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Species at Risk

Fernald’s Braya

Braya fernaldii

What is Fernald’s Braya?

Species at Risk - Who Knew?

Fernald’s Braya is named after Merritt Lyndon Fernald, who was a botany professor at Harvard University. In the 1920s, Fernald introduced the scientific community to the special vegetation of the limestone barrens of the Great Northern Peninsula. Fernald has had a major influence on Canadian botanists such as Quebec’s Frère Marie-Victorin. His writings are still widely referred to today, and many plants were named after him.

Fernald’s Braya is a perennial plant in the mustard family. It only grows a few centimetres high (1–7 cm).

The clusters of small white flowers are borne on the end of a scape (stem) growing directly from the ground. The fleshy spatula-shaped leaves grow in a ring, or rosette, at the base of the plant. The leaves are 1–4 cm long and 1–3 mm wide. Fernald’s Braya has long roots that can contract, pulling the plant down tightly into the soil. This is important because the loose gravely soil is churned by repeated freezing and thawing at the beginning and end of each winter. Without this adaptation, the small plants would be heaved out of the ground by frost.

This plant lives for many years and produces small round seeds that are dispersed over short distances by the wind.

Fernald’s Braya is unusual because:

  • it grows in shallow, limestone gravel soils churned by frequent freeze-thaw cycles;
  • it can grow in disturbed soil; and
  • it can withstand strong winds, temperature extremes, drought, and flooding.

In short, it is able to grow on the limestone barrens of Newfoundland where few other plants are able to survive!

Where is Fernald’s Braya found?

Typical vegetation of limestone barrens: stunted trees sculpted by the wind and small plants growing close to the ground.  Extensive areas of gravel are found.
Typical vegetation of Newfoundland’s limestone barrens.
© Parks Canada / Michael Burzinski

Fernald’s Braya is a species endemic to Newfoundland-in other words, it is not found anywhere else in the world. It grows on the northwestern edge of the island, at the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula.

According to estimates, in the summer of 2000, the entire world population of Fernald’s Braya totalled 3,500 plants. The 14 small limestone barrens in which the plants are found lie along a 300-km-long strip of the west coast of Newfoundland, from Port au Choix National Historic Site of Canada in the south to Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve in the north.

Of the 9 populations originally identified by Fernald in 1925, only 3 were relocated in 2000. Port au Choix National Historic Site is one of the sites where Fernald’s Braya occurs. The population there consists of 300 to 400 plants. The next-closest population is about100 km to the north.