BREATHE easier. They're saving the Canby's dropwort...

salmagundi

December 22, 1992

BREATHE easier. They're saving the Canby's dropwort, Maryland's rarest plant.

The winter issue of the newsletter of the Nature Conservancy of Maryland tells the story:

On a hot summer day 10 years ago, three officials of the Maryland Natural Heritage program spotted the fragile white flower of the Oxypolis canbyi in an Eastern Shore wetland. Botanists had been searching the Delmarva Peninsula for years looking for the dropwort, which was thought to have gone the way of the dodo.

News of the discovery spread, and the wetland became a priority. The Nature Conservancy, the national organization that acquires ecologically important land and holds it from development, purchased the dropwort's home and started annual counts of its progress. Things were OK through the mid-1980s, but in 1987 and 1988 the number of dropworts dropped to just three.

In a last-ditch effort, two of the remaining plants were taken to a North Carolina botanical garden, where they multiplied. This Oct. 12, three years from the day they were dug up, 60 adult dropworts were returned to their wetland, where conservancy botanists are watching to see if a dropwort can go home again. (The wild population has rebounded to 14, according to Mary Droege, director of science and stewardship for the Maryland conservancy, and officials are anxious to see how the pampered returnees fare beside their wild brothers and sisters.)

Ms. Droege declined to name the wetland or specify its Eastern Shore location. Conservancy policy, she said. "It's a rare plant, and it's habitat is so fragile," she said. "It could be stolen, but that's not really it. The real danger is that people could trample it."

So the Canby's dropwort survives somewhere out there on the Shore, and Marylanders should feel better about it.

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