CPC Plant Profile: Swamp-pink
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Plant Profile

Swamp-pink (Helonias bullata)

This shot shows the swamp pink in situ. Photo Credit: Greg Wieland
  • Global Rank: N/A
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Liliaceae
  • State: DE, GA, MD, NC, NJ, NY, SC, VA

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).

Conservation Actions:
Participating Institutions
Taxon Helonias bullata
Authority Linnaeus 1753
Family Liliaceae
CPC Number 2210
ITIS 42941
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

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).

Ecological Relationships

Seeds have fatty appendages on them, assumed to be eliasomes, suggesting that ant dispersal (myrmechochory) may be a means of seed dispersal for the species. (Sutter 1982)


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