The New England Wild Flower Society is bringing some of the biggest names in native-plant research to Falmouth for an all-day symposium Friday at Maine Audubon Society’s Gilsland Farm.

“We want to show how people in different areas can preserve these plants, whether they are from commercial nurseries or local land trusts,” said Courtney Allen, director of public programs for the society, which is based in Massachusetts.

Native Plant Conservation in the 21st Century (the symposium’s official title) is going to discuss what roles different conservation agencies – many of which will be represented at the event – should take in preserving native plants and assessing the effects of climate change and other threats on the native plants. It is designed both for plant professionals and hobbyists.

The framework for the event is a 2015 report NEWFS staffers wrote that concluded that 22 percent of New England’s native plants are rare or deemed historic, 31 percent of the more than 3,500 plants found in the region are not native and 10 percent of the non-native plants have been deemed invasive.

On average, the rare native species have lost 67 percent of their range in New England, and they also are rare in many of the states outside of New England where they occur, according to the report.

If you go to and click on “state of the plants” you can find a 10-page summary of the report, which I have read, and a 73-page complete, technical report, which I haven’t.


Those statistics are worrying. It would be unfortunate if some rare plants on the threatened list went extinct. But they already aren’t a huge presence in our natural world.

I asked Allen if people should be concerned more about native plants that are a major part of the ecosystem, such as hemlocks endangered by the two-fold attack by hemlock woolly adelgid and hemlock elongate scale and ashes being threatened by the emerald ash borer, which has decimated the ash population in parts of the country and was first found in Maine less than a year ago.

She said concerns such as mine would likely be discussed during an open session that concludes the forum and is designed to look at what the next steps should be in preserving native plants.

Keynote speaker for the symposium will be Jose Eduardo Meireles, an assistant professor of plant evolution and systematics at the University of Maine and director of the university’s herbarium.

After welcoming remarks, the first event will be a panel discussion, moderated by Allen. The panel will include Arthur Haines, a research botanist with the wildflower society best known as the author of “Flora Novae Angliae,” the guide to identifying all the plants found in New England; Heather McCargo, founder of the Maine-based Wild Seed Project; and Kristin Puryear, an ecologist with the Maine Natural Areas Program.

After lunch, there will be four smaller sessions, with attendees picking one: Native Plant Conservation Approaches for Botanists, led by Haines; Native Plants in the Nursery, led by Shawn Jalbert, founder of Native Haunts plant nursery in Alfred; Native Plants in Wild and Cultivated Landscapes, led by McCargo, and Native Plant Landscape Practices, led by Nancy Sferra, director of stewardship for the Nature Conservancy in Maine.


Allen said the Wild Flower Society regularly conducts programs throughout New England, but for the past few years, full-day symposia have been held in Massachusetts.

She said she has been in her position for less than a year, and while this is the first symposium outside of Massachusetts in a quite a few years, she hopes to have more in other New England states in the near future.

Eric Topper, director of education for the co-sponsoring Maine Audubon, said he hopes Audubon can sponsor a similar event each year, although the Wild Flower Society won’t be involved in all of them.

There will be several smaller NEWFS events at some of its Maine properties later this year. Haines will lead a hike through the Annie Sturgis Sanctuary in Vassalboro on May 19; a tour of the Harvey Butler Rhododendron Sanctuary in Springvale is scheduled for July 14; and a tour of the Robert P. Tristram Coffin Wild Flower Sanctuary in Woolwich will be offered on Aug. 24.

So there will be plenty of chances to get our wildflower fix.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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