Annual herb thought to be extinct in Vermont, found in Addison County

A delicate annual herb native to Vermont is back from presumed dead.

Botanists from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department have discovered a population of false mermaid weed along a stream in Addison County. The plant has not been seen in Vermont since 1916 and was thought to be extinct in the state.

“We have been looking for this plant for years,” said Grace Glynn, a Fish & Wildlife botanist in a press release. “We knew of two original locations where false mermaid weed occurred in the 19th century and early 20th century, but is absent today. We believe the species has been lost from those locations, perhaps due to development, invasive species or extreme flooding. So we are I’m happy to know that the false mermaid weed has existed along a separate stream all this time.”

A turtle technician accidentally discovers a plant in Vermont that was long thought extinct

Glynn said the population was found earlier this month by Molly Parren, a turtle technician with Vermont Fish & Wildlife. Parren was surveying wood turtle habitat in Addison County when she noticed a species of very rare wild garlic growing along the stream.

“Molly sent me a photo of the wild garlic, and a small plant in the corner of the frame caught my eye,” Glynn said. “I couldn’t believe it, but there was the fake mermaid. I immediately called Molly and said, ‘You won’t believe what you just accidentally found!'”

Glynn went to the site the next day and, with the landowner’s permission, found hundreds of false mermaid weed plants growing on a rich floodplain terrace.

“We were able to show the landowners the plants and talk about the habitat that false mermaidweed relies on to persist in this site,” Glynn said. “It speaks to the importance of good management of private lands in Vermont. If the riparian buffer along this stream had not remained intact, false mermaid weed or wild garlic would not exist here.”

False mermaid weed likes the banks of sluggish rivers

False mermaidweed has small greenish flowers and is typically found in floodplain forests along sluggish rivers with nearly flat streambeds. It is Vermont’s only plant that is both ephemeral and annual.

Spring ephemerals are the first plants to emerge in the spring and the first to bloom and then quickly disappear. False mermaid weed plants die in early June after producing seeds. According to Fish & Wildlife, a new set of seeds germinate under the snow in the winter.

The recently rediscovered plant is rare in the region, listed as endangered in Connecticut, and historically known from only one population in Massachusetts.

“It is a remarkable discovery, comparable to the recent rediscovery of small whorl pogonia after a similar time lapse,” said Art Gilman, research botanist at the University of Vermont Pringle Herbarium, in a press release. “It is especially interesting because the species is not known to any Vermont botanist – it is unassuming and easily overlooked.”

Gilman added that false mermaid weed is a member of a plant family that has no other representatives in the state. Vermont Fish & Wildlife plans to work with nearby landowners to look for more of the plants, which have already been documented on protected areas just downstream from the discovery site.

“Ultimately, we want to know how we can help this species thrive in Vermont in the future,” Glynn said.

Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or [email protected]. Follow him on X @DanDambrosioVT.

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