Species at Risk
What is Fernald’s Braya?
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
- 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 Newfoundland’s limestone
© Parks Canada / Michael Burzinski
Fernald’s Braya is a species
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.