Rare Plant Species Lists

Photo of Purple Clematis (Clematis Ocidentalis) by Tony Gola of DFW
Purple Clematis, Special Concern. Photo by Tony Gola, DFW.

For NHESP, the conservation of plants begins with determining which plant taxa (species, subspecies, and varieties) are rare, vulnerable, or suspected to be such in the Commonwealth.  Vascular plant species considered to be at risk of extirpation from Massachusetts undergo a rigorous process for listing under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA).  The three main criteria used to assess extinction risk are rarity in the state, population trend, and overall threat.  Other plant species of known or suspected conservation concern that do not meet the requirements for listing under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act may be included on the plant Watch List .  This is an unofficial, non-regulatory list of plants that the NHESP is interested in tracking.  Determining whether or not a taxon is under threat or in danger of extirpation from Massachusetts involves careful consideration of many factors, and each taxon is considered on a case-by-case basis.

For more information about MESA-listed plant species, please read the fact sheets that can be accessed through the MESA List .   To report observations of state-listed species, please see our Report Rare Species page.

Regulatory Review

Plant species listed on the Massachusetts List of Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species (Section 10.60 of Chapter 321 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations) are protected from killing, collection, transplanting, possession, or sale under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA) .  Plants listed on the Watch List or Historic List are not protected under MESA and thus are not subject to regulatory review.

Potential impacts to plants of the MESA List are evaluated by NHESP Endangered Species Review Biologists and staff Botanists.  For more information on this process, see the Regulatory Review section of this website.

Inventory and Monitoring

NHESP botanists are responsible for tracking the locations, viability, and supporting habitats of plant species on the MESA List , NHESP Plant Historic List , and NHESP Plant Watch List .  Inventory and monitoring are critical to our understanding of the rarity and degree of threat of each rare plant, and informs our priorities for species conservation work.  In addition to inventory and monitoring efforts by NHESP staff botanists, additional updates are provided by cooperating conservation groups, such as the New England Plant Conservation Program, and also by knowledgeable citizens of the Commonwealth.  If you have encountered a rare plant species, please submit documentation to the NHESP either through the Vernal Pool and Rare Species Information System , or by filling in a paper NHESP Plant Observation Form pdf format of    NHESP Plant Observation Form  .

Scientific Research

NHESP both conducts and supports scientific research involving rare plant species of Massachusetts.  Current NHESP collaborative projects with various universities include a study into the genetic diversity of Long’s Bulrush (Scirpus longii; Threatened), an examination of the genetic relationships between different species of Shadbush (Amelanchier nantucketensis, A. sanguina, and A. bartramiana; not listed, Special Concern, and Threatened respectively), and an examination of the effects of climate change on plant phenology (timing of the emergence of leaves, flowers, etc.).

Any scientific research involving the collection of portions or propagules of rare plant species in Massachusetts requires a scientific collection permit pdf format of    Rare Plant Collection Permit Application  , issued by NHESP.

Land Protection

Protection of the land and natural communities supporting imperiled plant species is an important component of NHESP's plant conservation agenda.  With the input and guidance of NHESP Land Protection Specialists, many parcels of land known to harbor rare plants have been acquired by our parent agency, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.  For example, the Hyannis Ponds Wildlife Management Area in Barnstable is renowned for its assemblage of globally-significant Coastal Plain Pondshore plants.  The Maple Hill Wildlife Management Area in West Stockbridge is known to contain no less than seventeen plant species either protected on the MESA List or tracked on the NHESP Plant Watch List.  More recent acquisitions include land along the Quaboag River in Brookfield, which supports a robust population of Long’s Bulrush (Scirpus longii, Threatened), a globally rare rush, and along Flat Brook and Cranberry Pond in West Stockbridge, which has Fries’ Pondweed (Potamogeton friesii, Endangered) and Hill’s Pondweed (Potamogeton hillii, Special Concern).

For more information on NHESP Land Protection activities, visit the Land Protection section of our website.

Management, Restoration, and Recovery

Imperiled plant populations may require vegetation management to ensure that habitat conditions remain favorable to the persistence of the species in question.  In some rare instances, imperiled species need intensive restoration activities, such as population translocations or re-introductions, in order to prevent the extirpation of the species from Massachusetts.  NHESP is committed to the stewardship of its rare plant populations, and as such we provide management recommendations to interested landowners, help our conservation partners establish priorities for management and restoration actions, and engage in such actions ourselves.  Examples of NHESP restoration activities to benefit rare plants include the establishment of restored populations of the State- and Federally-listed Sandplain Gerardia (Agalinis acuta) in grasslands of the coastal plain, invasive plant control near rare plant populations, and efforts to restore grassland habitats for rare plants and animals at the Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area.  For more information on habitat restoration, visit the Habitat Restoration portion of this website.

If you are interested in landscaping with native plants, see our Native Shrubs for Wildlife publication.

Rare Plant Collection Permit Application

If your purpose is purely scientific or educational and unrelated to a profit making endeavor or organization, please complete and submit a Rare Plant Collection Permit Application pdf format of    Rare Plant Collection Permit Application  to request a free permit to collect whole plants or plant parts, such as cuttings or seeds, of one or more rare plant species listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MGL c131A) and its regulations (321 CMR 10.00).  See the related Guidelines for Collecting Rare Plants pdf format of    Guidelines for Collecting Rare Plants  when completing this application.  for consultants doing business, please use the Commercial Scientific Collection Permit Application pdf format of    Commercial Scientific Collection Permit Application  .