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Study: Some native plants are becoming extinct

Some plants native to our area (Long Island and everywhere else within a 50-mile radius of the city) aren't doing so well, largely because of the proliferation of non-native species of plants. This is according to new research announced by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which undertook the most comprehensive study ever conducted on plant biodiversity in the metropolitan area.

At least 50 varieties of native plants are extinct in the area or nearing elimination. Nuttall’s mudflower (Micranthemum micranthemoides), scarlet Indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea),  pennywort (Obolaria virginica), sidebells wintergreen (Orthilia secunda) and sundial lupine (Lupinis perennis) are among the wildflower species to have seriously declined in the region, and black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) is locally extinct, without a trace of a population remaining today in the metropolitan area.

Meanwhile, “a number of invasive species introduced from distant areas, with climates similar to ours — such as parts of Asia, Europe, and the southeastern United States — are newly thriving in the New York area,” according to Dr. Gerry Moore, director of science at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and coordinator of the New York Metropolitan Flora Project. “Camphor weed, native to the southern United States, is common in Brooklyn now; however, at the time of the Garden’s founding a century ago, it was considered to be quite rare.”

Moore said the report's findings are "startlingly" different from what is found in printed maps, plant manuals and landscape shots taken just 40 years ago.

Some native plants, like Britton’s violet (Viola britoniana), are rare in native habitats but thrive when brought into cultivation in the metropolitan area. Some non-native cultivated plants, such as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), can "escape" from cultivated landscape and dominate natural areas. Efforts are now under way to better recognize and manage for these invasive plant species, which thrive and spread aggressively outside their natural range and can be particularly invasive when introduced to a new habitat because of the absence of insects, diseases and animals that naturally keep its population in check in their native region.

And the damage doesn't stop there: When different plants take over an area, the entire ecosystem can be at risk, as insect and animal life can be drastically affected, as well.

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