Canada Serviceberry. Virginia Sweetspire. Possumhaw Viburnum. Virginia Rose. Highbush Cranberry. What do they have in common? They are all Critically Imperiled in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania according to the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program PNHP. Their ranking, S1, translates their occurrence to five or less locations in the entire Commonwealth. According to the same database, Flame Azalea, an elegant shrub with the largest flower of any azalea, is already extirpated. But not to worry, these species are all globally secure according to the same database, which means that they are located in sufficient numbers in other states that more than offset their disappearing act in the Quaker State.
What is inconceivable is that in the state of Pennsylvania, composed of over 46,000 square miles, we have driven to near extinction, these plants that should not be hanging on so precariously. The comforting perception that our forest has come back after centuries of farming, logging and mining doesn’t tell the full story. Wildlife habitat has been degraded, agricultural soils compacted, wetlands destroyed and large scale forest patches have been fragmented by suburban sprawl. We simply cannot assume that our biodiversity will return by itself.
For the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association, we celebrate Earth Day by restoring our flora at our 55 acre Four Mills Nature Reserve in Ambler, Pennsylvania. As part of the Reforest the Wissahickon, WVWA is putting back these species as we diversify our forest understory. The preserve is bisected by the fast flowing Wissahickon Creek with numerous vernal pools, rivulets, emergent wetlands and bottomland hardwoods. This series of wildlife habitats is perfect for all of the species that are so rare in Pennsylvania!
Canada Serviceberry, Possumhaw Viburnum and Highbush Cranberry are early bloomers with fragrant white flowers that eventually give way to small black fruits that are readily eaten by all sorts of wildlife. All three of these shrubs have remarkable fall colors too, with hues of red, yellow and orange. Flame Azalea have radiant orange, tubular flowers which are beacons of color for nectar seeking hummingbirds and bees. The low profile of Virginia Sweetspire provides a steady generation of pinkish to white blooms throughout the summer.
Virginia Rose is the rock star on the plant list. Their old fashioned appeal brings to mind grandmother’s heirloom roses. These shrubs are among the first plants to colonize an old pastureland, quickly creating a dense thicket of thorny bushes. The rose hips are eaten by a wide variety of mammals. They are more valuable than ever since the Virginia Rose can be planted along a creek corridor to stabilize a streambank or to stem further erosion!
On April 27, 2013 the WVWA with an army of volunteers will work diligently on putting back these important plants to our Four Mills Reserve for the Creek Cleanup Day. In future months and years, their development will be monitored to better understand how they will thrive or merely survive in our region. Stay tuned!