangered too
A map of the most endangered plant in every US state. This map was created using the USDA’s database … [+]
When you hear the phrase, “endangered species”, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? Most people think of an endangered mammal. I think of an endangered bird. But birds and other wildlife aren’t the only endangered species out there; there’s plenty of native plants under threat, too. In fact, there are more than 800 plants that are found only in the United States that are listed as federally endangered species, and thousands more that are protected by individual states as either threatened or endangered (ref).
I recently shared a series of posters featuring endangered animals in the United States to celebrate National Wildlife Day (more here), but some of you wondered where are the endangered plants? So I thought I’d share this map featuring some of the most endangered plants in each US state, and to remind you of the variety of plant life we stand to lose, too.
Why should we protect endangered plants?
A healthy functioning ecosystem is maintained by its citizens: plants and animals. When an ecosystem is no longer functioning properly, its plants and the animals that depend upon them become endangered.
Further, when ecosystems fail, human health is at stake too. A well-balanced and functioning ecosystem cleans the air we breathe, the water we drink and that our crops need to grow. Additionally, some endangered plants have healing properties that serve as foundations for our medicines. Several examples of endangered medicinal plants that are native to the United States include Hawaiian sandalwood, American ginseng, wild yam, and rosy periwinkle.
Although often overlooked, plants are essential partners in maintaining functional ecosystems in the United States. According to The Center for Biological Diversity, nearly all of these endangered plants are threatened because of human actions: climate change, droughts, wildfire, agriculture, invasive species, avaricious American legislators, rampant human expansionism and habitat destruction. To save them, corporations and individuals must work together to ensure that state and federal governments continue to conserve our native plants for future generations to enjoy and to benefit from.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA), enacted in 1973, has been credited with conserving the habitats upon which endangered species depend, stabilizing populations of species at risk, and saving hundreds of species from extinction, including the California condor, grizzly bear, whooping crane, Okaloosa darter (that’s a fish) and black-footed ferret. But few people know that the ESA also protects endangered plants, such as California’s iconic sequoias. Thus, the ESA is an important legislative tool that, ironically, also needs protecting if North American ecosystems are going to survive the Sixth Mass Extinction Event already in progress.
A handful of conservationists have been hard at work changing the story for a tiny fraction of plant populations facing extinction (for example, here). But in the US, hundreds of plant species are still facing a losing battle for survival. To avoid this tragedy, we all must work to rectify this by making basic changes in our personal lives. For example, reduce the amount of water we use, stop using herbicides, pesticides and other poisons and dispose of them properly so they don’t harm native plants, their pollinators and their seed dispersers, be careful with campfires, cigarettes and other flaming materials and only hike on visitor trails in national and state parks, and plant native plants on our property.
Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture (2019). Threatened and Endangered Plants (online database).
Barbara Davidson (2020). An Illustrated Tribute to the Most Endangered Plant in Every U.S. State (link).