Rare Plants of the Big River Management Area


Big River Management AreaThe Big River Management Area occupies 8600 acres (13.4 square miles) in the towns of West Greenwich, Coventry, East Greenwich, and Exeter in the State of Rhode Island.  In 1965 the state began condemning the land under the power of eminent domain for use as a surface water reservoir.  The EPA along with many environmental groups opposed the project and the surface water reservoir never came to fruition.

This article is intended to introduce some of the plant life unique to the BRMA. Over the last several years I have conducted numerous botanical inventories on portions of the property in the management area. Photographs, habitat information and state rank are presented.

The BRMA is a haven to several state endangered plants which are found nowhere else in Rhode Island, including Variegated Horsetail, Oak Fern and Collin’s Sedge.  In fact BRMA is the only place in New England where Collin’s Sedge occurs. Each of these plants requires a specific habitat without which it could not exist.

Flooding would destroy all life forms including plants, animals and the ecosystems in which they occur.  While surface water reservoirs may be a necessity in some cases, we need to consider alternative ways of providing and maintaining an adequate supply of potable water.  Conservation alone can save millions of gallons of water. Water is much too valuable a commodity to be used frivolously.  It is not necessary, nor is it prudent, to use potable water for extravagant purposes such as watering lawns.. Proper management, that is, wisely restricting the use of drinking water, will significantly conserve our current supply to the point where it would be unnecessary to destroy valuable ecosystems by creating more reservoirs.

Some of the more fragile habitats in the BRMA are also threatened by the use of ATVs, dirt bikes and other motorized vehicles. Off road vehicles are a very real threat to rare plant species.

Dedication

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The number in parantheses next to the genus name
indicates the number of species shown in that genus.

Carex (4)
Equisetum
Lobelia 

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All photos © Francis Underwood unless otherwise noted.

Colic Root
Botanical Name:   
Aletris farinosa
Common Name:   
Colic Root
Family:   
Liliaceae (Lily Family)
Habitat:   
Nutrient poor, acid soils.
State Status:   
S3 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:     
Blooms in early July with white flowers on tall stalks. Basal leaves persist through winter.
 
 
Wild Leek
Botanical Name:   
Allium tricoccum
Common Name:   
Wild Leek
Family:   
Liliaceae (Lily Family)
Habitat:   
Rocky streambanks and moist woods
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:    
Broad leaves appear in April and disappear by late June when flower stalks sprout.
 
Wild Leek  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Blunt-leaved Milkweed
Botanical Name:   
Asclepias amplexicaulis
Common Name:   
Blunt-leaved Milkweed
Family:   
Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family)
Habitat:   
Dry fields and sandy areas.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
This is the only Milkweed in Rhode Island with leaves that clasp the stem. It blooms in July.
Butterfly Weed
Botanical Name:   
Asclepias tuberosa
Common Name:   
Butterfly Weed
Family:   
Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family)
Habitat:   
Dry, open areas.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
Bright orange flowers top the stems of this unusual Milkweed in mid-July.
 
Water Sedge
Botanical Name:   
Carex aquatilis var. substricta
Common Name:   
Water Sedge
Family:   
Cyperaceae (Sedge Family)
Habitat:   
"Marshes, shallow water along shores,usually in neutral or calcareous substrates." (FNA)
State Status:   
S1 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
Not included in RI Rare Plant List
Comments:   
Forms large clumps,longest bracts overtop spikes.
Photo Credit: kbarton
 
Collins’ Sedge
Botanical Name:   
Carex collinsii
Common Name:   
Collins’ Sedge
Family:   
Cyperaceae (Sedge Family)
Habitat:   
Red Maple swamps.
State Status:   
S1 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SE
Comments:   
This rare sedge was listed as historical in RI until 2002 when it was discovered in the Big River Management area.
 
Variable Sedge
Botanical Name:   
Carex polymorpha
Common Name:   
Variable Sedge
Family:   
Cyperaceae (Sedge Family)
Habitat:   
Dry or moist woods, often in acidic soils.
State Status:   
S1 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SE
Comments:   
Colonial, perigymnium beaked
Photo Credit: kbarton
Variable Sedge staminate spike    
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
Photo Credit: kbarton    
   
Variable Sedge pistillate spike    
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
 
Photo Credit: kbarton
 
Rough Sedge
Botanical Name:   
Carex scabrata
Common Name:   
Rough Sedge
Family:   
Cyperaceae (Sedge Family)
Habitat:   
Wooded swamps.
State Status:   
S2
RI Rare Plant Status:   
Not included in RI Rare Plant List
Comments:   
Perigynium beaked and scabrous
 
Pink Tickseed
Botanical Name:   
Coreopsis rosea
Common Name:   
Pink Tickseed
Family:   
Asteraceae (Aster Family)
Habitat:   
Nutrient poor, wet sandy soil.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
A plant of global concern. It is vulnerable to destruction because of its limited range.
Bunchberry
Botanical Name:   
Cornus canadensis
Common Name:   
Bunchberry
Family:   
Cornaceae (Dogwqood Family)
Habitat:   
Moist woods, often in sphagnum.
State Status:   
S3
RI Rare Plant Status:   
Not included in RI Rare Plant List
Comments:   
Small shrub, leaves appear whorled.
 
