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Iconic Wildflowers in Peril: New Report Highlights Threats to Trillium in North America

Among North American wildflowers, few are as beloved and culturally relevant as Trillium. A new report led by the ABQ BioPark, NatureServe, and Mt. Cuba Center analyzed risk factors to these plants and found that 32 percent of all North American Trillium species or varieties are threatened with extinction. Found throughout the eastern United States and Canada as well as the Pacific Northwest, these long-lived plants are among the first flowers to bloom in spring, and their distinctive, three-petaled flowers are revered for their beauty by botanists, gardeners, and hikers alike. 

The report, “The Conservation Status of Trillium in North America,” presents the analysis of 53 plant taxa using two different methodologies. Authors found that habitat loss, overpopulation of white-tailed deer, and habitat disturbance caused by feral pigs are the primary threats to North American Trillium. Many of the imperiled species identified in this analysis are vulnerable to excessive harvest due to their very limited geographic ranges. They also look similar to more common species used in horticultural and herbal medicines. Several species of invasive plants that substantially alter native habitats were also identified as major threats to Trillium species. Conservation of these plants may have important implications for the management of natural areas and trade in herbal medicines. 

“New research into the genetics, distribution, and even the scent of these flowers is identifying more diversity than was previously thought to exist,” said Clayton Meredith, lead author of the report. “As this research develops, it is crucial to apply these new findings to inform conservation projects so conservationists know what needs our attention and how we can protect it.” 

The report is the culmination of a partnership between ABQ BioPark; Mt. Cuba Center, home to an extensive collection of Trillium and ongoing research programs dedicated to conservation of the genus; NatureServe, whose conservation ranks were updated during the assessment process; and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Medicinal Plant Specialist Group. Major funding for the project was provided by the New Mexico BioPark Society. These results will be used as a foundation for the planning of conservation actions intended to ensure the survival of these charismatic plants well into the future. 

“This assessment is a major advance in our understanding of what Trillium species exist, where they occur, and how are they doing, the three fundamental questions for biodiversity conservation. Trillium are one of the most popular wildflowers, and this report has broad appeal to the public and scientific communities alike,” said Wesley Knapp, NatureServe Chief Botanist. Knapp continued, “This report represents work of the most knowledgeable experts and is the most comprehensive and detailed assessment of North America Trillium ever compiled.”

 

Three trillium species in a row

Species of Trillium at risk of extinction. From left to right: Brook wakerobin (Pseudotrillium rivale), NatureServe Global Status: Vulnerable, photo by K. Wayman; Faded trillium (Trillium discolor), NatureServe Global Status: Vulnerable, photo by E. E. Schilling; Sabine river trillium (Trillium gracile), NatureServe Global Status: Imperiled, photo by J. Singhurst.
 

 

Supporter Quotes: 

“To be sustainable, the herbal products industry must build any wild-sourced supply chains, from harvester to consumer, on a foundation of conservation status knowledge and awareness of information gaps.” Danna Leaman, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Medicinal Plant Specialist Group said. She added, “This assessment should inform industry action on harvest controls, good management practices, and monitoring of trade for all wild-harvested Trillium species.”

“The incredible collaboration in this recent IUCN publication will help to further United Plant Savers’ advocacy for ending the wild harvested Trillium trade in commercial herbal products.” Susan Leopold, Executive Director of United Plant Savers said.

 

About ABQ BioPark

Located along the Rio Grande River near downtown Albuquerque, the ABQ BioPark consists of: The ABQ BioPark Zoo, Botanic Garden, Aquarium and Tingley Beach. Welcoming more than one million visitors per year, ABQ BioPark is the top tourist destination in the state of New Mexico, leading innovative collaboration in connecting people, plants, and animals.

About NatureServe

For nearly 50 years, NatureServe has been the authoritative source for biodiversity data and the central coordinating organization for a network of over 60 member programs throughout North America.  Together, NatureServe and the Network of member programs are dedicated to developing, collecting, and analyzing biodiversity information to support informed decisions about managing, protecting, restoring, and conserving natural resources. NatureServe and the Network develop and manage data for over 100,000 species and ecosystems, answering fundamental questions about what exists, where it is found, and how it is doing.

About Mt. Cuba Center

Mt. Cuba Center is a nonprofit botanical garden located in Hockessin, Delaware. Mt. Cuba Center inspires an appreciation for the beauty and value of native plants and a commitment to protect the habitats that sustain them.

About New Mexico BioPark Society

The New Mexico BioPark Society is a 501(c)(3) support organization dedicated to the development of, procurement for and capital improvement of the ABQ BioPark and to providing a quality facility through the support of related conservation, education and recreation programs. The mission of the New Mexico BioPark Society is to “make the exceptional possible at the ABQ BioPark.”

About the IUCN SSC Medicinal Plant Specialist Group

The IUCN SSC Medicinal Plant Specialist Group (MPSG) is a global network of specialists contributing within our own institutions and in our own regions, as well as world-wide, to the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants. The MPSG was founded in 1994 to increase global awareness of conservation threats to medicinal plants, and to promote sustainable use and conservation action.