NC’s Rare Plants

From the mountains to the sea, North Carolina is one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse states in the southeast. This diversity is exhibited by the over 4000 native species of plants found throughout the Tar Heel State.

Without intervention, however, North Carolina’s natural world may soon suffer of plant species loss.

  • One in seven plant species in the state is rare — totaling over 700 species.
  • 162 of these species are threatened or endangered in North Carolina.
  • Fifteen of the State listed species (about 10%) are now protected on 18 NC Plant Conservation Preserves on a total of nearly 12,000 acres.
  • 26 federally endangered or threatened plants grow in North Carolina.

Plant species may be rare for many reasons:

  • Some plants are naturally rare because they occur only in specialized site conditions (e.g. rock outcrops or seepage bogs)
  • Many species are rare because they occur in natural systems that, historically, have been lost due to conversion of the land to other uses (e.g. agriculture or urban development)
  • More species are rare because the natural processes on which they are dependent have been removed from their habitats (e.g. through fire suppression or wetland drainage)

About 75% of the endangered and threatened species in North Carolina require a regular fire regime to reproduce and thrive. An example is the Venus Flytrap. Found only in the Carolinas, this carnivorous plant thrives most when its habitat is burned approximately every 3 years. If the fire return cycle is lengthened and fires are suppressed, Venus Flytrap can be completely lost from a site.

NC Plant Conservation Program

With the passage of the Plant Protection and Conservation Act in 1979, the State of North Carolina established the NC Plant Conservation Program in the Department of Agriculture.

The Program’s responsibilities include:

  • Maintaining the list of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern plant species NC Plant Species Listings (Courtesy of the NC Plant Conservation Program)
  • Enforcing regulations and issuing permits concerning state-listed plant species.
  • Carrying out field projects in biology, monitoring, and management of populations of listed species.
  • Providing educational materials to the public.
  • Monitoring trade in American ginseng.
  • Researching properties with rare plants and when available applying for trust funds for their purchase.

Since 1996, the NC Plant Conservation Program in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs has applied for NC Natural Heritage Trust Funds and Clean Water Management Trust Funds to acquire properties with State listed plant species for protection in Plant Conservation Preserves.Currently there are 18 preserves statewide that protect 15 listed species.      The Mountain region has 7 preserves totaling 1778 acres.    The Piedmont region has 6 preserves totaling 796 acres.    The Coastal plain region has 5 preserves totaling 9259 acres.  The NC Plant Conservation Program collaborates with owners of other sites with listed plants including NC State Parks and Natural areas, State Forests and Gamelands, NC Department of Transportation right-of-ways, military bases, utility right-of ways, local governments, local and national land trusts, and private property owners to protect and manage their sites.

To do all of this, the NC Plant Conservation Program has only one state-funded position. An additional 1.5 position is funded on a year-to-year basis by federal grants. Efforts are underway to ensure that the Program gets the additional staff it needs in order to fulfill its mandate.The NC Plant Conservation Program staff works with several state agencies, academic institutions, and land trusts in achieving its mission through management agreements.  Many local, state, and federal employees volunteer their time and services on restoration and management efforts, along with volunteers from correctional institutions, the NC Native Plant Society, the NC Botanical Garden, school groups, local citizens and neighbors. 

If you are interested in volunteering with the NC Plant Conservation Program in protecting rare plants or know or own properties available for protection, contact or call them at 919-707-3758.


Officially organized in December 2004 by  Al Elder, Hollis Wild, and Gene Cross,
the Friends of Plant Conservation seeks to:

  • increase public awareness and understanding of North Carolina’s Plant Conservation Program;
  • provide the public with the opportunity to support and promote the mission of the Plant Conservation Program which is to protect the rare and native plant flora of the state; and
  • provide support for those programs and activities that are compatible and consistent with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Plant Conservation Program. The first board of directors was convened in 2008 and the organization initiated planning and activities.

The Friends of Plant Conservation Foundation supports North Carolina Plant Conservation Program (NCPCP) efforts to conserve and protect North Carolina’s imperiled native plants in their habitats.


Through advocacy, education, partnerships, and fundraising and development, the Friends of Plant Conservation Foundation insures that all NC imperiled plants are protected in their natural habitats through a statewide network of conserved or preserved sites and NC citizens’ commitment to environmental stewardship.  

Visit the Friends of Plant Conservation at