Nfld. & Labrador

Some N.L. plants struggle to survive in the province's harsh habitats

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador government, there are 21 plant species in the province that are endangered, threatened or vulnerable.

The number of at-risk plants in the province is equal to mammals, birds and fish

You have to keep a close eye on the ground in order to spot many of Newfoundland's rare plants. The Fernald's braya species are not easy to see. (Submitted by Michael Burzynski)

The next time you're out for a hike, you might want to be careful where you step. You could be contributing to the loss of a rare plant.

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador government, there are 21 plant species in the province that are endangered, threatened or vulnerable. These species include plants like blue felt lichen, mountain fern and wooly arnica, and some of them are founds in areas like the limestone barrens, where you might not think there are plants at all.

"It's really easy to think, 'Oh, I'm not doing any damage if I walk or ride my ATV across here. It's just rock'. But that's actually the worst thing you can do," says Yolanda Wiersma, an assistant professor at Memorial University who works closely with rare lichens.

"The best thing that people can do if the live around there or if they visit there is to just be really cautious when they're out walking on the barrens."

The plants in those areas are very small and can be hard to see. These areas look like open gravel fields, and not somewhere that's a prime habitat for plants.

Sue Meades and her husband William Meades study plants across Newfoundland and Labrador, including Burnt Cape, on the tip of the Northern Peninsula. (Submitted by Sue Meades)

Those barrens are just one of the many habitats in this province where it can be hard for plants to grow, thanks to factors high winds and cold temperatures.

Sue Meades is an independent botanist from Ontario who works for various consulting companies in Newfoundland. Much of her experience is with the rare plants and the biodiversity of the province.

"There's a few unique environments there," said Meades.

Challenging climates

These unique environments in the province include areas like limestone and serpentine barrens, most of which can be found on the Northern Peninsula and along the West Coast.

One example is the Tablelands in the Gros Morne National Park, which has limestone deposits. Areas like this are home to rare species of low shrubs and bushes.

Some plants, such as the barrens willow, can only be found on the province's Northern Peninsula. Plants here exist in unique conditions. (Submitted by Michael Burzynski)

There are also bedrock deposits that start at Gros Morne and stretch up to the Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve with the high winds and cold temperatures that can make it hard for plants to thrive.

"The ones that live there adapt and can't live anywhere else," said Meades of those plants.

Other plants such as the barrens willow, Fernald's braya and Long's braya can only be found on the Great Northern Peninsula. All three of these plants are endangered.

"Habitats are prone to erosion at the northernmost limit," said Meades.

These plants and their environments are protected and closely monitored but as many in this province know, wind can be very destructive.

Not extinct, extirpated

When a plant can no longer be found it becomes listed as extirpated rather than extinct. This term is used because even if a plant no longer exists in a certain area, that doesn't mean it won't be found again.

For example, some plants have been extirpated in Newfoundland but are still in parts of Labrador, and vice versa. 

There's no exact number to how many plants have been extirpated all together.

There are ways people can help protect the rare plants that do still exist, even in the most remote corners of the province where they are common.

To protect lichens, which are not technically plants but are composite organisms that involve a fungus and grow on the trunks and branches of trees, there is one simple thing you can do, Wiersma said.

"Don't cut down trees for firewood unless you have a permit. The permit will make sure you're cutting in an appropriate area." 

And having knowledge of which plants and areas are protected is a great way to keep rare plants from disappearing, Meades and Wiersma agreed.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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