Plants of the Pinelands

The Pine Barrens is home to plants that are uniquely adapted to thrive in the nutrient poor soils.

Threats to the Pinelands

Inappropriate development is a constant threat to the natural resources of the Pinelands.

Rare Plant Protection in New Jersey

Even though New Jersey has a list of rare and endangered plant species, these plants are not yet protected by state law. Read on to find out why we support the creation of the New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act and how you can support this effort, too.

Image of Bog Asphodel (Narthecium americanum)[+ ZOOM] Bog Asphodel (Narthecium americanum) © PPA

New Jersey has a rich botanical heritage with more than 2100 native plant species. For some of these species, New Jersey is the last remaining population stronghold. On this page you will find information about the importance of conserving biodiversity, the current status of New Jersey's native plant populations and plant protection laws, threats to our state's botanical diversity, information about a draft New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act, and how you can contribute to efforts to preserve New Jersey's flora.



Current Status of New Jersey's Plants

Current Status of Plant Protection

Threats to New Jersey's Rare Plants

Comparison with Protections for Wildlife

Goals of the New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act

What the New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act would Affect

List of Supporters

How You Can Help

More Information



Biodiversity is the full array of life on Earth. The term biodiversity generally refers to the number of species of animals, fungi, microorganisms and plants present in a certain area, but it can also encompass variation in genes, ecosystems, and landscapes. The greater the biodiversity, the greater the chance that a biological community, as a whole, will be able to adapt to environmental changes and the more resilient it will be to natural and man-made disturbance.

"Every native species, however humble in appearance by contemporary standards, has its place in the nation's heritage. It is a masterpiece of evolution, an ancient, multifaceted entity that still shares the land with us." - E.O. Wilson

Image of Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)[+ ZOOM] Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) © PPA

There are many reasons to be concerned about biodiversity. All living things on Earth, including people, are dependent on other living things. We depend on biodiversity to provide us with food, maintenance of water and air quality, waste decomposition and soil generation, nutrient cycling, pollination services, natural pest control, climate stabilization, flood and erosion control, and medicines and pharmaceuticals. There is so much we do not know about the roles of individual species in the overall functioning of ecosystems; removing just one or a few "parts" could cause the cascading collapse of the whole.

In addition to these ecological services that our communities require, many people view biodiversity as having intrinsic value worth protecting. The species with which we share our environment can be appreciated for their own sake of existence - for being living examples of the wonder of nature and for making our world feel full and whole and interesting. As humans, our ability to be concerned about other species and the ramifications of our actions is what makes us different and special. We are able to lament the loss of another species - even one that we may have never seen - and to comprehend the tragedy of such a loss that we ourselves have caused.


Current Status of New Jersey's Plants

Biologists have long been aware of New Jersey's extraordinary flora. Though densely populated, the state boasts dramatic floral diversity, due in part to its geographic diversity. Even so, local scientists have noted alarming trends with respect to many of the state's plant communities and plant species.

Image of Bee-balm (Monarda didyma)[+ ZOOM] Bee-balm (Monarda didyma) © Elena Tartaglia

Moreover, New Jersey's existing conservation programs are heavily weighted toward wildlife issues, and do not address many of the gravest threats to our native flora.

  • 356 of the more than 2100 native plant species in New Jersey (approximately 17%) are currently listed as state-endangered.
  • About 39% of all native plant species in the state are considered imperiled to some degree.
  • At least 32 plant species have already been extirpated from the state.
  • 30 plant species are known from only a single population occurrence in the state.
  • 52 plant species found in New Jersey are globally rare. Some of these species exist only in New Jersey.
  • 37 plant species were recently added to the NJ DEP Endangered Plant Species list. 10 plant species were recently deleted -- they are believed to no longer exist in the state.


