The Nature Conservancy when it buys up some little...


September 14, 1993

WE LOVE the Nature Conservancy when it buys up some little piece of Maryland to hold harmless the habitat of some disappearing flora or fauna.

The latest such effort, described in the Nature Conservancy of Maryland's fall newsletter, concerns the endangered harperella (Ptilimnium nodosum), a member of the carrot family that grows to less than two feet tall and has tiny white flowers resembling Queen Anne's lace.

There's a drawing of Ptilimnium in the newsletter, and it looks for all the world like a carrot (well, like the carrot plant, not the edible root). It grows along Sideling Hill Creek, which observant travelers know is at the narrowest point of Maryland's panhandle between Washington and Allegany counties, just west of Hancock.

According to the conservancy, Ptilimnium is known only from four locations in the entire Potomac River drainage, with Sideling Hill Creek being the largest and most secure population. The plant is found on shallow cobblestone or gravel shoals that are flooded during winter and spring but are exposed in the summer and fall. "The plant is adapted to these extreme conditions which discourage competitors," says the conservancy. Harperella, in other words, is a tough cookie that thrives on adversity, sort of the Orphan Annie of plants.

The Maryland chapter of the Nature Conservancy has been working in the 66,000-acre Sideling Hill Creek watershed for most of the past decade. In 1989 it added the first tracts to the Maryland Natural Areas Registry. Three years ago it acquired a Boy Scout camp, an 865-acre tract that includes Ptilimnium habitat. And last year it acquired 194 acres adjacent to the creek.

All this for a feisty cousin of the common carrot that grows in shale barrens. Please forgive the pun, but we're compelled to root for Ptilimnium nodosum.

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