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Dwarf cinquefoil

Dwarf cinquefoil or Robbins' cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana) is a small perennial member of the rose family endemic to Mt. Washington and Franconia Ridge within the White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire. When placed on the endangered species list in 1980, only two populations were known, a natural population at Monroe Flats and an introduced population at Camel Patch [1], and the primary threat was recreational impact associated with the Appalachian Trail at Monroe Flats. Monroe Flats was designated as critical habitat. Over-collection was formerly a threat, but largely controlled by 1980. Three of the four populations were considered viable (i.e. >50 plants) when the species was declared recovered and removed from the endangered species list in 2002.

Monroe Flats: The Appalachian Trail bisected the Monroe Flats population, extirpating the cinquefoil from the west side, severely curtailing it on the east side within eight meters of the trail, and causing an overall population decline of 75%. Population estimates at the 2.5-acre Monroe Flats site prior to the 1970s were not systematic [1]. In 1973, 1,801 plants with a rosette diameter greater than 1.4 cm were counted. Of the same size class, 1,547 plants were present in 1983, but due to active management climbed to 3,368 in 1992 and 4,575 in 1999. Over 14,000 plants in all size classes were estimated in 1999. The population was augmented with propagated plants, but the dramatic increase was primarily achieved by habitat protection efforts carried out by the Appalachian Mountain Club and the U.S. Forest Service: the Appalachian Trail was rerouted out of and around the critical habitat, recreational access was prohibited within critical habitat, and a scree wall and signs were placed along the critical habitat to warn hikers [1, 2]. Compliance with the measures has been 98% successful [1]. Propagation efforts established over 100 new plants at the site [2].

Franconia Ridge (natural): A single plant was rediscovered at the historic Franconia Ridge site in 1984, 18.6 miles west of Monroe Flats [1]. As of 2002, it numbered less than 50 plants growing in crevices on a vertical cliff and was not considered viable. It is believed to be a remnant of a larger population which has been largely extirpated due to recreation-related erosion.

Prior to 1980, unsuccessful attempts were made to establish transplanted populations at roughly 20 different sites [1]. In the 1990s, the New England Wild Flower Society, with the help of the Appalachian Mountain Club, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service, began a successful propagation program [2].

Franconia Ridge (established): This population was established on Franconia Ridge with transplants in 1988, 1989 and 1996 [1]. It has fluctuated in size, but the number of plants with a rosette diameter greater than 1.4 cm was 331 in 1999, 307 in 2000, and 331 in 2001.

Camel Patch: The species was successfully introduced to Camel Patch prior to listing [1]. It was augmented with an unknown number of plants from the 1980s to 1991, and more systematically from 1999 forward. The population has remained small but stable, with 84 plants in 1984, 87 in 1999, 101 in 2000, and 97 in 2001.

Boot's Spur: Reintroduction efforts began with 160 plants in 1986, but none survived as of 1991 [1]. A second failed attempt was made in 1995. A third attempt was recently initiated using new techniques [3]. As of December 2005, it is too early to tell if the new effort is succeeding.

The Viewing Garden: 19 plants were introduced between 1980 and 1997, but did not become established [1]. A second attempt was recently initiated using new techniques [3]. As of December 2005, it is too early to tell if the new effort is succeeding. The population will likely never be viable but will serve educational purposes.

[1] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2002. Removal of Potentilla robbinsiana (Robbins’ cinquefoil) from the federal list of endangered and threatened plants. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, August 27, 2002 (67 FR 54968).
[2] Brumback, W.E., D.M. Weihrauch, and K.D. Kimball. 2004. Propagation and transplanting of an endangered alpine species: Robbins' cinquefoil, Potentilla robbinsiana (Rosaceae). Native Plants Journal 5(1):91-97.
[3] Weihrauch, D. 2005. Personal communication with Doug Weihrauch, ecologist, Appalachian Mountain Club, December 2, 2005.

Banner photo © Phillip Colla