Current Status of Plant Protection

Image of Pine Barren Gentian (Gentiana autumnalis)[+ ZOOM] Pine Barren Gentian (Gentiana autumnalis) © PPA

The Natural Heritage Program of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is tasked with creating a list of native plants classified as "endangered" as well as a list of "plant species of concern." These lists are based upon extensive population and location data. However, there is no actual state-wide legal protection of these listed plants, despite the fact that the original authors of the Endangered Plant Species List Act, enacted in 1989, intended for these species to be fully protected. Other legislative acts, such as the Pinelands Protection Act of the Pinelands National Reserve and the Highlands Preservation Act of the Highlands Region, can refer to the Natural Heritage lists and require that these plants be protected within their jurisdictions. Listed plants that fall outside these boundaries are given no protection. The New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act would give state-wide protection to all listed rare plants, regardless of their location in the state.


Threats to New Jersey's Rare Plants

The threats to our rare plants are many. Most threats ultimately cause native plant population decline through habitat destruction associated with development and urbanization. Other threats include pollution, invasive species, overcollection, agriculture, and ecological succession in the absence of natural disturbance processes (i.e. wildfires, floods).

Image of Common causes of plant extirpation in New Jersey.[+ ZOOM] Common causes of plant extirpation in New Jersey. (Breden et al. 2006)Image of Number of threatened extant plant populations by threat in New Jersey.[+ ZOOM] Number of threatened extant plant populations by threat in New Jersey. (Breden et al. 2006)


Comparison with Protections for Wildlife

In 1973, New Jersey signed into law the NJ Endangered Species Conservation Act, which established laws to protect and restore endangered and threatened wildlife in the state. This legislation led to the creation of the Endangered and Nongame Species Program to do the work necessary to protect the state's rare wildlife. Currently, 35 wildlife species are listed as endangered and 25 are threatened. The Endangered Species Conservation Act has protected our wildlife from capture, kill, harassment, habitat destruction, over-exploitation, and pollution for close to 40 years - it's about time we protect our botanical heritage as well. Plant and animal communities are inextricably intertwined. Our plants and plant communities are the sole source of food and habitat for wildlife and cannot be neglected if we are to truly protect our wildlife.

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." - John Muir

Image of Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia var. glaucophylla)[+ ZOOM] Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia var. glaucophylla) © Louis-M. Landry

It is easier to garner public support for wildlife protection than for plant protection. People are more likely to feel an emotional connection to animals and are more sympathetic to their conservation needs. Realistically speaking, the majority of people would feel a greater sense of loss with the extinction of the Piping Plover than with the extinction of Knieskern's Beaked Rush. But, it is important to keep in mind that the higher importance value assigned to animals over plants is not a real biological difference, but one determined by people and politics. Providing lesser protection for plants is unsupportable biologically - if we choose to protect only one biological community, our efforts to conserve total biodiversity will fail. It is worth noting that the Endangered Species Conservation Act protects a variety of wildlife - mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, butterflies, mollusks and crustaceans. The Endangered Species Conservation Act does not discriminate against certain animals. Likewise, endangered and threatened species conservation as a whole should not discriminate against certain species, including plants.

This is not to say that plants are not as majestic or interesting as animals. It is hard to not be impressed by the giant Redwood trees in California and the Saguaro Cactus in Arizona. Here in New Jersey we have the delicate beauty of the Spreading Pogonia, the miniature spectacle that is the Curly Grass Fern, the curious bug-eating Bladderwort, and the novelty of the only occurrence of Hammond's Yellow Spring Beauty in the world, to name a few.


Goals of the New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act

The purpose of the New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act is to protect rare plants and rare ecological communities throughout the state of New Jersey with the ultimate goals being prevention of plant species extinction and even facilitation of rare plant population expansion. The Act would require the development of a list of plants occurring in the state classified as endangered or threatened, as well as a list of rare ecological communities. An ecological community means any officially recognized unit of distinct vegetation composition. Examples include Atlantic White Cedar swamps, salt marshes, pine barren savannas, coastal dune woodlands, and calcareous fens. These communities are collectively unique and support an interesting and important array of plant species, many of which are rare or endangered. By protecting entire ecological communities, we will protect the habitats that individual rare plant species (and animals!) need to survive.

