Baby's breath threatens tiny endangered Alberta plant

Southern Albertans are preparing to wield shovels to prevent a plant called baby's breath from choking out an endangered flower found in only a few spots on the Prairies.

Albertans fight to save Tiny Cryptantha from the invasive weed

Chris Willette, an employee of Calfrac Well Services, holds an example of the type of baby's breath plant that is threatening an endangered flower in the Medicine Hat, Alta., area. Willette and other volunteers are digging up baby's breath, an invasive weed, in the hope of saving the rare Tiny Cryptantha, which is only found in a few places in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. (Sean Allen/Canadian Press)

Southern Albertans are preparing to wield shovels to prevent a plant called baby's breath from choking out an endangered flower found in only a few spots on the Prairies.

Tiny Cryptantha plants are found along the South Saskatchewan River in just three areas of southern Alberta and one in Saskatchewan. (Candace Neufeld/Environment Canada)

Baby's breath, often used in floral arrangements and as an ornamental shrub, is an invasive weed that is threatening a rare plant called Tiny Cryptantha in the Medicine Hat area.

"The baby's breath is actually pushing out all of the native plants," said Sean Allen, who is studying environmental reclamation at Medicine Hat College.

Allen came up with the campaign to fight the threatening plant which has such a sweet name.

"It could end up just completely choking out Cryptantha."

Tiny Cryptantha plants are found along the South Saskatchewan River in just three areas of southern Alberta and one in Saskatchewan.

The flowers, which have white petals and grow to 20 centimetres in height, are listed as endangered under the Alberta Wildlife Act and the federal Species At Risk Act.

Fewer than 100 plants left

A federal government website estimates there are fewer than 100 plants left in the two provinces.

I'm 80 or 90 per cent positive in achieving what we want to do in saving that plant (Tiny Cryptantha) in the area.- John Slater of the Grasslands Naturalists

Allen, some naturalists, city staff and volunteers from Calfrac Well Services worked together last year to destroy 30,000 baby's breath plants.

Digging into the ground with shovels to sever the roots turned out to be the best method of killing the weed. They also tried cutting the baby's breath above ground with clippers, but that wasn't effective.

Using herbicides was considered to be too dangerous as that could threaten the very flower they are trying to protect.

Starting May 12, the group will grab shovels to resume digging out the weeds to help keep them from spreading.

John Slater of the Grasslands Naturalists said it could take years to win the battle, but the group is determined to succeed.

"We are very optimistic," Slater said. "I'm 80 or 90 per cent positive in achieving what we want to do in saving that plant (Tiny Cryptantha) in the area."

Tumbleweeds part of the problem

Still, it won't be easy.

A woman adds baby's breath as she learns to put a bouquet together during a workshop by Cass School of Floral Design at the Boston Flower and Garden Show. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)

The name baby's breath sounds delicate, but the plant is tough. It has a deep taproot and a proven ability to adapt to drought and marginal growing conditions.

And Prairie winds blow tumbleweeds through the city, spreading baby's breath seeds.

The City of Medicine Hat is urging residents to help by removing any baby's breath they find on their properties and in the community.

Allen, who is due to graduate next month, said the campaign is part of his course work this year.

He said one of the lessons he has learned is the importance of working together to develop an idea and put it into practice.

"If people can go out there and do their part and take care of any baby's breath they see, that would be much appreciated."

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