CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Helonias bullata

Greg Wieland

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Helonias bullata

Common Name: 
Linnaeus 1753
Growth Habit: 
CPC Number: 


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Helonias bullataenlarge
Photographer: Greg Wieland

Helonias bullata is Fully Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 

Helonias bullata

This beautiful plant is locally abundant in areas along the east coast. Despite this, most existing populations are unprotected and suffer from known direct threats to their existence. There is a great deal of public interest in this plant due to its attractive bright pink clusters of spring flowers that appear in April or early May and last through mid-June. Swamp pink grows in large dense patches creating magnificent displays that are easy to find at sites where it is present. Unfortunately this species has suffered from habitat destruction that has eradicated it from many Mid-Atlantic states and continues to suffer from similar threats. (Dowling 1999) Even when the land where a population is present is protected from development, the runoff caused by development on neighboring lands poses a severe threat to this species continued existence (NatureServe 2001). In addition, the destruction of habitat in the past has severely reduced the genetic variation in the species which continues to cause problems for their continued survival (Godt et al. 1995).

A perennial rhizomatous herb, the swamp pink usually is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in the spring, blooming from March to May. Its fragrant flowers are pink and occur in a cluster of 30 to 50. Its leaves are evergreen, lance-shaped, and parallel-veined. During the winter, the leaves often turn reddish brown but are often difficult to see because they lie flat on, or slightly raised, from the ground and so are often hidden by leaf litter. However, if you do find one of these beauties during the winter months, check for a large round bud in the center of the leaves--this represents next season's flower head. These leaves form a basal rosette from which arises from a stout, hollow stem. This stem can grow from a height of 2 to 9 decimeters during flowering, and to 1.5 meters during seed maturation. After flowering, a three-lobed fruit resembling an inverted heart forms, each with many ovules that open into six lobes. These lobes release linear-shaped seeds with fatty appendages on either end (presumably eliasomes, which are eaten by ants). (USFWS 1990; Peterson 1990).

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
South Carolina
State Range of  Helonias bullata
  Swamp Pink occurs in a variety of wetland habitats. These include Atlantic white-cedar swamps; Blue Ridge swamps; swampy forested wetlands which border small streams; meadows, and spring seepage areas. The plant requires habitat which is saturated, but not flooded, with water. Swamp Pink is commonly associated with evergreen trees such as Atlantic white-cedar; pitch pine; American larch; and black spruce. The species appears to be somewhat shade tolerant and to need enough canopy to minimize competition with other more aggressive species. In areas with less canopy, deer are more likely to eat the plant's flowers, leaves, or shoots.

Swamp pink is found on the east coast in wetlands with closed canopies including Atlantic white cedar swamps, deciduous swamps, and mixed hardwood/evergreen swamps (Beacham et al. 1992). It is often found and thrives at stream sources with the abundant and moving water found in such places (Dowling 1999).

  This species historically ranged from New York State to the southern Appalachian Mountains. The largest percentage of extant groups is found in New Jersey but the species is also locally abundant at other sites in the Mid-Atlantic region (NatureServe 2001).
Found in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia (WWF 1990)

Number Left
  In 1990, there were over 65 populations confirmed (population sizes ranging from 1 to 5,000 rosettes) in New Jersey, the state with the highest concentration of populations remaining (Peterson 1990).


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Delaware S2 1/16/1990  
  Georgia S1 T 7/13/1995  
  Maryland S1 E 12/18/1991  
  New Jersey E E 12/12/1991  
  New York SX U 2/17/1989  
  North Carolina S1 T-SC  
  South Carolina S1 B 6/4/1990  
  Virginia S2 E 4/15/1991  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  Seeds have fatty appendages on them, assumed to be eliasomes, suggesting that ant dispersal (myrmechochory) may be a means of seed dispersal for the species. (Sutter 1982)

  Wetland draining and/or filling.
Water Pollution
Habitat loss to urban, agricultural and silvicultural development
Habitat degradation from offsite disturbance (ex. siltation)
(WWF 1990; North Carolina Ecological Services 2002)

Current Research Summary
  Godt et al. (1995) measured the genetic diversity of 15 populations and found greater diversity in some of the smallest ones suggesting that they might be relict groups.
Sutter (1984) published a status report on the species in the southern Appalachians and described the species breeding system. Swamp pink is self-compatible with prolific seed production. However, browsing can reduce reproductive output and the poor dispersal and lack of suitable sites for germination severely restrict recruitment.

Current Management Summary
  The recovery plan for this species was completed in 1991 and several tasks are in progress including research on genetics, habitat requirements, the impact of disturbances, the development of conservation plans, searches for additional sites and the enforcement of regulations protecting swamp pink habitat (North Carolina Ecological Services 2002). The USFWS and the EPA helped to protect a population from hazardous waste remediation activities at a Superfund site (North Carolina Ecological Services 2002). The Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and its Tributaries. Inc. has funded research to locate populations near this NJ river (CU 2002). Baltimore Washington International Airport has altered forest management plans to protect a stand of swamp pink at the end of one of their runways (McCord 1985). Several government agencies and horticultural and nature groups have also been involved in monitoring populations.