Collared Dodder
Botanical Name:   
Cuscuta indecora
Common Name:   
Collared Dodder
Family:   
Cuscutaceae (Dodder Family)
Habitat:   
Parasitic on Coreopsis rosea and other members of the Aster family.
State Status:   
S1 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SE
Comments:   
Collared Dodder is a new species to the RI flora.  It was discovered in 2002 in the BRMA.
 
 
Variegated Horsetail
Botanical Name:   
Equisetum variegatum
Common Name:   
Variegated Horsetail
Family:   
Equisetaceae (Horsetail Family)
Habitat:   
Wet sandy soil
State Status:   
S1 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SE
Comments:   
There is only one known site for this species in RI.  It was recently discovered.
 
Variegated Horsetail  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Umbrella Grass

 

Botanical Name:   
Fuirena pumila
Common Name:   
Umbrella Grass
Family:   
Cyperaceae (Sedge Family)
Habitat:   
Wet, sandy soils at pond edges.
State Status:   
S1 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SE
Comments:   
This grass-like member of the sedge family is endangered in RI.
Photo credit:
Gary P. Fleming © Virginia Natural Heritage Program
 
Checkered Rattlesnake-plantain
Botanical Name:   
Goodyera tesselata
Common Name:   
Checkered Rattlesnake-plantain
Family:   
Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)
Habitat:   
Acid woods often under Pine trees.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
Comments:   
This  orchid has  checkered, evergreen basal leaves. Its white flowers occur along the main stem. It blooms in July.
Oak Fern
Botanical Name:   
Gymnocarpium dryopteris
Common Name:   
Oak Fern
Family:   
Dryopteridaceae (Wood Fern Family)
Habitat:   
Moist woods, sometimes on mossy, damp stone walls.
State Status:   
S1 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
ST
Comments:   
A very delicate fern with only one population in RI. Endangered.
 
Large Whorled Pogonia
Botanical Name:   
Isotria verticillata
Common Name:   
Large Whorled Pogonia
Family:   
Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)
Habitat:   
Dry, acid woods.
State Status:   
S3 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
Comments:   
An inconspicuous, but  interesting  orchid with five whorled leaves. Blooms as early as mid May.
 
Large Whorled Pogonia  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Yellow Flax
Botanical Name:   
Linum medium var. texanum
Common Name:   
Yellow Flax
Family:   
Linaceae (Flax Family)
Habitat:   
Wet or dry nutrient poor sands.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
This Flax has yellow flowers which open only in sunny weather and last for just one day. Flax produces the fibers used to make linen.
 
Yellow Flax  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Yellow or Bog Orchid
Botanical Name:   
Liparis loeselii
Common Name:   
Yellow or Bog Twayblade
Family:   
Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)
Habitat:   
Damp or wet woods.
State Status:   
S1
RI Rare Plant Status:   
ST
Comments:   
Small plant with two basal leaves, yellow flowers.
 
Smallflower Halfchaff Sedge
Botanical Name:   
Lipocarpha micrantha
Common Name:   
Smallflower Halfchaff Sedge
Family:   
Lipocarpha (Sedge Family)
Habitat:   
Wet, sandy soils at pond edges.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
ST
Comments:   
A very small, annual sedge which often occurs in large numbers.  It is rare in RI.
Water Gladiole
Botanical Name:   
Lobelia dortmanna
Common Name:   
Water Gladiole
Family:   
Campanulaceae (Bluebell Family)
Habitat:   
Submerged in ponds near shore.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
Small violet-colored flowers on long stems bloom either above or below the surface of the water.
 
Water Gladiole  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Mountain Honeysuckle
Botanical Name:   
Lonicera dioica
Common Name:   
Mountain Honeysuckle
Family:   
Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family)
Habitat:   
Open woods or swamps, stream edges.
State Status:   
S3
RI Rare Plant Status:   
C
Comments:    
Woody climber with pale yellow flowers
 
Mountain Honeysuckle seed head    
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
Mountain Honeysuckle vine    
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
Mountain Fly Honeysuckle
Botanical Name:   
Lonicera villosa
Common Name:   
Mountain Fly Honeysuckle, Waterberry.
Family:   
Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family)
Habitat:   
Red Maple swamps.
State Status:   
S1 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
C
Comments:    
This shrub has pairs of yellow nodding flowers which bloom in late April to early May. It is very uncommon in RI.
 
Mountain Fly Honeysuckle  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Photo Credit: Jim Riley  
 
 
Wild Lupine
Botanical Name:   
Lupinus perennis
Common Name:   
Wild Lupine
Family:   
Fabaceae (Bean Family)
Habitat:   
Pine barrens and dry open areas.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
Long spikes of blue-purple flowers are produced in mid-May to July.  This is one of our most spectacular flowering plants and is a favorite target of plant thieves. It does not survive transplanting.
 
