Flower at risk: UPEI biologists attempting to repopulate threatened plant

UPEI's Department of Biology is attempting to reestablish the population of the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster — one of the many plants at risk across the country.

'We try get them to the flowering stage so that when we transplant them we know they have flowered'

A young man and woman stand over a table full of tiny seedlings in a greenhouse.
Undergraduate student Annika Kelly (left) and graduate student Ryan Cheverie survey the Gulf of St. Lawrence Asters. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

UPEI's Department of Biology is attempting to repopulate the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster — a plant designated as threatened under Canada's Species at Risk Act.

"We're under contract from Parks Canada to produce some of these plants to reintroduce them to historical sites in order to reestablish populations there," explained UPEI Biology Professor Christian Lacroix.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster is a annual flower and member of the sunflower family.

Christian Lacroix, biology professor at UPEI, says the St. Lawrence Aster is one of hundreds of plants at risk in Canada. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

It's small and puffy like a dandelion and grows in marshy, dune-like habitats across the Maritimes. It only grows in just two places within the National Park in P.E.I., where the plants are monitored regularly.

"It's a fairly competitive and harsh environment there," he said.

As an annual plant, it's not only threatened by the winter but by competition from other grass plants, climate change and human activity, said Lacroix.

"It drops its seeds and relies on those seeds to grow to survive. If they're washed away or buried a little deeper, they don't germinate."

Hoping they last to Spring

Lacroix is joined by students in the UPEI greenhouse to grow and nurture the plants before they're transported to the National Park and other spots in the Maritimes.

"We try get them to the flowering stage so that when we transplant them we know they have flowered," Lacroix said. 

Parks Canada transporting the threatened Gulf of St. Lawrence Asters to be planted. (Submitted by Christian Lacroix)

"We know they are in the process of producing their seed and hopefully get through their cycle [and] drop their seed — we'll see what happens next spring."

Although the flower has little use or benefit for humans, he added, it's important to look at the big picture — understanding how plants fit and interact within an ecosystem.

"Whether it's an important plant or not its always a good thing to maintain that diversity and see why we have changes in population over time."

With files from Brian Higgins