Rare Plants at the Gardens


I recently had the pleasure of teaching a class about plants that are rare in the wild here in Maine, yet are easily accessible for study in the cultivated collection here in our Gardens. One of the wonderful things about working and teaching at a botanical garden is that plants of disparate habitats and ranges are brought together so they can be studied, observed, and compared to other plants more easily. This, in fact, was one of the original reasons early botanical gardens were established.

During our day together, I was able to introduce students to twenty-four plants that are rare in Maine or elsewhere in New England. While (especially to a botanist) there’s nothing as special as seeing a rare species in its own habitat in the wild, it’s nonetheless very instructive and fascinating to learn to recognize a rare species in cultivation. Not to mention – it’s super-efficient to observe and learn a species from a salt marsh, an evergreen seepage swamp, dry rocky barrens, and rich mesic forest all in one afternoon!

Here are some examples of rare plants we saw here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens during our class:

image copyright dogtooth77, Iris prismatica detail
Iris prismatica detail, (c) dogtooth77
Slender Blue Flag (Iris prismatica; Maine State Status: Threatened) graces a wet swale of the Haney Hillside Garden. In the wild, it’s found at the upper reaches of salt marshes in southern Maine and southward.

sm Ceanothus americanus New Jersey Tea
New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus; Maine State Status: Threatened) growing along the sunny edge Birch Allee. In the wild, it grows on dry sandy banks, balds and in open woodlands in southern Maine and southward.

Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae; Maine State Status: Special Concern) is thriving along the edge of the Slater Forest Pond. In the wild, it’s found in non-acidic peatlands and mossy woodlands.

Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas; Maine State Status: Endangered) at the edge of the Haney Hillside Garden’s path. In the wild, it grows in rich glades and rocky slopes of Maine’s interior forests.

Please join us for more opportunities to learn about the rare plants of Maine during our year celebrating “Rare and Extraordinary Plants!” Coming up next, Maine Natural Areas Program botanist Don Cameron will lead a trip to see the rare North Blazing Star (Liatris novae-angliae; Maine State Status: Endangered) in glorious bloom at the Kennebunk Plains Preserve on August 30th.

— Melissa Cullina, director of education

Please note: Our cultivated rare plants are never collected from the wild; rather, we purchased responsibly-propagated stock.