Research Management Needs

Ex Situ Needs


Books (Single Authors)

Gleason, H.A. 1952. The New Britton and Brown illustrated flora of the northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. New York, NY: Hafner Press. 1732p.

Gleason, H.A.; Cronquist, A. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Bronx: The New York Botanical Garden.

Hough, M.Y. 1983. New Jersey wild plants. Harmony, NJ: Harmony Press. 414p.

WWF. 1990. The official World Wildlife Fund (WWF) guide to endangered species of North America. Washington, D.C.: Beacham Publishing. 1180p.

Books (Sections)

Hamrick, J.L.; Godt, M.J.W. 1996. Conservation genetics of endemic plant species. In: Avise, J.C.; Hamrick, J. L., editors. Conservation Genetics. Case Histories From Nature. Chapman and Hall. New York, NY. p 281-304.

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the U.S., Canada, and Greenland. In: Kartesz, J.T.; Meacham, C.A., editors. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden. Chapel Hill, NC.

Electronic Sources

(2002). Endangered Plants in Maryland. [Web site] Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/rtes.html. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). Natural Heritage Resources Fact Sheet. Virginia Natural Heritage Program. http://www.dcr.state.va.us/dnh/bookeduc.htm#nhr. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). NC-ES Plant profiles. [Web pages] North Carolina Ecological Services--U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services--Southeast Region 4. http://nc-es.fws.gov/plant/plant.html. Accessed: 2002.

Baker, M. (2002). Plants of the New Jersey Pine Barrens: Swamp pink. [Web site] www.mikebaker.com. http://www.mikebaker.com/plants/Helonias_bullata.html. Accessed: 2002.

CU. (2002). Swamp Pink. [Web site] Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries, Inc. (CU). http://www.cumauriceriver.org/pages/swmpnk.html. Accessed: 2002.

PDCNR. (2002). Threatened and Endangered Species of Pennsylvania. [Web site] The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/wrcf/plants.htm. Accessed: 2002.

Smith, D.G. (2002). Delaware Wildflowers. [Web site] DelawareWildflower.org. http://www.delawarewildflowers.org/helonias_bullata.html. Accessed: 2002.

USFWS. (1990). Endangered and Threatened Species Accounts. [Web page] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Endangered Species. http://ecos.fws.gov/servlet/TESSSpeciesQuery. Accessed: 2002.

USGS. (2002). Status of Listed Species and Recovery Plan Development. [Web site] USGS: Norther Prairie Wildlife Research Center. http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/others/recoprog/plant.htm. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

1997. Conservation Outreach: Alan Campbell Project. UpDate Plant Conservation Program, The State Botanical Garden of Georgia. 5 pp.

Brown, S. 1910. Helonias bullata Linnaeus. Bartonia, Proceedings of the Philadelphia Botanical Club. 3: 1-6.

Brumback, B. 1986. Information Applicable to In Situ Preservation. Arnoldia. 3: 35.

Falk, D.; Thibodeau, F.R. 1986. Saving the Rarest. Arnoldia. 46, 3: 2-17.

Godt, M.J.W.; Hamrick, J.L.; Bratton, S. 1995. Genetic Diversity in a Threatened Wetland Species, Helonias bullata (Liliaceae). Conservation Biology. 9, 3: 596-604.

Groves, M. 1999. Restoration of Pitcherplant Bogs. GPCAnews (Newsletter of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance). 2.

Longland, D. 1989. Rare Plant Conservation at GITW (Garden in the Woods). Newsletter New England Wild Flower Society. 5, 3: cover.

Marinelli, J. 1999. At risk (swamp pink and other endangered or threatened plant species). Natural History. 108, 4: 64-7.

Osaloo, S.K.; Utech, F.H.; Ohara, M.; Kawano, S. 1999. Molecular systematics of Trilliaceae I. Phylogenetic analyses of Trillium using matK gene sequences. Journal of Plant Research. 112, 1105: 35-49.

Rees, M.D. 1988. Final listing rules approved for 25 species. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 13, 9-10: 3-5.

Sutter, R.D. 1984. The status of Helonias bullata L. (Liliaceae) in the southern Appalachians. Castanea. 49, 1: 9-16.

Tanaka, N. 1997. Taxonomic Significance of Some Floral Characters in Helonias and Ypsilandra (Liliaceae). Japanese Journal of Botany. 72, 2: 110-116.

USFWS. 1988. Determination of Helonias bullata (swamp pink) to be a threatened species. Federal Register. 53, 175: 35075-35080.

USFWS. 1988. Final Listing Rules. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 13, 9-10: 4.

