CPC Plant Profile: Bog Jacob's-ladder
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Plant Profile

Bog Jacob's-ladder (Polemonium vanbruntiae)

The alternate, compound 'ladder-like' leaves and purple bell-like flowers of Polemonium van-bruntiae. Photo Credit: Dorothy Long
Description
  • Global Rank: N/A
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Polemoniaceae
  • State: CT, MA, MD, ME, NB, NJ, NY, PA, QC, VT, WV
  • Nature Serve ID: 143556
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 06/18/1986

Polemonium van-bruntiae is an herbaceous perennial plant. It has distinctive compound leaves that resemble ladder, which give the plant its common name of Jacob's ladder. Although this attractive plant is sometimes cultivated and sold to gardening enthusiasts, it is rare in the wild throughout its range. Polemonium van-bruntiae inhabits a diverse array of wetland types, including shrub swamps, marshes, lake shores, wooded floodplains, forested swamps, springs and moist roadsides. The reasons for its rarity are somewhat puzzling, because it is not a strict habitat specialist and is widely distributed in the eastern United States and Canada. The most prevalent threat to populations of this plant is habitat conversion, especially when dam construction floods wetlands where it occurs. Research and Management Summary: A handfull of research studies have been performed on this and a number of closely related species. Volunteer task forces of the New England Plant Conservation Program (New England Wild Flower Society, Framingham, Massachusetts) periodically monitor populations of this species that occur in New England. Plant Description: This plant grows to a height of 40-100 cm from a rhizome and produces several alternate, pinnately compound leaves with 15-21 pointed, oval leaflets on short petioles. The blue-purple, bell-like, 2-cm-long flowers make this species unique from other Polemonium species in the east because they have long stamens that are exserted beyond the petals.

Participating Institutions
Updates
  • 10/08/2020
  • Genetic Research

Phylogenetic relationships of species within the Polemoniaceae have been researched using matK sequencing (Johnson 1996).

  • 10/08/2020
  • Reintroduction

The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) has successfully propagated Polemonium van-bruntiae from seed collected in Vermont in 1986 (Brumback 1989). Seed germination was enhanced when seeds were refrigerated over winter. Plants were noted to bloom in the second year of growth. Seedlings were transplanted to two Vermont sites in 1990 and survived during the first year, indicating that ex situ cultivation and reintroduction may be feasible (Popp 1990). Certain private horticultural outlets also distribute the seed of Polemonium van-bruntiae.

  • 10/08/2020
  • Seed Collection

The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) has successfully propagated Polemonium van-bruntiae from seed collected in Vermont in 1986 (Brumback 1989). Seed germination was enhanced when seeds were refrigerated over winter. Plants were noted to bloom in the second year of growth. Seedlings were transplanted to two Vermont sites in 1990 and survived during the first year, indicating that ex situ cultivation and reintroduction may be feasible (Popp 1990). Certain private horticultural outlets also distribute the seed of Polemonium van-bruntiae.

  • 10/08/2020
  • Propagation Research

The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) has successfully propagated Polemonium van-bruntiae from seed collected in Vermont in 1986 (Brumback 1989). Seed germination was enhanced when seeds were refrigerated over winter. Plants were noted to bloom in the second year of growth. Seedlings were transplanted to two Vermont sites in 1990 and survived during the first year, indicating that ex situ cultivation and reintroduction may be feasible (Popp 1990). Certain private horticultural outlets also distribute the seed of Polemonium van-bruntiae.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Hydrological alteration -- Activities that change the hydrology or water quality of streams and wetlands that support the plant can eradicate Polemonium van-bruntiae. Because the plant does not tolerate flooding, dam construction (by beavers or humans)

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Conservatively, there may be as many as 80,000 plants present in approximately 60 native populations in North America. According to Thompson (1991): West Virginia (19 populations, 20000 stems); Maryland (9 populations, 10000 stems); Pennsylvania (4 populations, numbers unknown; one population destroyed); New York (22 populations, 50000 stems); Vermont (5 populations, 1300 stems); Maine (1 population, 10 stems); Quebec (9 populations, 7000 stems estimated).

