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Rare Plant Conservation and Recovery

KNP has the only plant conservation program in Kentucky state government, the Rare Plant Conservation Section. Since 1985, KNP has had a cooperative agreement with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to serve as the official partner for monitoring and managing federally listed  and at-risk plants under section 6 of the Endangered Species Act.  Currently, KNP works on over 25 federally listed and at-risk plants through this agreement. We work closely with USFWS to meet recovery goals and implement conservation action that truly protects those species and prevents the need for federal listing. We also coordinate work with a regional group, the Southeastern Plant Conservation Alliance, to compile accurate information on rare plants, set priorities, and implement conservation actions on species that are candidates for listing in order to prevent federal listing with the ESA. Our monitoring, management, and conservation of federally listed and at risk  plants and their habitats has resulted in the recovery of several plants and their habitats, thus reducing the need for Federal Listing.

In addition to federal listing, KNP is responsible for implementing Kentucky's Rare Plant Recognition Act and maintaining our state list of threatened and endangered species. With close to 2,900 species of plants in Kentucky, assessing their status is challenging. To fulfill our mandate, we revise our rare plant list every 4 years. We collaborate with partners across the state, including universities, state and federal agencies, land trusts, and nonprofits to help in the assessments of rare plants. This list, along with photographs, distribution maps, herbarium specimens, and other associated information is available online via our Rare Plant Database and ourKentucky Biological Assessment Tool.  

In 2018, we revised Kentucky's rare plant list. Currently, we track 176 state endangered plants and 101 state threatened plants, along with detailed information on an additional 225 plants of conservation concern, including special concern, watch list, historic, and extirpated plants.

Recent Rare Plant Success Stories

Spreading rockcress, a globally rare plant, was discovered in 2018 on  limestone outcrops in the forests of Fort Knox during an ecological community assessment conducted by KNP  at the request of the Department of Defense and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. There are less than 100 populations of this plant known range-wide, making this new state record a significant find.  Increasing our knowledge of plant distributions is one of the first steps of plant conservation. 


Through long term vegetation monitoring, collaborative management, and hydrologic research, KNP is working on the federally threatened white fringeless orchid recovery and associated wetland restoration on our   natural areas in eastern Kentucky.  Since 2007 we have partnered with University of Kentucky's Department of Forestry to study the hydrology of several seeps that were in great need of restoration. Populations of white fringeless orchid increased significantly after management began in 2012. The seep community's  diversity increased tremendously. Many important pollinator plants increased, as well as the return of the rare grass pink orchid that had not been seen in over 15 years. A curious new site record of  a rare plant more commonly found in the south eastern coastal plain, Nutall's lobelia, also showed up after management, providing further evidence as to what these seeps and the surrounding communities looked like in the past.  We hope to use this restoration model throughout the white fringeless orchids' range, in cooperation with the US Forest Service. We will continue our monitoring and management work and expand  to more seeps to recover the federally threatened white fringeless orchid and its associated habitat.

KNP monitors and manages for Short's goldenrod populations in and around Blue Licks State Park annually. Collaboration is key to this plant's success! We have partnered with USFWS, Cincinnati Zoo, and Bernheim Forest on several successful Short's goldenrod introductions, transplanted on conservation properties upstream from the Blue Licks populations along the Licking River.  We have worked with Missouri Botanical Garden to seed bank this plant for added insurance and future restoration projects.  Over the years, volunteers from the Kentucky Native Plant Society and others have assisted us with monitoring of short's goldenrod populations as well as managing for habitat by removing cedars and other woody trees and shrubs.  And in 2017 we partnered on a large project with Division of Forestry on  management of several glades and barrens that support this federally threatened plant in order to increase its habitat and population size.  Not only does this management improve the short's goldenrod populations, it also benefits all the associated prairie plants such as sunflowers, asters, thoroughworts and grasses. Due to our management, we also documented new populations of the state listed Great Plains ladies tresses and cream gentian on our nature preserves as well as other conservative plants such as prairie dock.