Recovery of Robbins' Cinquefoil - A Partnership Success

Robbins' cinquefoil.
Robbins' Cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana). Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

In 1819, Crawford Path, one of the oldest and most popular recreation hiking trails in the nation, was built through Monroe Flats, home to more than 95 percent of the world's Robbins' cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana), concentrated on just one acre of land. Over the next one hundred fifty years, more than 850 specimens of this attractive rare plant were collected, some sold to collectors and herbaria. Foot traffic on the Appalachian Trail damaged Robbins' cinquefoil plants. As backpacking popularity boomed and hiker use of Crawford Path increased dramatically, Robbins' cinquefoil teetered on the brink of extinction. In response, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) placed Robbins' cinquefoil on the endangered species list, and issued a recovery plan.

Monroe Flats.
Crawford Path is built through the Monroe Flats, where over 95 percent of the world's Robbins' cinquefoil population exists in a one acre area. Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Then the recovery work began. In 1983, the Crawford Path and Dry River trails were relocated out of critical Robbins' cinquefoil habitat, and the area was closed to public use. That same year, the Appalachian Mountain Club began long-term biological and population studies of the species to guide recovery work.

Robbins' cinquefoil seedlings in small square pots in a box.
In the 1990s, the New England Wild Flower Society develops a successful method to germinate seeds and to accelerate their development into seed-producing adults for transplanting. Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

woman wearing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service jacket kneeling and planting Robbins' cinquefoil seedlings.
In 1994, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the White Mountain National Forest signed an MOU to sustain Robbins' cinquefoil regardless of legal status. Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

woman kneeling over a plot grid, counting Robbins' cinquefoil seedlings.
Population counts were completed in June to early-July. Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

hand holding tweezers collecting Robbins' cinquefoil seeds from the ground.
Seeds were collected in early to mid-July. Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

In the 1990s, experimental work to establish satellite colonies began. A minimum viable population model was developed. The New England Wild Flower Society developed a successful method to germinate seeds and to accelerate their development into seed-producing adults for transplanting. In 1994, the USFWS and White Mountain National Forest signed a Memorandum of Understanding to sustain Robbins' cinquefoil regardless of its future legal status.

Seed collection and propagation then proceeded. For this process, population counts were completed in June and early-July. Seeds were collected in early to mid-July, collecting one or two seed heads from plants with 10 or more flower stalks. In 2005, 866 seeds were collected from 45 seed heads. The seeds were air dried and sent for storage and propagation. Seeds are stored in a refrigerator until sowing, or dried and packaged and frozen for long-term storage, at the New England Wild Flower Society nursery in Massachusetts. Long-term storage is important because:

  • Robbins' cinquefoil habitat is restricted to only four sites;
  • Populations are relatively small and genetically identical; offspring are essentially parent clones; and,
  • Potential for catastrophic loss is high.

The partners' efforts established two new successful plant colonies!

In response to management techniques between 1973 and the present, Robbins' cinquefoil rebounded dramatically from 1,801 to 4,831 flowering plants in 2006, meeting recovery goals. The species was removed from the endangered species list in 2002. Follow up monitoring conducted in 2005 and 2006 indicates that Robbins' cinquefoil numbers and condition remain stable.

This successful recovery effort over the past two decades is the result of collaboration by the Appalachian Mountain Club, New England Wild Flower Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and USDA Forest Service, White Mountain National Forest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was the project manager that worked closely with the partners on all aspects of the project. The Appalachian Mountain Club was responsible for trail relocation, public education, research on the plant's biology and population and transplant work. The New England Wild Flower Society oversaw the greenhouse rearing of the plant, long-term storage of seeds, and transplant efforts. As the federal land manager, the Forest Service oversaw trail relocation, site monitoring and transplant work. In addition, scientists from the University of New Hampshire contributed by deciphering the plant's genetics and reproductive biology and provided an independent ecological perspective on the historic records and soil dynamics of the critical habitat.

Project Collaborators

  • Appalachian Mountain Club
  • New England Wild Flower Society
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • White Mountain National Forest

Project Funding

  • Appalachian Mountain Club
  • Jessie B. Cox Charitable Trust
  • National Forest Foundation
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • New England Wild Flower Society
  • Rivendell Foundation
  • Rowland Foundation
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • White Mountain National Forest

three men planting Robbins' cinquefoil seedlings.
In the 1990s and 2000s, two new successful plant colonies were established through partner efforts. Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service..

young planted Robbins' cinquefoil seedling, a red numbered stake next to it.
In response to management techniques, between 1973 and 1999, the population rebounded 2.5 times from 1,801 to 4,575 flowering plants, meeting recovery goals. Robbins' cinquefoil was delisted in 2002. Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service..