USFWS. 1988. Loss of Wetlands Threatens Four Plants. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 13, 3: 3-5.

Utech, F.H. 1978. Vascular floral anatomy of Helonias bullata (Liliaceae-Helonieae), with a comparison to the Asian Heloniopsis orientalis. Annals of Carnegie Museum. 47, 8: 169-191.

Utech, F.H. 1980. Somatic karyotype analysis of Helonias bullata L. (Liliaceae), with a comparison to the Asian Heloniopsis orientalis (Thunb.) C. Tanaka. Annals of Carnegie Museum. 49, 9: 153-160.

Newspaper Articles

2001 August 14, 2001. Swamp pink endangered, but thrives in this area. The Press of Atlantic City; Atlantic City, NJ.

Dowling, M.J. 1999. Habitat destruction threatens swamp pink. The Press of Atlantic City; Atlantic City, NJ.

McCord, Joel. 1985 Sunday, November 3. Rare flower halts runway work at BWI. The Sun Baltimore Newspaper; Baltimore. 1A & 19A, Col. 1.


1996. Priorities for Conservation: 1996 Annual Report Card for U.S. Plant and Animal Species. The Nature Conservancy.

Beacham, J.L.; Champion, T.M.; Gallagher, M.; Walls, P.F. 1992. SV Farming Corporation Wetland Restoration Study and Design. SEC Donohue, Inc. with assistance from Coastal Environmental Services, Inc.

Bruegmann, M.M. 1992. Monitoring Population Sizes of Helonias bullata to Compare Populations Range-Wide. Newton Corner, MA: Prepared for Region 4 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. p.8.

Determann, R. 1995. Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance: Bogs Projects. Atlanta Botanical Garden. p.6.

Johnson, E.A.; Breden, T.F.; Cartica, R.J. 1998. Monitoring of Helonias bullata populations in Camden and Gloucester counties, New Jersey. Trenton, N.J.: State of New Jersey, Dept. of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks and Forestry, Office of Natural Lands Management. p.35.

Obee, E.M. 1995. Impact of suburban development on populations of Helonias bullata in New Jersey. Trenton, N.J.: State of New Jersey, Dept. of Environmental Protection and Energy, Division of Parks and Forestry, Office of Natural Lands Management. p.16.

Peterson, C.J. 1990. Impact assessment of six extant populations of Helonias bullata in New Jersey--1990. Trenton, N.J.: State of New Jersey, Dept. of Environmental Protection and Energy, Division of Parks and Forestry, Office of Natural Lands Management. p.19.

Peterson, C.J. 1991. Impact assessment of six extant populations of Helonias bullata in New Jersey--1991. Trenton, N.J.: State of New Jersey, Dept. of Environmental Protection and Energy, Division of Parks and Forestry, Office of Natural Lands Management. p.15.

Peterson, C.J. 1992. Impact assessment of six extant populations of Helonias bullata in New Jersey--1992 :; final report. Trenton, N.J.: State of New Jersey, Dept. of Environmental Protection and Energy, Division of Parks and Forestry, Office of Natural Lands Management. p.28.

Pierce, P. 1987. Helonias bullata Research Project. Noanett Garden Club Horticulture Committee. p.5.

Sutter, R. 1982. The distribution and reproductive biology of Helonias bullata L. in North Carolina. Raleigh: North Carolina Dept. Agriculture, Plant Industry Division.

Sutter, R.; Murdock, N.; Breden, T.F. 1990. Swamp Pink, Helonias bullata. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. p.7.

Sutter, R.D.; Frantz, V.; McCarthy, K.A. 1987. Atlas of rare and endangered plant species in North Carolina. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Dept. Agriculture, Plant Protection Section, Conservation Program. p.174.

USFWS. 1990. Swamp pink (Helonias bullata) recovery plan. Newton Corner, MA: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. p.41.

USFWS. 1991. Swamp pink (Helonias bullata) recovery plan. Newton Corner, Massachusetts: Region 5, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. p.56.

Windham, Lisamarie.; Breden, Thomas F. 1996. A GIS-based threat analysis of Helonias bullata populations within Big Timber Creek Watershed, New Jersey. Trenton, N.J.: State of New Jersey, Dept. of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks and Forestry, Office of Natural Lands Management. p.15.

Windisch, Andrew G. 1992. Preserve design studies for priority Helonias bullata populations in New Jersey--1992: Manahawkin Lake macrosite. Trenton, N.J.: State of New Jersey, Dept. of Environmental Protection and Energy, Division of Parks and Forestry, Office of Natural Lands Management. p.9.

Windisch, Andrew G. 1993. Preliminary studies of canopy disturbance on populations of Helonias bullata in New Jersey. Trenton, N.J.: State of New Jersey, Dept. of Environmental Protection and Energy, Division of Parks and Forestry, Office of Natural Lands Management. p.14.

  This profile was updated on 3/4/2010
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