The Pine Creek Valley
Watershed Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 239
Oley, PA 19547

The Plight of Many Living Organisms In Wet Habitats

The following article illustrates the importance of preserving our wetlands habitats and focuses in particular on some endangered species found in and about the Lobachsville area. Thanks to the efforts of the Oley Coalition in defeating the Wissahickon water withdrawal scheme, portions of these precious habitats in the Lobachsville area will now be preserved in perpetuity.


The plants whose populations have declined to the point where they are considered threatened or endangered include a high proportion of species from wetlands, ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. In general, there are more kinds of living organisms per unit area in our wet habitats than in our terrestrial ones. Also, of course, wet habitats are under more pressure than others are. The continued destruction and draining of wetlands and pollution of streams and other bodies of water cause the populations of various species to decline, because all of these plants are completely dependent on a large and uninterrupted supply of clean water in their habitats.

In our local wetlands around Lobachsville there are some interesting plants listed as endangered by the State of Pennsylvania. The most noticeable is the marsh lousewort, which covers the edges of open wetland west of the center of the village with cream-colored blossoms each September. The intricate structure of the blossoms and their unusual lack of symmetry are characteristic of members of the snapdragon family employing specific insect pollinators.

Though most plants in this family are fully self-supporting, some like the lousewort are partially parasitic, attaching their roots to those of other kinds of plants nearby. In spring, when the lousewort plants grow up showing mostly a dark purplish color and very little of the chlorophyll they need to make their own food, it is easy to picture them stealing food from their neighbors.

With the few other populations of marsh lousewort in the state not exceeding a hundred plants in size, our large local population is especially important. An effort is underway to clear out some of the encroaching ash and maple saplings so that the lousewort plants will continue to have the open space they require.

Many other wetland plants are endangered in Pennsylvania, including several species of strikingly beautiful wild orchids. The dragon's mouth (or swamp pink) is so attractive that the extreme decline in its population is thought to be partially due to thefts by orchid fanciers. Three species of extremely rare small orchids called twayblades also grow associated with bogs in various parts of Pennsylvania. In the northwestern part of the state, the lovely pink and white showy lady's slipper is maintaining slightly higher population levels in swamps and bogs (and is listed as threatened rather than endangered).

The slender blue flag is a wild Iris that has been found in wet areas in the southeastern part of the state. In wetlands associated with limestone grow the spreading globe-flower with large eye-catching yellow blossoms and the grass-of-parnassus with its delicate white blossoms lifted on slender stalks high above its leaves.

Along the most picturesque stretches of Youghigheny River in southeastern Pennsylvania, an extremely rare plant known as barbara buttons (or large-flowered marshallia) decorates the rivers edge with pink flower clusters. This plant is listed as endangered by the state and is a candidate for listing by the federal government.

-Dr. Susan Munch