Earth Science

What is an endangered plant?

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As of January 2008, 508 plant and animal species met federal criteria to be designated threatened (facing potential extinction) or endangered (facing extinction unless human intervention can restore conditions needed for survival)
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Endangered plants can be spotted with a good eye.

According to the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1966, an endangered plant or animal is a plant native to anywhere in the United States or its territories facing extinction due to human or other actions threatening its ability to survive.

Updated in 1973 to conform with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Act charges the departments of the interior, agriculture and defense with the protection of endangered or threatened species of both animals and plants, including protection of their supportive habitats. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, drawing on all related Federal departments, was established in 1970.

Plant Categories

Fauna categories include vertebrates, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, crustaceans and insects. A recently-added category is comprised of corals. Media coverage for fauna tend to be more extensive than that for flora. Plants and trees are seldom cuddly, don't have pups and definitely lack big brown eyes.

The public, therefore, may be more familiar with the battles over the timber industry and spotted owls, rumors about ivory-billed woodpeckers and the effects of water pollution on fish than they are with the wholesale destruction of 23 species of cactus and the disappearance of plants never noticed long enough to acquire anything more than a botanical classification. 

As of January 2008, 508 plant and animal species met federal criteria to be designated threatened (facing potential extinction) or endangered (facing extinction unless human intervention can restore conditions needed for survival).

Federal Habitats

Because plants provide the critical habitat in which fauna flourishes, one of the answers to the question what is an endangered plant? is 'part of a habitat critical to the survival of fauna, endangered, threatened or not.' While it is difficult to determine where federal habitat protection is based on protecting plants or animals, it is easy to recognize how closely survival of one species depends on the survival of others. Similar interdependency characterizes cooperative efforts among federal, state, regional and local government departments and agencies along with nonprofit conservation and environmental organizations to preserve and restore eroding biodiversity. 

Lists of Endangered Plants

Examining lists of endangered plants suggests that our grandmothers are right. In their days there were indeed more meadows and more treasured local varieties of flowers, shrubs, fruits, vegetables and trees. It may well be possible that nothing equals the taste of the little plums that grew on the old tree in your great grandfather's yard.

While one may not feel personal excitement about the endangered status of two dozen species of cactus, one can imagine the human activities that contributed to the designation. Hawaii has 344 federally-designated endangered and threatened plants and animals. The list for California contains 309, the list for Florida contains 114 and Puerto Rico's list has 78 endangered and threatened plants and animals. These lists may not be comprehensive, because states maintain additional lists of plants and animals endangered specifically in their area. 

Improving the Environment

How can anyone make a difference in the face of such overwhelming changes in the environment? Realizing that human decisions impact plants, animals, water and land is an excellent start because decisions can be made to benefit rather than damage the world we share with other growing things. 

Learning about your local habitat and its shareholders is as close as your local nature center, conservation department, area branches of national environmental organizations, public library, computer websites and government agencies. Just as we know the contents of our apartments or houses, we can begin to acquire a similar inventory of the natural elements comprising our yards, neighborhoods, municipalities and states.  Accumulating information about where you really live takes time; but that information will guide you to positive action.

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