Montreal-area plant getting some help to stave off extinction

A plant that’s indigenous to the Montreal area is getting some much-needed funding to make sure it avoids extinction, something conservationists say could have a big impact on the local ecosystem.

The American water-willow is a threatened species in Quebec and Ontario

The plant is extremely important to maintaining the ecosystem, conservationists say. (Navneet Pall/CBC)

A plant that's indigenous to the Montreal area is getting some much-needed funding to try to stave off extinction, something conservationists say could have a big impact on the local ecosystem.

The American water-willow is a threatened species in Quebec and Ontario.

"It's a plant that's always been here," said Duane Boisclair, guardian of Rock Island, a small island in the St. Lawrence River, not far from the Lachine Rapids and Nun's Island.

"But it's in danger because of human activity."

The federal government has announced its intention to invest $100,000 over the course of three years to help fund conservationist group Héritage Laurentien's efforts to save the water-willow.

Duane Boisclair is the guardian of the water-willow heavy Rock Island. (Navneet Pall/CBC)

Jason Di Fiore, the group's president, says the plant is extremely important to maintaining the local ecosystem.

"It's a plant that can maintain soil and stop erosion," Di Fiore said. "It's a plant that thrives in fast-flowing water."

An invasive plant called phragmite and human activity are the two main threats to the water-willow, which can also be found in the Mille-Îles River and Nicolet River.

Boisclair often has to cut down phragmite near Rock Island in order to keep it under control. 

He says there are massive quantities of water-willows and phragmite around the island, and they are "in competition" for resources.

Visitors on boats and kayaks will often step on water willows when docking, which is why some recreational water sport businesses are making it a point to inform customers. (Navneet Pall/CBC)

Raising awareness critical

Addressing the second largest threat to the water-willow's survival — human activity — is equally tricky.

People often aren't aware of how their actions can affect the plant.

For that reason, Héritage Laurentien says it will try to limit points of access to Rock Island to minimize the potential damage.

Visitors on boats and kayaks will often step on water willows when docking, which is why some recreational water sport businesses are making it a point to inform customers.

"It's an aquatic plant that looks like any other. People don't know it's endangered," said Hugo Lavicière, the owner of kayak shop KSF.

"I think it's important to inform people."

With files from Navneet Pall