Botanists rediscover ‘extinct’ plant in Mt. Mansfield’s alpine zone

Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 5:49 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A plant that was believed to be extinct in Vermont has been found for the first time since 1908 atop Vermont’s highest peak.

“It’s easy to get caught up in all the bad environmental news with climate change and invasive species and habitat loss but here we have some really good news,” said Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department botanist Bob Popp. He says that the discovery of the purple crowberry on top of Mount Mansfield is something that he and other scientists have been looking for. “It hasn’t been seen in Vermont since 1908 and a number of botanists, including myself, have looked for it.

That changed in October when a member of the Northeastern Alpine Stewardship Gathering -- a conference hosted by the Green Mountain Club -- spotted the plant. The news spread quickly in the botanist community. “It was one of the more exciting things from my career,” Popp said.

The purple crowberry is similar to the more common black crowberry. Popp says the biggest difference is that it’s found only in the northeastern part of North America, while the black crowberry grows worldwide. “It’s a plant that belongs there and it’s like something we should treasure and be proud of,” he said.

The Green Mountain Club’s Nigel Bates adds that it’s a good reminder to stay on the trail in alpine zones. “Our message is always to have hikers enjoy that special fragile environment but be walking on the rocks and leashing dogs above treeline so we are not stepping on these special alpine plants. “A plant that we didn’t know existed there was able to survive unperturbed for 100 years because folks are getting the message and sticking to the rocks and the trails.”

Popps says it’s been a good year to find plants that were previously thought to be lost. “We also found the small whorled pogonia. It’s been over 100 years since that was found. So, two presumed extirpated plants in the state were rediscovered in one year.

The state plans to now monitor the purple crowberry in the future and see if it needs to be added to the threatened and endangered species list.

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