Rare Plants and Habitats

Hidden Beauty: Rare plants & Significant Habitats of C&O Canal National Historical Park

C&O Canal NHP includes nearly 20,000 acres of natural habitats where 4 million people each year enjoy hiking, biking, fishing and various other recreational activities. Bordering the Potomac River from Cumberland, MD to Washington, D.C., the park's 184.5 miles support a wide range of habitats and a great variety of species. A vital role of the National Park Service, and contributors such as Canon USA, Inc., is to protect native biodiversity along the Potomac River. Canon's Expedition into the Parks Program funds priority conservation projects in national parks. As areas of natural habitat outside the park are altered by modern land use practices, C&O Canal NHP becomes a refuge for the preservation of biodiversity.

Treasures of the C&O Canal NHP
C&O Canal NHP is home to approximately 1,200 species of native plants. Park records include more than 150 plants listed as rare, threatened or endangered in Maryland and the District of Columbia. This represents one of the highest concentrations of state-listed rare plants in the eastern U.S. Several are GLOBALLY rare, and some occur here because they are dependent upon special habitats and ecological conditions present along the Potomac River.

Why Here?

... Numerous ecological factors along the Potomac River create a mosaic of different natural habitats. Major factors influencing biodiversity here include:

The canal begins just below the fall line and winds its way westward along the Potomac River, transecting the Piedmont, Blue Ridge, and Ridge & Valley physiographic provinces.

...As a result, a variety of geologic formations are exposed, supporting diverse native plant communities.

Areas along the Potomac River are subjected to frequent floods, causing canopy gaps, scouring and deposition.

...As a result, this changing environment creates a diversity of habitats, and therefore, diversity of organisms.

Distributions of many northern and southern plant species overlap the Potomac River. Also, isolated populations of western species survive where rare prairie habitat persists along the river

...As a result, rare species occur here that are known from few other places in the Mid-Atlantic region, adding to the great diversity of this area.

Did you know?

It is against federal law to pick, dig or otherwise collect plants in the park

Staying on officially marked trails helps prevent damage to and trampling of native vegetation, including rare plants.

Dumping yard waste in parks introduces non-native plants to fragile ecosystems

How You Can Help

Don't pick or dig plants.

Don't hike off trails

Don't dump waste or refuse in parks

Cooperation in Protection
Canon USA, Inc., through the National Park Foundation, provided a generous grant to C&O Canal NHP and the Nature Conservatory, provides ongoing inventory and monitoring of rare species and habitats in the park, and maintains computerized databases for tracking rare species.

This project is made possible by a generous grant from Canon USA, Inc., through the National Park Foundation.

Did You Know?