Furbish's Lousewort (Pedicularis furbishiae) - Endangered
Furbish’s lousewort was first identified in 1880 by Kate Furbish, a botanical artist and naturalist, and confirmed in 1882 by Sereno Watson, a Harvard University botanist who named the plant Pedicularis furbishiae in
Species Description and Habitat
The Furbish’s lousewort is an herbaceous perennial and member of the snapdragon family. Its distinctive, fern-like hairy leaves (4 to 20 cm long) grow in a basal rosette and up the stem. In late July and August, reproductive plants send up a flowering spike (scape) up to one m tall, with a cluster of tubular, yellow flowers two cm long, each subtended by a stout bract. The fruits are oval capsules with small (2mm long), gray seeds.
It grows on a narrow strip of sloped riverbank which is damp, yet not too close to the water and close enough to the forest to benefit from the shade. It is found in mixed shrub and herb associations with some common roadside asters and clovers, as well as rare species, such as Mistassini primrose (Primula mistassinica), glaucous rattlesnake root (Prenanthes racemosa), and Huron tansy (Tanacetum bipinnatum). It occurs almost exclusively on the south bank of the river. Like all louseworts, the plant is hemiparasitic, requiring connection to a host plant through haustoria on the roots.
The plant has been a focus of study for understanding the complex phenomena associated with metapopulations. A string of ephemeral sub-populations (demes) establish along the river's edge and persist for a short time before ice-scouring by the wild river destroys them and hurries their seeds downstream, where the plants re-establish and begin the cycle again. Ice-scouring and flooding are necessary to periodically eliminate competition from shrubby vegetation and expose soil for lousewort seeds to germinate. The common bumblebee, Bombus vagans, is the primary pollinator.
The future is precarious for Pedicularis furbishiae. Climate change increases flood and ice frequency. Increased development and associated deforestation along the river causes increased pollution, bank erosion, increased recreational use, and introduction of invasive species. Decline of native bee pollinators may be of concern.
The Furbish’s lousewort occurs along the St. John River from Andover, New Brunswick to upstream of the confluence of the St. John and Big Black Rivers. The largest metapopulations occur upstream from the confluence with the Allagash River. Populations downstream of Fort Kent are small and widely separated.