Vol. 23, No. 1 February 9, 2015

Swamp Pink Surveys
Help Avoid Costly Project Delays

With spring almost here, Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc. (WSSI) is diving into another season of swamp pink (Helonias bullata) surveys. The swamp pink is found in forested wetlands in central Virginia and in eastern Maryland. The field survey "window" for swamp pink is open from April 15 to September 30. So schedule now and avoid critical delays in obtaining your wetlands permit, or other federal actions that require Endangered Species Act compliance.

The swamp pink is a perennial member of the lily family that is federally listed as "threatened" and state listed as "endangered." As a result, it is protected by both federal and state endangered species laws, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) must consider potential impacts to this species before issuing permits to impact wetlands and other jurisdictional waters.

Swamp Pink (Helonias bullata) in various stages of growth

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the swamp pink has been recorded within four counties in Virginia1 and three counties in Maryland2. The majority of known colonies of swamp pink actually occur in Delaware and New Jersey, so it is possible that there could be more locations throughout Virginia and Maryland where this species occurs.

Swamp Pink has been recorded in Augusta, Nelson, Caroline and Henrico counties in Virginia

The FWS generally recommends that surveys be conducted on any site within a county of known swamp pink occurrence if suitable habitat is present, or in adjacent counties if predictive models indicate that habitat could be present.

Preliminary (and relatively inexpensive) site evaluations to determine whether potentially suitable habitat is present may be conducted any time of the year; and for some sites, a habitat evaluation may be all that is necessary to confirm absence of the species. However, because of flowering time, and fall and winter leaf-cover, surveys for this species in suitable habitat areas should be conducted between April 15 and May 31 (optimal time, when in flower) or June 1 and September 30 (when basal leaves are present) according to FWS guidelines.

Due to this limited survey "window," proper planning for sites having suitable habitat is critical. Failure to have a swamp pink survey conducted during the appropriate season could potentially result in wetlands permitting delays! Therefore, project managers of sites within the species' range that will require wetlands permitting should also consider having a swamp pink habitat evaluation (or survey) conducted as early in the development process as possible, preferably in the April 15 to May 31 time frame, to minimize potential impacts to your development schedule. It should also be noted that surveys are valid for a period of five years, and if the site is not developed within five years of the completion of the survey, the FWS may request that the site be re-surveyed.

Plant Habitat and Characteristics

Typical Swamp Pink habitat

Swamp pinks generally occur in forested wetlands with canopy cover between 20 and 100 percent. The swamp pink requires water year-round, so a shallow, regular and stable groundwater table is the limiting factor in providing suitable habitat. Plants often found with the swamp pink include sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), sphagnum mosses (Sphagnum spp.), cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), and laurels (Kalmia spp.). Swamp pink is often found growing on the hummocks formed by trees, shrubs, and sphagnum mosses.

Swamp pink has dark green leaves that form an evergreen basal rosette. In spring, some plants will produce a flowering stalk up to 3 feet tall that is topped by a 1 to 3-inch-long cluster of 30 to 50 small, fragrant, pink flowers. The evergreen leaves of swamp pink can be seen year round, and flowering occurs from April to May.

Conducting an ETS Survey

In order to rely on a swamp pink survey, the FWS maintains a list of consultants and botanists with sufficient experience conducting swamp pink surveys to reliably survey a site for this species. WSSI has conducted a number of habitat evaluations and surveys for the swamp pink and has staff included on the FWS list of approved swamp pink surveyors.

For further information about this topic or to have WSSI conduct a swamp pink habitat evaluation or survey on your site, please contact Mark Headly, Ben Rosner or Mike Klebasko.


1The following counties in Virginia have documented swamp pink: Augusta, Nelson, Caroline, and Henrico.
2The following counties in Maryland have documented swamp pink: Anne Arundel, Cecil, and Dorechester.