Friday, September 26, 2008

The small, seemingly fragile Dwarf Cinquefoil, or Potentilla Robbinsiana, one of the world's rarest flowers

This is a tiny, tiny plant and it's called Dwarf Cinquefoil, or Potentilla robbinsiana, and it is one of the rarest plants in the world and perhaps one of the most cared for rare plants in the world. It only grows in the harsh, arctic environment of the alpine zone of the White Mountains. It grows well in this cold climate where frost persists most of the year and in a soil that is a dense but well drained glacial till. In 1963 it was noted that the number of dwarf cinquefoil on Mt. Washington were decreasing. Something was happening to them, perhaps the impact of acid rain, and they were not surviving. In 1963 Lawrence Bliss wrote in his Alpine Ecology of the Presidential Range: "please help protect this rare plant." A cadre of people became invested in protecting the fragile Robbinsiana in the early 1960s including Bliss, Miriam Underhill and her husband Robert, Slim (Stuart K.) Harris and his wife Cal Harris (photo below), Brad Swan, Fred Steele, myself and a number of folks then working in the huts and for the Mt. Washington Observatory. In 1963 I helped Cal Harris, Mirian Underhill and others map the location of each of the Dwarf Cinquefoils growing on Mt. Washington at that time. Fred Steele identified a small population of the dwarf cinquefoils on Mt. Lafayette, a population that at one time was down to 3 specimens. What began at that time continues today and is supported by the response of all the people who took part and continue to take part in this endeavor and by the response of the Dwarf Cinquefoils which have thrived and multiplied during the past 40 years or so. The population is perhaps more viable today than ever and certainly the news that the Mt. Lafayette population now numbers in the 100s is worth celebrating in itself

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