Sandplain Gerardia

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Sandplain Gerardia

Agalinis acuta

ListedSeptember 7, 1988
FamilyScrophulariaceae (Snapdragon)
DescriptionAnnual herb with opposite leaves and bell-shaped pinkish-purple flowers.
HabitatSandy openings in coastal grasslands or scrub.
ThreatsLoss of habitat, fire suppression.
RangeConnecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island


Sandplain gerardia, Agalinis acuta, is an annual herb with a light-green, angular stem, 4-8 in (10-20 cm) tall, and a few branches. Opposite leaves are linear, up to 1 in (2.5 cm) long. Pinkish-purple flowers are bell-shaped with two yellow lines and reddish spots inside the corolla. Blooming is in August and September.


Sandplain gerardia requires sandy, open spaces in coastal grasslands or pine and oak scrub forests without dense competing vegetation. This type of habitat was historically maintained in an early successional stage by grazing livestock and periodic natural fires.


Although sandplain gerardia has been found over a wide geographical area, it is extremely localized because of its specific habitat requirements. From the 1800s it was known from Cape Cod and Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, down the coast to Long Island, New York. Inland, it was found in two Massachusetts counties and one county in Connecticut. A more recent collection in Baltimore County, Maryland, extended the southern limit of the range.

Prospects for this endangered plant brightened when a new population was discovered in Massachusetts by a student intern working for the Nature Conservancy. Previously known from 49 sites in the northeast, only 11 populations are known today. The nine previously known sites include two sites on Cape Cod, six on Long Island, and one in Baltimore County, Maryland. All six Long Island sites are currently threatened by urban expansion. The species is believed to have died out completely in Connecticut and Rhode Island.


The species has declined because of the ongoing loss of grassland habitat along the Atlantic coastal plain. Residential, commercial, and recreational developments have expanded along the coast, all but replacing natural habitats. In addition, suppression of natural grass fires in developed areas has allowed woody plants to crowd out grassland plants. Domesticated cattle and sheep once played a significant role in maintaining the open, sandy spaces required by sandplain gerardia, but acreage devoted to grazing has steadily declined since the 1940s.

Conservation and Recovery

Since 1981 state natural resource agencies in southern New England and New York, in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy, private conservation groups, and botanical associations, have conducted intensive field surveys to determine the status of the sandplain gerardia. The results of this work will be incorporated into a Recovery Plan for the species.

In early 1989, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) contracted with the Nature Conservancy to conduct a two-year study on the response of sand-plain gerardia to efforts to renew its habitat through removal of competing vegetation. The FWS also signed a two-year contract with the New England Wildflower Society to develop propagation techniques for the species. A cultivated population would supply seeds for reintroduction to the wild without disturbing wild plants.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
300 Westgate Center Dr.
Hadley, Massachusetts 01035-9589
Telephone: (413) 253-8200
Fax: (413) 253-8308


Church, G. L., and R. L. Champlin. 1976. "Rare and Endangered Vascular Plant Species in Rhode Island." U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, Massachusetts.

Crow, G. E. 1982. New England's Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Plants. Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C.

Mehrhoff, L. F. 1978. "Rare and Endangered Vascular Plant Species in Connecticut." U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, Massachusetts.