After a century, endangered plant debuts in pine bush

Virginia marbleseed

— Photo from the Pine Bush Preserve
The flowers of the Virginia marbleseed plant have distinctive styles.

ALBANY COUNTY — Jesse Hoffman has discovered right in his backyard a plant listed by New York State as endangered: the Virginia marbleseed.

Hoffman is an Albany Pine Bush steward and botanist so his backyard is the pine barrens near the Discovery Center.

“I was out here doing some other work and I happened across it,” Hoffman says in a video posted to the preserve website. 

The plant, Lithospermum virginianum, historically grew in the Karner hamlet of Albany, but has not been documented there since 1923.

“I knew it right away,” says Hoffman, describing the plant’s two distinctive features — buds that spiral and flowers with styles.

“So I looked it up,” says Hoffman.

According to New York Natural Heritage Program records, the Virginia marbleseed plant is currently known from only one other location in New York — in Dutchess County.

Hoffman gestures to a second plant nearby and says these are two of the now 22 known Virginia marblehead plants in New York State. The site has undergone significant habitat management in recent years.

Virginia marbleseed is not showy in bloom, but according to Hoffman, “It definitely has a certain charm. The spiraling flower buds and long styles look unusual and that coupled with the leaf venation make the plant stand out.”

The name “marbleseed” comes from the hard, shiny, white seeds that the plant produces, which resemble marble.

“I’ve been searching for rare plants for most of my career and it tends not to be very gratifying,” says Hoffman. “The nature of rare plants is that you almost never find them. To have discovered a state endangered species that hasn’t been seen in 100 years — it’s just amazing.”

Executive Director Christopher Hawver said in a statement, “The preserve is important to plant and animal species on local, state, national and global levels. Our staff will monitor these re-found plants and will work with our partners at the New York Natural Heritage Program on next steps.”

Hoffman’s concluding remarks in the video show his enthusiasm as he describes his “really, really cool discovery” as “really, really exciting.”


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