Thursday, August 15, 2013

The death of Walden's mayflower

Posted by Richard Primack

Richard examines a patch of trailing arbutus cascading down a forested slope in Concord. This site does not have public access.

The single trailing arbutus plant that grew for many years next to the trail around Walden Pond recently died. Trailing arbutus is known botanically as Epigaea repens, or more familiarly as mayflower, and is the Massachusetts state flower. It is recognized by fragrant pink flowers produced below ovate, evergreen leaves that sprawl across the ground. Henry David Thoreau referenced trailing arbutus many times in his journals during the 1850s, noting its spring flowering time.  He found it at about three localities in Concord. Later botanists have noted half a dozen additional Concord sites for this species. I have seen three small patches in Concord, with the Walden Pond plant being the only one that was readily accessible to the public.

I have shown this isolated plant to dozens of students and nature lovers during walks around the pond. Now the plant is dead and only dried brown leaves remain. Visitors to Walden Pond are no longer able to observe and enjoy this beautiful and iconic wildflower.

The dead trailing arbutus plant growing on the edge of the Walden Pond trail. 

The decline of trailing arbutus and other wildflowers in Concord demonstrates that simply protecting land is not enough to preserve the diversity of life. Sometimes we must take action to reduce these threats if we wish particular species to remain on the landscape. Such actions include removing deer and invasive species, maintaining open river meadows through mowing and tree cutting, and restoring lost species. Without such management actions, we will not experience the diversity of wildflowers, butterflies, birds, and other species that enriched the life of Thoreau and inspired his writing. While we have already lost the trailing arbutus at Walden Pond, its loss may serve as a call to action for the protection of nature.   

1 comment:

  1. I'm a local home garden business owner and I would love to plant more native and wild species for my clients. Are there any particular resources for acquiring such plants? I know about the Garden in the Woods, but where else can I buy native or wild New England plants?