A Century Lost: Rediscovering a Rare Plant, 112 Years Later


When NatureServe Network scientists rediscover natural treasures like this yellow rock goldenrod, that information gives decision makers a clearer, more accurate understanding of species we thought were lost. Armed with this information, government agencies, conservation organizations and others can make better decisions about what to protect and where.

 Collaboration between NatureServe and the Maryland Natural Heritage Program has resulted in the rediscovery of eight species, including this rock goldenrod (Solidago rupestris). | Photo by Wes KnappScanning high and low along the riverbank of Potomac Gorge, Wes Knapp, botanist with the NatureServe Network’s Maryland Natural Heritage Program, knew that the rock goldenrod (Solidago rupestris), part of the sunflower family, should be nearby.

The flower had not been seen in Maryland since Teddy Roosevelt was President of the United States. It was believed to be locally extinct. But thanks to the shared scientific information and expertise in the NatureServe Network, Wes knew what to look for, and where.

Goldenrod is important for both the local ecosystem and for human health. Bees, butterflies, moths, and others visit goldenrod for nectar and pollen. Caterpillars eat the leaves and stems, and birds then prey on the insects goldenrod attracts. There is even a Goldenrod Spider, that specializes in hiding on these plants. Goldenrod has also been used for medicinal purposes, to heal wounds, treat tuberculosis, diabetes, asthma, and arthritis.

Wes knew to look for the rock goldenrod because it was on a list of 131 species assembled by NatureServe botanist Amanda Treher. These species occurred in neighboring states and had a similar potential to be found in Maryland.

This cross-state perspective was only possible because of the NatureServe Network.

“We used our shared database that brings together information on rare plants and animals from across the NatureServe Network,” explained Amanda. “We developed a list of rare plant species that occur in neighboring counties that border Maryland, but are not found within the state.”

“Shared standards and methods, combined with our database, can provide fast turnaround on conservation questions, like ‘which rare species should I look for along my state borders?” said Wes.

Wes and his team found the plant near Carderock, Maryland, just west of Bethesda. It was a patch of about 50 goldenrods. “As soon as I walked up, I said, ‘There it is.’ It had the right feel, the right gestalt, the right look,” he said, describing the unique shape of the plant’s leaves.

The rock goldenrod is not the only species they found: so far, Wes and Amanda’s project has resulted in the rediscovery of eight species, including the Susquehanna doll’s-daisy (Boltonia asteroides var. asteroides) and a thread-leaved water-crowfoot (Ranunculus sp).

Rediscovering natural treasures is a thrill. As Wes’s brother Randy said, “[Wes] is the closest person I know to Indiana Jones.”

With eight species rediscovered in Maryland alone, there is great potential for more new species to be found in other parts of the hemisphere: similar collaborations between NatureServe and Network Programs—made possible by your support—can result in a clearer, more accurate understanding of lost species across every state, province, territory, and country where NatureServe operates. Armed with this information, government agencies, conservation organizations, and others can make better decisions about what to protect, and where.

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