Schwalbea americana

Conservation Status: Federally endangered; NatureServe G2G3, S2 (Imperiled)

Endangered: FL, GA, MD (maybe extirpated), NJ, NC, TN (possibly extirpated)

Special Concern: CT

Project leads: April Punsalan and Jeff Glitzenstein

Schwalbea americana L., American chaffseed is a federally endangered hemiparasitic herb that requires a high fire frequency return interval or fire surrogate to persist across the landscape. Historically this species occurred along the coast from Massachusetts to Louisiana and inland in Kentucky and Tennessee. Schwalbea has disappeared from ten states and has been declining where it does survive in New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana. Schwalbea was listed as an endangered species on September 29, 1992.

With good fire management, Schwalbea has a high potential for recovery. The South Carolina Botanical Garden is housing Schwalbea seedlings propagated by Jeff Glitzenstein. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently preparing a reintroduction plan for this species as part of its Five-Year Review.

See Jim Fowler’s blog post for more on Schwalbea, including some gorgeous images.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Profile

american chaffseed fact sheet_SC_2017_v2

NatureServe Species Profile

USDA Plants Profile

Schwalbea propagation protocols

Glitzenstein, Jeff, et al. Starting_a_new_population_of_Schwalbea americana on a Longleaf Pine Restoration Site in South Carolina.
Check out this chaffseed specimen from 1707! It was collected in Dorchester, SC, by Joseph Lord, whose herbarium collections are now in the Sloane Herbarium at the Natural History Museum, London and are online at Botanica Caroliniana.

Propagation Projects

The SCPCA and the South Carolina Botanical Garden are working together on a project to propagate Schwalbea for reintroduction into its natural habitat in the Francis Marion National Forest. This is of particular interest at the Ballfield site, which was the site of an old baseball diamond. We have seed that was collected in 1987 from Schwalbea that were growing there at the time. This population is now extirpated, but the seed is still viable. Jeff Glitzenstein propagated several hundred plants starting in spring of 2017; a number of those were thriving one year later. Some are growing in pots in the greenhouse. Others are in a large tub at the garden nursery. We have been experimenting with adding host plants from the Asteraceae, especially Pityopsis, as well as growing plants with hosts and soil shipped from the FMNF.

Schwalbea in the Clemson greenhouse:

Plants growing in tub in nursery:

Adding host plants:

Plants reintroduced to FMNF February 2018:



April Punsalan:

Reintroduce Ballfield Site
Safeguard all of the extant SC Schwalbea sites at NC Botanical Garden
Visit several historic sites in Williamsburg County, South Carolina
Work with partners to restore Heineman Savanna

Jeff Glitzenstein:

1) Check all extant sites and make at least a qualitative assessment of the current status and threats.
2) Collect detailed population data on Lynchburg Savanna. Hopefully it will be burned soon if it has not already
3) Transport existing Scotswood plants to Riverbanks for safeguarding
4) Find a home for existing Lynchburg plants, perhaps at Moore Farm’s botanical garden near Lake City
5) Finish a draft ms on schwalbea vegetation relationships by end of March and submit the ms for publication soon thereafter
6) Collect additional data on small scale chaffseed nearest neighbors to further document the diversity of habitats
7) Lead a group SCPCA field trip to Williamsburg County sites in early May to demonstrate the range of habitats that chaffseed inhabits.
8) Collect seed for seed storage at NC Botanical Garden.
9) Work on documentation of chaffseed light regimes from canopy photos collected in 2016
10) A model purporting to predict the occurrence of chaffseed has been produced by Florida Natural Areas Inventory and Virginia Heritage Program. I intend to obtain and evaluate this model to determine if it has any practical use.



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