New Jersey Field Office
Northeast Region

American Chaffseed (Schwalbea americana) [endangered]

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Additional Information

American chaffseed


Open savannas

Main Threats:
Habitat loss

Fun Fact:
American chaffseed can derive some of its energy by tapping into the roots of other plants.

Map of American chafseed distribution in the US
American chaffseed distribution in the U.S.
(Click for image for full-size)

American chaffseed distribution in New Jersey by municipality
American chaffseed distribution in New Jersey by municipality (Click image for full-size)


American chaffseed was federally listed as an endangered species in 1992.

A perennial member of the figwort family, American chaffseed grows from 12 to 24 inches high. The stems are unbranched or branched only at the base. The large, purplish-yellow, tubular flowers are 1 to 1.5 inches long and form a spike-like cluster (raceme). Flowering occurs from June to mid-July in the northern part of the species’ range.

American chaffseed occurs in sandy (sandy peat, sandy loam), acidic, seasonally-moist to dry soils. It is generally found in early successional habitats described as open, moist pine flatwoods, fire-maintained savannas, ecotonal areas between peaty wetlands and xeric (dry) sandy soils, bog borders, and other open grass-sedge systems. American chaffseed is dependent on factors such as fire, mowing, or fluctuating water tables to maintain the crucial open to partly-open conditions that it requires. The species appears to be shade intolerant. American chaffseed occurs in species-rich plant communities where grasses, sedges, and savanna dicots are numerous.

Threats to the American chaffseed include collecting, excessive disturbance, and loss of open habitat due to development and natural vegetational succession.


Species Range: American chaffseed is primarily a coastal plain species of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. A few exceptions to its coastal distribution are all from historical records (sandplains near Albany, New York, sandstone knobs and ridges in Tennessee and Kentucky, the Montague sandplain near the Connecticut River, and a sandplain in Hubbardston, Massachusetts). Disjunct extant populations are known from New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. States with historic records include Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Distribution in New Jersey: American chaffseed is currently known to occur in Burlington County. The species formerly occurred in Camden, Gloucester, Atlantic, Cumberland, and Cape May Counties.


Click each photo for full-size image.

American chaffseed American Chaffseed

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Last updated: January 28, 2014
New Jersey Field Office
Northeast Region Ecological Services
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