Vascular Plants

Welcome to the vascular plant section of ABMI's Biodiversity Browser. Scroll down the page to learn more about vascular plants and why they are important to monitor. Or click the button below to find out more about individual vascular plant species in Alberta.

Photo Credit: Kim House


Vascular plants are the foundation of life on earth—other organisms cannot survive without plants. Vascular plants exist in a wide variety of life forms—from sky-scraping trees to berry-producing shrubs to tiny understory species no more than a few centimetres tall.

Facts About Vascular Plants

image Photo Credit: Kendall Vanderlip

Some species associated with arid habitats, like this Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus, reach the northern extent of their range limit in the prairie provinces.

  • Human beings need plants for life-giving oxygen, ecosystem services like water filtration and carbon sequestration, food, medicine, clothing, shelter and personal wellbeing.
  • There are roughly 2,100 species of vascular plants in Alberta, including subspecies and varieties; the ABMI has detected 1,636 of these species.
  • Many plant species in Alberta have wide geographic ranges extending into the United States. Many of their populations in Alberta represent the northern extent of their range, which may be important for climate change adaptation.
  • The Athabascan Sand Plain in northeastern Alberta is home to species that occur nowhere else, including Large-headed Woolly Yarrow, Floccose Tansy and Athabasca Thrift.

Vascular Plant Diversity in Alberta

ABMI surveys have detected plant species that have never been reported or confirmed in Alberta, as well as new records for Canada. This includes Dragon’s Mouth Orchid and Impoverished Pinweed in Alberta and the first Canadian observation of Cutleaf Vipergrass, an invasive species previously only known from the United States.

Why Monitor Vascular Plants

  • Plants are used in environmental monitoring programs around the world—collectively, these observations can tell us about global, regional and local patterns in change.
  • Plants tell us a lot about a place, including its nutrient status, moisture regime, soil type, disturbance regime and history. They can also tell us about the broader plant community in an area and, by extension, what other types of organisms we might expect to find.
  • Because plants cannot leave a place that has become unsuitable but can live for a long time under less than ideal conditions, their growth, disappearance, health and abundance can provide information about an area that we may not get from mobile organisms like birds and mammals.
  • Conserving rare species requires knowing what is rare, when and where so that we can allocate our effort and money efficiently. Some species that we thought were very rare in Alberta have proven to be more widespread after increased survey effort. ABMI plant surveys contribute to this understanding of rarity in Alberta.
image Photo Credit: Carl Axel Magnus Lindman

Bog Adder’s Mouth was previously believed to be critically imperilled in Alberta (S1), but with increased survey effort is now considered imperilled-to-vulnerable (S2S3)

Research Spotlight

Impoverished Pinweed is an unusual species of the Athabasca Sand Plain.

Photo Credit: ABMI
Rare Plant Project

Impoverished or Largepod Pinweed had never been detected in Alberta prior to 2012, when it was discovered by ABMI staff. Additional surveys as part of the Rare Plant Project resulted in the discovery of several other populations. This species lives on very sandy soils in Alberta’s Athabasca Sand Plain and is strongly associated with post-fire Jack Pine stands.

Meet the ABMI's Resident Vascular Plant Experts

Dr. Lysandra Pyle

Lead Scientist, Vascular Plants

Lysandra is a plant ecologist and taxonomist with 10+ years of ecological research experience in western North American ecosystems, primarily in rangelands. She joined ABMI in 2022 as the vascular plant lead scientist, but has been working with ABMI intermittently since 2017. 

Mary Villeneuve

Vascular Plant Taxonomist

Mary completed a BSc at the University of Alberta and joined the ABMI in 2021. She has a background in floristic surveys and plant taxonomy. When not identifying bryophytes and vascular plants, Mary can be found hiking, canoeing, camping, and spending time with family.

If you have questions about the ABMI's vascular plant monitoring programs, please get in touch:

Additional Resources and Publications

How do we monitor vascular plants?

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. 2014. Terrestrial field data collection protocols (abridged version) 2014-03-21. Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, Alberta, Canada. Report available at:

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. 2009. Processing vascular plant samples (10012), version 2009-06-08. Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, Alberta, Canada. Report available at:

How do we identify vascular plants?

Packer, J.G. and A.J. Gould. 2017. Vascular plants of Alberta, part 1: ferns, fern allies, gymnosperms, and monocots. University of Calgary Press, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 

Kershaw, L. and L. Allen. 2020. Vascular flora of Alberta: an illustrated guide. Linda Kershaw, Alberta, Canada. 

Moss, E.H. and J.G. Packer. 1983. Flora of Alberta, 2nd edition. Revised by J.G. Packer. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America north of Mexico. 22+ vols. New York and Oxford.

Selected publications:

image Photo Credit: ABMI

Wood Lily is found blooming in open forests and grasslands from late June through early July.

Allen, B.E., E.T. Azeria, and J.T. Brief. 2021. Linking functional diversity, trait composition, invasion, and environmental drivers in boreal wetland plant assemblages. Journal of Vegetation Science 32(5):e13073.

Crisfield, V.E., D.L. Haughland, and L.A. Pyle. 2020. Microhabitat and ecology of the rare boreal endemic Lechea intermedia var. depauperata Hodgdon (Cistaceae). Ecoscience 27(4).

Crisfield, V.E., J.M. Dennett, C.K. Denny, L. Mao, and S.E. Nielsen. 2020. Species richness is a surrogate for rare plant occurrence, but not conservation value, in boreal plant communities. Biodiversity and Conservation 29:99–114.

Crisfield, V.E., D.L. Haughland, and L.A. Pyle. 2019. Reproductive ecology of impoverished pinweed (Lechea intermedia var. depauperata), a fire-associated narrow endemic from the boreal forest. Botany 97(10).

Ficken, C.D., D. Cobbaert, and R.C. Rooney. 2019. Low extent but high impact of human land use on wetland flora across the boreal oil sands region. Science of the Total Environment 693:133647. 

Alberta plant resources:

More information:

Cutleaf Vipergrass (Scorzonera laciniata) factsheet, first detection for Canada: 

Dragon’s Mouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa), new orchid detection for AB: 

Landscape rarity: rare plants project in the Lower Athabasca Regional Planning area: 

We are grateful for the support of the ABMI's delivery partners.


We would like to acknowledge the organizations and sponsors highlighted below who financially supported the development of this report.