Plants

Kate's Mountain Clover
Kate’s Mountain Clover (Trifolium virginicum)

NPS Photo

The C&O Canal is one of the most biologically diverse parks in the National Park system, especially in regard to plant species. The park has recorded over 1,500 species of vascular plants, including over 260 non-native plant species. Over 100 state-listed rare, threatened, or endangered plant species found within the park, in addition to one federally endangered plant species. The number of rare plants is one of the highest concentrations of state-listed rare plants in the eastern United States.

Several species are globally rare, and some occur here because they are dependent upon special habitats and ecological conditions present along the Potomac River. These rare plant species as well as the more common native plant species are threatened by invasive plant species that grow in similar habitats but have no predators. Invasive and non-native plants can drastically affect what wildflowers are seen along the towpath throughout the year.

 
Green Dragon Plants
Green dragon plants (Arisaema dracontium) growing among invasive Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum)

NPS/Andy Obringer

The Potomac River create a mosaic of different natural habitats. As the park winds westward from just below the Fall Line to western Maryland, a variety of geologic formations support diverse native plant communities. Areas along the Potomac River are subject to frequent floods, causing canopy gaps, scouring, and deposition that creates a diversity of habitats and organisms.

Many northern and southern plant species overlap near the Potomac River. Isolated populations of western species survive where rare prairie habitat persists along the river. As a result, rare species occur here that are known to exist in only a few other places in the Mid-Atlantic region, adding to the great diversity of this area.

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Last updated: May 4, 2020

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