Robbins’ Cinquefoil

Description and biology

Cinquefoils (pronounced SINK–foils) are members of the rose family. The Robbins’ cinquefoil is an almost stemless herb that has a deep taproot (main root of the plant growing straight downward from the stem). It is classified as a perennial (plant that lives, grows, flowers, and produces seeds for three or more consecutive years).

This cinquefoil has a dense rosette, or rounded cluster of crowded leaves, measuring about 0.8 to 1.6 inches (2 to 4 centimeters) across. The leaves, each composed of three leaflets, are deeply toothed along their margins or edges. They are covered with dense, long hairs.

The flowering stems are slender and only 0.4 to 1.4 inches (1 to 3.5 centimeters) long. Each stem bears a single small yellow flower, primarily in June. An average Robbins’ cinquefoil produces five or six flowers.

Seeds are scattered from the plant’s seed heads on dry, windy days. Often, the seeds travel no farther than 2 to 2.4 inches (5 to 6.1 centimeters) away from the adult plant.

Habitat and current distribution

The largest natural population of Robbins’ cinquefoil is found on the Monroe Flats southwest of Mount Washington in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. There is another natural population located in the Franconia Mountains around 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of the Monroe Flats.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), prior to receiving Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection in 1980, the population of Robbins’ cinquefoil was estimated at about 3,700 plants. In the summer of 2002, however, after a very successful recovery program, the population totaled more than 14,000 plants.

This species of cinquefoil inhabits sandy or rocky soil in harsh, barren mountainous areas of the White Mountain National Forest at an elevation of about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). It prefers a southern exposure.

History and conservation measures

Because the Robbins’ cinquefoil has such a limited range, any human disturbance of its habitat has had a devastating effect. As a result of collecting by plant enthusiasts and trampling by hikers, several original cinquefoil populations died out.

In 1980, it was listed as an endangered species under ESA. In 1983, the White Mountain National Forest and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) collaborated to reroute a hiking trail that lay in the remaining plants’ critical habitat.

They also put up fencing around the plants. The AMC used its resources to educate the public about the endangered plant and to collect seeds and help in transplanting it to suitable nearby areas.

Another private organization, the New England Flower Society, participated with research and provided additional plants that it had propagated (caused to reproduce). Through the efforts of the government and these private organizations, new populations of Robbins’ cinquefoil were able to thrive. From the brink of extinction, the species has recovered.

The recovery of the Robbins’ cinquefoil was apparent in 1998, when the USFWS proposed to downgrade the species to threatened. On August 27, 2002, the species was removed entirely from the ESA list of threatened or endangered species.

It has also been removed from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of endangered species. The USFWS will continue to monitor the species for five years. The species will continue to be protected for many years to come under an agreement between the US-FWS and the White Mountains National Forest.