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Populations are monitored on a regular basis in New England through volunteer task forces coordinated by the New England Plant Conservation Program of the New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts). However, data are currently insufficient to determine population trends. Phylogenetic relationships of species within the Polemoniaceae have been researched using matK sequencing (Johnson 1996). The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) has successfully propagated Polemonium van-bruntiae from seed collected in Vermont in 1986 (Brumback 1989). Seed germination was enhanced when seeds were refrigerated over winter. Plants were noted to bloom in the second year of growth. Seedlings were transplanted to two Vermont sites in 1990 and survived during the first year, indicating that ex situ cultivation and reintroduction may be feasible (Popp 1990). Certain private horticultural outlets also distribute the seed of Polemonium van-bruntiae.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

A Recovery Plan for the taxon is being drafted in 2001 by Environment Canada (COSEWIC 2001). Volunteer task forces of the New England Plant Conservation Program (New England Wild Flower Society, Framingham, Massachusetts) monitor populations periodically in New England.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Standardized methods for quantifying population numbers Refined studies of specific habitat requirements of the plant, particularly water and soil chemistry Studies of factors influencing levels of vegetative versus sexual reproduction in populations Increased monitoring of populations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, where populations may be directly threatened by flooding

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Ex situ cultivation techniques appear to be well-established for this taxon.

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Nomenclature
Taxon Polemonium vanbruntiae
Authority Britt.
Family Polemoniaceae
CPC Number 3561
ITIS 504486
USDA POVA5
Common Names van Brunt's Jacob's ladder | Vanbrunt's polemonium | Jacob's ladder | polémoine de Van-Brunt
Associated Scientific Names Polemonium van-bruntiae | Polemonium caeruleum L. ssp. vanbruntiae | Polemonium vanbruntiae
Distribution The species ranges from Quebec south to West Virginia and western Maryland along the Appalachian belt. Present in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York (where it becomes most
State Rank
State State Rank
Connecticut SRF
Massachusetts S2
Maryland S2
Maine S1
New Brunswick S1
New Jersey SX.1
New York S3
Pennsylvania S1
Quebec S2
Vermont S2
West Virginia S2
Habitat

Polemonium van-bruntiae inhabits a diverse array of wetland types, including shrub swamps, marshes, lake shores, wooded floodplains, forested swamps, springs and moist roadsides. The plant often occurs at elevations above 1000 feet (330 meters), including the Catskill High Peaks, and the Appalachians of western Maryland and West Virginia (Maryland Department of Natural Resources 2002). Farther north in its range, however, it appears to inhabit lowlands; for example, in mountains of Vermont (Thompson 1991) and at its one known extant site in Maine, it occurs at approximately 100 meters in elevation (Johnson and Murray 1988). These sites are typically saturated with seepage water for some period of the year, but not flooded (Thompson 1991). Water at several populations was nearly circumneutral, with pH values ranging from 6.6-6.7 (unpublished data cited in Thompson 1991). The majority of populations in Maryland and West Virginia are associated with limestone bedrock. At least one West Virginia population is associated with a very rich flora indicative of circumneutral wetlands (Mueller 2001). However, it is problematic to identify Polemonium van-bruntiae as a specialist because it is found in a variety of wetlands with a number of generalist species (Thompson 1991).

Ecological Relationships

Polemonium van-bruntiae reproduces vegetatively and in some areas can form large clones, interconnected by underground rhizomes. In other areas, only individual plants or small clumps are present (Thompson 1991). The conspicuous blue flowers of this species appear in June and July. Flowers are protandrous; that is, the large, exserted stamens release pollen before the stigma is receptive. This mechanism may encourage out-crossing in the species. Bees have been observed visiting flowers, and may pollinate the plant, although specific pollination studies have not been done (Thompson 1991, COSEWIC 2001). Bees have been implicated as pre-dispersal seed predators in another alpine species, Polemonium foliosissimum in Colorado (Zimmerman 1980), but this phenomenon has not been explored in the eastern species. Beattie and Culver (1981) indicate that Polemonium van-bruntiae seed is not ant-dispersed, unlike other species common to rich montane forests of West Virginia. Extensive long-term studies of reproduction and pollination in related congeners may inform hypotheses about fitness and reproduction in P. van-bruntiae (e.g., Zimmerman 1979, Galen 1983, Zimmerman 1984, Galen and Newport 1988, Zimmerman and Pyke 1988, Gilbert 1998). Seeds appear to require a period of winter dormancy in order to germinate successfully (Brumback 1989). Seeds are reportedly dispersed by winter winds and spring flood waters (COSEWIC 2001).

Pollinators
Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID

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