Vermont Botanists Find a Long-Lost Friend

False mermaid-weed hadn't been seen in the state in more than a century
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 17, 2024 11:03 AM CDT
Vermont Botanists Find a Long-Lost Friend
False mermaid-weed found in Vermont.   (Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department)

Blink and you'll miss it, in more ways than one. Not only is false mermaid-weed "absolutely tiny"—with flowers the size of a head of a pin—but it surfaces for only about a month in the spring before dying, explains Smithsonian and the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. All of which helps explain why the flower hadn't been seen in Vermont in 108 years—until now. Last month, a state botanist inadvertently spotted the plant, formally known as Floerkea proserpinacoides, after she'd been sent a photo of a rare form of wild garlic.

"There was this little weird plant in the corner of the frame," Grace Glynn tells Vermont Public radio. "And when I zoomed in, I immediately knew that it was Floerkea, that it was false mermaid-weed," she says. "I couldn't believe that I was finally seeing this plant." Glynn went to the rural site in Addison County the following day and confirmed the patch of false mermaid-weed on private land alongside a stream. She then found another patch on public land.

"There was a lot of screaming," Glynn tells the New York Times of her own reaction. The plant's official status in the state has been changed from "possibly extinct and missing" to "very rare and critically imperiled," per Smithsonian. The plant is found elsewhere in North America, per the Native Plant Trust. So why all the fuss? "False mermaid-weed is a floodplain plant, and historic populations are believed to have been destroyed by some common challenges facing Vermont's floodplains: extreme floods, invasive species, and development," the state post explains. That it has resurfaced after a century "is a sign that good stewardship by landowners and conservation organizations really can make a difference." (More Vermont stories.)

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