It’s spring, and you’re looking for native plants to add to your garden. On a visit to a nursery, you notice a plant with pretty white flowers. It’s so beautiful! When you examine the tag, you read that it’s Trillium grandiflorum, white trillium. Suddenly you’re seized with doubt: isn’t that a vulnerable species in Québec? Shouldn’t the sale of it be prohibited? If I buy it, am I contributing to the problem of picking plants from natural environments?
To answer those questions, here are some explanations about the different categories of plants that are in a precarious situation in Québec.
Plants at risk are nothing new
There are a number of lists of vulnerable or endangered species around the world, as well as at the national and provincial levels. Québec passed the Act respecting threatened or vulnerable species in 1989, but we had to wait until 1993 for a first list of endangered or vulnerable species to be published. Since then, that list has been updated according to data gathered straight from our ecosystems.
In Québec, it’s the Centre de données sur le patrimoine naturel du Québec (CDPNQ: Data Center for Québec’s Natural Heritage) that concerns itself with updating data on vulnerable species. This involves a database from which the Ministry of the Environment, the Fight Against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks draws information and produces lists of vulnerability, meaning lists of threatened species in their natural habitats in Québec. For plants, the one that interests us is the List of plant species designated as threatened or vulnerable or likely to be so.
What a name! This list, updated in 2020, is composed of several categories (plants, bryophytes, etc.). It contains 86 plant species that are designated as threatened or vulnerable as well as 422 species likely to be designated as threatened or vulnerable, 235 of these being vascular flora. Note that the 86 threatened or vulnerable plant species are under legal protection and may not be gathered or moved from their natural environment, with some exceptions.
Threatened, vulnerable or likely to be so
To get our bearings, here’s a brief explanation of each category contained in the list. According to the ministry’s classification, a threatened plant species is a species whose disappearance is feared. That means that the species is destined to disappear from its natural habitat in Québec if no preservation measures are implemented. This is the most worrying status that a plant can achieve. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is an example.
A vulnerable plant species is a species with precarious survival capability even if its disappearance is not feared. This means that, even though we don’t fear its disappearance in the natural environment, the survival of certain populations is uncertain. That’s the case of the wild leek (Allium tricoccum). It’s important to note that the species identified in these two categories may not – according to the Act respecting threatened or vulnerable species – be sold in Québec in any form whatsoever, including greenhouse or nursery productions.
As far as the plant species likely to be designated as threatened or vulnerable are concerned, they’re on the list as a preventive measure. These species are being monitored, and may eventually be categorized as vulnerable if significant declines in natural populations are observed. These species may be sold commercially. In addition, some are of horticultural interest, and their breeding in nurseries causes no harm to natural populations. Two examples of such species would be the hairy beard-tongue (Penstemon hirsutus) and the false dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana).
Finally, there’s also a fourth category: plant species vulnerable to being picked, like bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). These species are under pressure, because of being picked, to survive in the natural environment. This last category is slightly different from the others. These listed species aren’t monitored by the CDPNQ, because they’re relatively common in Québec and are in no immediate danger of extinction. However, it’s prohibited to gather more than five specimens of whole plants or to take part in the commercial sale of these plants picked in wild populations. In other words, it’s possible to acquire them commercially provided that they’re of horticultural origin.
For or against buying white trillium?
Let’s get back to the situation we started with. White trillium is not classified as a threatened or vulnerable plant. Nevertheless, it’s in the category of plants vulnerable to being picked. If you see it in a greenhouse or at a nursery, it’s important to check with the staff on where it comes from to avoid buying a wild plant. Let’s protect Québec flora by purchasing legally!