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Extirpated Alpine Plant Discovered on Algonquin

Extirpated Alpine Plant Discovered on Algonquin

August 29, 2023 — Lake Placid, NY — The Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program is excited to announce the discovery of a population of dwarf willow (salix herbacea), an extremely rare alpine plant species in New York, on the summit of Algonquin Peak. Summit steward Katie Leton identified the plant during a botany survey on August 15. Last documented on Algonquin in 1980, it was since believed extirpated from the mountain, limiting the extent of dwarf willow in the Adirondacks to a single population on Mount Marcy. 

One of the smallest woody plants in the world, dwarf willow is typically between 0.5 and 5 cm tall with branches that grow just underground forming open mats. The leaves are rounded and green with paler undersides and, like all willows, it presents small flowers in tight clusters called catkins. Though it is widespread globally, it is exceedingly rare in New York and considered critically imperiled and at risk of extirpation from the state. 

 “DEC commends the Adirondack Mountain Club and the New York National Heritage Program for their dedication and perseverance with protecting and restoring rare and sensitive vegetation on New York’s highest summits. DEC is proud of the accomplishments of this longstanding partnership with the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. This exciting discovery is a great success for the Adirondack Region,” said Joe Zalewski, Region 5 Regional Director, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The Summit Stewardship Program is made possible thanks to continued support and funding from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation through the Environmental Protection Fund.

“For over thirty years, the Summit Stewardship Program has been the guardian of and advocate for this very fragile alpine plant community,” said Peg Olsen, Adirondack Director of The Nature Conservancy. “This new discovery of dwarf willow is evidence of how education can change behaviors for powerful conservation outcomes. It’s encouraging to know that we can make a difference.”

“The rediscovery of this tiny plant on Algonquin after an absence of many decades is very exciting and indicates better prospects for this species to persist in New York,” said Richard Ring, Chief Botanist for the New York Natural Heritage Program. “It is also a testament to the Summit Stewardship Program’s persistent efforts to steward the recovery of the unique and fragile alpine ecosystems atop all New York’s High Peaks, which provide a home to this willow and many other rare species. It is wonderful to have an example of successful conservation and stewardship at such a heavily visited site.”

“This small plant just delivered a big message: New York’s alpine zone is continuing to recover. This discovery underscores the importance of both educational outreach on summits, which protects alpine plants, and continued research,” said Liam Ebner, ADK Summit Steward Coordinator. “I am incredibly proud of Katie and our summit steward team for making such a historic discovery.” 

Click here to learn more about the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program. 


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