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Plant Profile

Swamp-pink (Helonias bullata)

Swamp pink flowering in an established experimental population.

Photo Credit: Laurie Blackmore
  • Global Rank: G3 - Vulnerable
  • Legal Status: Federally Threatened
  • Family: Liliaceae
  • State: DE, GA, MD, NC, NJ, NY, SC, VA
  • Nature Serve ID: 151923
  • Lifeform: Forb/herb
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 02/10/1987

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).

Where is Swamp-pink (Helonias bullata) located in the wild?


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

States & Provinces:

Swamp-pink can be found in Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia

Which CPC Partners conserve Swamp-pink (Helonias bullata)?

CPC's Plant Sponsorship Program provides long term stewardship of rare plants in our National Collection. We are so grateful for all our donors who have made the Plant Sponsorship Program so successful. We are in the process of acknowledging all our wonderful plant sponsorship donors on our website. This is a work in progress and will be updated regularly.

Conservation Actions

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Helonias bullata is known from the Coastal Plain of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia (formerly also Staten Island, NY, where now extirpated), as well as from higher elevations in northern New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Restricted to forested wetlands that are perennially water-saturated with a low frequency of inundation, habitat specificity appears to be a critical factor in this species' rarity. Approximately 225 occurrences are believed extant, over half of which are in New Jersey; 80 additional occurrences are considered historical and 15 are extirpated. The species is locally abundant at several sites in New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and North Carolina; some have 10,000+ clumps of plants. In addition to sites known to have been extirpated, significant habitat has been lost throughout the range due to factors such as drainage for agriculture. A number of local population declines have also been documented in the past 20 years. Degradation of this species' sensitive habitat via changes to the hydrologic regime is the primary threat. Such changes can be direct (ditching, damming, draining) or indirect (from development in the watershed); indirect impacts are particularly difficult to address. Other threats include poor water quality, invasive species, trash, all terrain vehicles, deer herbivory, trampling, and collection. Given this species' very specific hydrological requirements, climate change could also be an issue. H. bullata has limited ability to colonize new sites (low incidence of flowering, limited seed dispersal, poor seedling establishment) and low genetic variation, limiting its ability to adapt to changing conditions and recover when sites are destroyed.

  • 01/01/2010

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

  • 01/01/2010

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).

  • 01/01/2010

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.

  • 01/01/2010

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.


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Taxon Helonias bullata
Authority Linnaeus 1753
Family Liliaceae
CPC Number 2210
ITIS 42941
Duration Perennial
Common Names swamp-pink | swamp pink | swamppink
Associated Scientific Names Helonias bullata | Helonias lanceolata | Helonias latifolia | Helonias scapigera | Helonias striata | Veratrum americanum
Distribution 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
State Rank
State State Rank
Delaware S2
Georgia S1
Maryland S2
North Carolina S2
New Jersey S3
New York SX
South Carolina S1
Virginia S2S3
Ecological Relationships

Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Bumble bees Bumble bees Floral Visitor Link
Beetles Floral Visitor Link
Black flies Floral Visitor Link
Insects Floral Visitor Link
Lead Institution State Reintroduction Type Year of First Outplanting
Atlanta Botanical Garden Georgia Reintroduction 1995
Atlanta Botanical Garden Georgia Reintroduction 2006
Atlanta Botanical Garden Georgia Reintroduction 2007
Atlanta Botanical Garden Georgia Reintroduction 2012

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