 
 
Climbing Fern
Botanical Name:   
Lygodium palmatum
Common Name:   
Climbing Fern, Hartford Fern
Family:   
Schizaeaceae (Curly-grass Fern Family)
Habitat:   
In moist woods often along stream banks
State Status:   
S2,S3 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
An evergreen fern with large sterile leaves at bottom of vine and small fertile leaves at the top. It climbs on twigs and branches.
 
Climbing Fern  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Black Spruce
Botanical Name:   
Picea mariana
Common Name:   
Black Spruce
Family:   
Pinaceae (Pine Family)
Habitat:   
Cool bogs.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
RI is near the southern limit for this usually northern spruce tree. It sometimes is host to a parasitic plant called Dwarf Mistletoe.
 
Black Spruce  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sickle-leaved Golden Aster
Botanical Name:   
Pityopsis falcata
Common Name:   
Sickle-leaved Golden Aster
Family:   
Asteraceae (Aster Family)
Habitat:   
Dry, open, sandy areas.
State Status:   
S3 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
Thrives in sandy, open areas.  The main threats to this plant are its restricted range of occurrence and  habitat destruction.
 
 
Small Green Woodland Orchid
Botanical Name:   
Platanthera clavellata
Common Name:   
Small Green Woodland Orchid
Family:   
Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)
Habitat:   
Wet woods and swampy areas.
State Status:   
S4 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
Comments:   
A very small orchid which blooms from mid-July to August Flowers are whitish-green
   
   
 
Ragged-Fringed Orchid
Botanical Name:  
Platanthera lacera
Common Name:  
Ragged-Fringed Orchid
Family:
Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)
Habitat:  
Swampy areas and sometimes  dry fields.
State Status:  
S4 
RI Rare Plant Status:  
SC
Comments:  
This orchid has deeply fringed lips giving it a ragged appearance. The flowers are greenish-white.
 
Ragged-Fringed Orchid  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
.
Small Purple-Fringed Orchid
Botanical Name:   
Platanthera psycodes
Common Name:   
Small Purple-Fringed Orchid
Family:   
Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)
Habitat:   
Swampy areas.
State Status:   
S3 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
One of the most striking of Rhode Island’s orchids, it blooms in late July to August. It has long spikes of rose-purple flowers with fringed lips.
 
 
 
Rose Pogonia Orchid
Botanical Name:   
Pogonia ophioglossoides
Common Name:   
Rose Pogonia Orchid
Family:   
Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)
Habitat:   
Moist open fields and 
sphagnum bogs.
State Status:   
RI Rare Plant Status:   
S3 
Comments:   
Flowers are pink. A very rare white- flowered form occurs in RI.
 
 
Whorled Milkwort
Botanical Name:   
Polygala verticillata
Common Name:   
Whorled Milkwort
Family:   
Polygalaceae (Milkwort Family)
Habitat:   
Dry fields.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
Flowers are yellowish white.  The leaves are whorled which means they encircle the stem.
Toothcup
Botanical Name:   
Rotala ramosior
Common Name:   
Toothcup
Family:   
Lythraceae (Loosestrifes)
Habitat:   
Edges of ponds and very wet gravels.
State Status:   
S1 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SE
Comments:   
This small plant is endangered in RI. One population in East Greenwich was destroyed recently by the town.
 
 
Grass-leaved Arrowhead
Botanical Name:   
Sagittaria graminea
Common Name:   
Grass-leaved Arrowhead
Family:   
Alismataceae (Water-Plantain Family)
Habitat:   
Edges of ponds.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
 This small plant has white flowers with three petals and long narrow leaves.
 
Grass-leaved Arrowhead  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Pitcher Plant
Botanical Name:   
Sarracenia purpurea
Common Name:   
Pitcher Plant
Family:   
Sarraceniaceae (Pitcher Plant Family)
Habitat:   
Sphagnum bogs and wet fields.
State Status:   
S3, S4 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
Comments:   
Downward pointing hairs trap insects that venture into the pitchers.Pitcher plants use these insects to obtain nutrients.
 
Pitcher Plant  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Spring Ladies’-tresses
Botanical Name:   
Spiranthes vernalis
Common Name:   
Spring Ladies’-tresses
Family:   
Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)
Habitat:   
Dry fields.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
The name Spring Ladies’ tresses is a misnomer. This orchid blooms in July.
 
 
Goat’s- rue
Botanical Name:   
Tephrosia virginiana
Common Name:   
Goat’s- rue
Family:   
Fabaceae (Bean Family)
Habitat:   
Pine barrens and old fields..
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
SC
Comments:   
The pea-like flowers are large and showy, pink and yellowish- white in color.
 
 
Netted Chain Fern
Botanical Name:   
Woodwardia areolata
Common Name:   
Netted Chain Fern
Family:   
Blechnaceae (Chain Fern Family)
Habitat:   
Moist woods.
State Status:   
S2 
RI Rare Plant Status:   
Comments:   

An uncommon fern with separate sterile and fertile fronds. It resembles the more common Sensitive Fern.

 
 

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