Pennsylvania Creates 35 Secret Sanctuaries to Protect Rare Plants | Wildlife & Habitat

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Blue lupine grows in a native wild plant sanctuary in Pennsylvania. (PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)


Blue hearts, slender day flowers, northern dog’s tongue, red bentgrass, Manzanita bearberry, creeping sedge, little white lady’s-slipper, Leiberg’s panic grass: all are gone. These plants once decorated the Pennsylvania landscape, but not now.

To protect and provide ideal growing conditions for the rest of Pennsylvania’s native plant species, the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has established 35 wild plant sanctuaries.

To guard against poaching, the agency does not reveal the locations except to say that they are all in state forests, in plots ranging from five to 700 acres. Canned foods contain many of the state’s rarest and most endangered plants.

DCNR is business. About 30 more shrines will be under state protection by the start of next year. The agency has also worked with landowners to create nearly two dozen canned goods on private property where vulnerable plants have been found. And it helps the Pennsylvania Game Commission take similar action on 1.5 million acres of state gambling land.






PA box blueberry plant sanctuary

These boxwood lingonberry runners on the floor of a Pennsylvania forest are attached to a staple plant estimated to be 1,300 years old. (Jaci Braund / PA Natural Heritage Program)


These measures aim to ensure that native plants are protected and managed for their importance to wildlife, pollinators, insects and biodiversity in general – as well as for their sheer beauty and to protect what some people say is their right to do. part of nature world.

“The designation of sanctuaries helps DCNR achieve its mission of conserving native wild plants and ensures the protection of some of the most botanically diverse sites in the Commonwealth,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn .

The sanctuaries are found on rocky slopes, rich forest hollows, glacial bogs, river islands, muddy bogs, mudflats, and perpetually eroded floodplains along streams.

When the Pennsylvania Division of Forestry was formed in 1895, the mission focused on woods and trees. But now plants of all kinds, from wildflowers and prairie grasses to ancient trees, have their fair share.

Of the 2,100 native plant species found in Pennsylvania, approximately 350 are now considered rare, threatened, or endangered. Some species, such as the three-seeded mercury, the blue crested foxglove, and the pink tick, have not been found in the state for many years, leading some to believe they are extinct.






Floodplain stripped from the PA plant sanctuary

Some plants gain a foothold in areas ravaged by flooding. (PA Natural Heritage Program)


The DCNR is responsible for researching and monitoring native wild plants. It enlists botanists, academics and volunteers to help with monitoring and research projects.

Why make such an effort to protect the native plants of Pennsylvania? “Nothing exists in nature in a vacuum,” said Rebecca Bowen, head of the division of conservation science and ecological resources at DCNR. “The birds, the animals and the trees, all work relative to each other.

Additionally, after the state’s Wild Resource Conservation Act was passed in 1982, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection – the DCNR’s parent agency – was tasked with finding and protecting threatened plants in the state, as well as increasing populations of wild plants.

Lawmakers who passed the law noted that plants must be protected “for the good of all,” even if they are not a resource that is consumed or harvested for other purposes.

Bowen said the creation of plant sanctuaries shows that the DCNR “takes this burden seriously”. Although, she noted, the agency has managed many sites as plant sanctuaries as early as the 1980s and only now declares them as such.






Erect a deer fence

Crews erect a fence to prevent deer from eating chickweed at a native wild plant sanctuary in Pennsylvania. (PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)


The exact nature of the protection varies depending on the needs and vulnerabilities of the plants. Plants such as leafy spurge, white sparrow, and mountain chickweed have wire cages placed on them to prevent deer from nibbling them until oblivion. In some cases, logging activities and trails are prohibited to minimize disturbance.

Trees can be felled to provide sunlight for a particular species, and some areas are mowed regularly to control competing vegetation. Controlled burns are prescribed for plant communities that have evolved to need occasional fires.

Invasive non-native plants are a constant and growing threat. They can displace native species, alter habitats, and disrupt the life cycles of native insects that depend on or support plant communities. The endangered Northeast Bulrush, a type of sedge, is one such vulnerable species, and the state has deployed teams to remove harmful invasive plants in and around the spring ponds where the bulrush grows.

The 1982 Conservation Act also called on the agency to encourage private sanctuaries wherever a rare or endangered plant could benefit – and the state makes professional help available to participants.






PA plant sanctuary rush

A bulrush stand in northeastern Pennsylvania. It is a federally endangered wetland species. (PA Natural Heritage Program)


The call to arms, Bowen said, is aimed at preventing the disappearance of more of the wild things that spring from the ground, even species most people will never see. “It has been shown that it is important for people that there are wild things and wild places whether they are seen or not,” she said. “It makes people feel good that we are protecting these species that might otherwise go extinct. “

If you have a property in Pennsylvania that might be eligible for Wild Plant Sanctuary designation, you can find an application at dcnr.pa.gov. Click on the Conservation tab, then choose Wild Plants. From there, select Wild Plant Sanctuary, where you’ll find an app.


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