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What's growing? Scientists discover 49 new plant species in Windham County

Eastern Connecticut State University
A Himalayan balsam flower, first found in Windham County by a team of researchers from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2020.

A study of flora in Windham County has revealed 49 new plant species in the region. While some plants are native to Connecticut, others are invasive.

Bryan Connolly, who led a team of scientists and students to conduct the study in 2020, said they made an unexpected discovery — a large invasive from Asia called Himalayan balsam.

“We were out in the field and along a roadside, you know, this wet ditch area,“ Connolly said. “We were not expecting it at all. It’s more typical of northern New England to find this invasive but there it was, several feet tall with bright purple flowers. So, it was very distinct and really interesting to find it.”

Himalayan balsam is not allowed to be sold in Connecticut because of its aggressive growth.

A dwarf bulrush plant.
Eastern Connecticut State University
A dwarf bulrush plant.

The findings from the new study will help botanists monitor and understand how climate change is affecting different types of plants that previously wouldn’t have grown in the state.

The team collected records for the county’s “herbarium record,” which is a database of local plants. The results are now published by the New England Botanical Society. The last comprehensive inventory of Windham County plant species was done back in 1959.
Connolly said they even found a rare “dwarf bulrush,” a plant native to Connecticut, but never found before in Windham.

“This tiny little plant is about 3 inches tall,” he said. ”There’s several other species that look like it, like it has this really distinct flowering or fruiting structure that kind of looks like a miniature pine cone, and when you see that little tiny pinecone you know you’ve got this species. So, it’s kind of exciting when you see that really distinct flowering structure on the plant.”

The bulrush is also considered an endangered species in the region, requiring a specific type of sandy habitat to grow.

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.