Image of Coastal salt marsh[+ ZOOM] Coastal salt marsh © PPA

This Act would legally protect New Jersey's rare plants from harming, picking, and killing. In addition to protecting rare native plants and their habitats from direct destruction, this Act would include measures to control invasive plant species and to create conservation plans to promote the recovery or maintenance of rare plant populations and rare ecological communities. Another feature of the Act is a provision for adopting a regulation that allows for the emergency listing of a rare plant or ecological community if an immediate and significant threat to its survival is found. Incidental destruction of a rare plant will be allowed only if it can be demonstrated that a greater environmental benefit would be derived from this action, and only if it will not impair the conservation of any rare plant population or rare ecological community and a plan which includes conservation and mitigation measures is implemented.

Many other states have legislation protecting their native rare plants. New Jersey lags behind this trend. We hope to have this Act established as law.


What the New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act would Affect

The majority of New Jersey's rare plant populations occur in the Pinelands and Highlands regions. The Pinelands Protection Act and the Highlands Preservation Act already have in place provisions for protecting these plants to a certain extent. However, in the Pinelands, only plants listed as "endangered" and those specifically listed in the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan are currently afforded protections; other rare species considered to be imperiled are not. The New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act would give more thorough protections to endangered and threatened plants on private and public lands throughout the state by limiting direct destruction, habitat loss, and habitat degradation.

Image of Number of endangered plant species in each county. Note that these numbers do not include plants currently listed as “species of concern.”[+ ZOOM] Number of endangered plant species in each county. Note that these numbers do not include plants currently listed as “species of concern.” (NJDEP Natural Heritage Program)

It is worth noting that fewer populations of rare plants occur within the already urbanized and highly developed counties of the state. Development activities in these areas would therefore be only minimally affected by this Act.

Image of Locations of extant, threatened, and extirpated endangered plant populations. Note that many rare plants have already been lost from urban and agricultural parts of the state.[+ ZOOM] Locations of extant, threatened, and extirpated endangered plant populations. Note that many rare plants have already been lost from urban and agricultural parts of the state. (Breden et al. 2006)


List of Supporters

Below is the most current list of organizations that support the creation of a New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act. Please contact us if you would like to add your organization to this list.

Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions

American Littoral Society

Audubon Wildlife Society

D&R Greenway Land Trust

Ecological Solutions, LLC

Edison Greenways Group, Inc.

Environment New Jersey

Forked River Mountain Coalition

Friends for the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh

Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space

Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association

Greater Newark Conservancy

Haddon Township Environmental Commission

Highland Coalition

Jakes Branch County Park

Kingston Greenways Association

Little Gardens Club of Atlantic City

Master Gardeners of Burlington County

Musconetcong Mountain Conservancy

Musconetcong Watershed Association

New Jersey Audubon Society

New Jersey Conservation Foundation

New Jersey Sierra Club

North American Butterfly Association, North Jersey Chapter

NY/NJ Baykeeper

Pinelands Native Plant Nursery

Pinelands Preservation Alliance

Rancocas Conservancy

Rutgers University Ecology & Evolution Graduate Student Association

Saddler's Woods Conservation Association

South Jersey Land and Water Trust

The Native Plant Society of New Jersey

The Nature Conservancy

Toadshade Wildflower Farm

Union Forge Heritage Association

Washington Crossing Audubon Society

Wild Ridge Plants, LLC

Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge


How You Can Help

Please sign-on to our list of supporters and contact your legislators to ask for their support of the New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act. You can find the contact information for your legislators here. Also, please feel free to distribute the Rare Plant Protection FactSheet found below.


More Information

Download Rare Plant Protection FactSheet

Rare Plant Protection FactSheet - 234.3KB
Rare Plant Protection FactSheet

Download New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act Draft

New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act Draft - 170.0KB
Draft statute created by Partnerships for New Jersey Plant Conservation

Breden et al. 2006 - NJDEP Report: Endangered Plant Species Populations in New Jersey: Health and Threats

NJDEP Natural Heritage Program Website

NJDEP Natural Heritage List of Endangered Plant Species and Plant Species of Concern

Special Plants of New Jersey Fact Sheets

NatureServe Explorer

Center for Plant Conservation

"The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living being breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again." - William Beebe

The development of the New Jersey Native Plant Protection Act is a joint effort between the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, and the Partnerships for New Jersey Plant Conservation.

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