• What scientists thought was just one flower species turned out to be two different species
  • One of them has not been seen since 1919
  • The other species is still in need of protection

A newly discovered flower species identified by North Carolina scientists has actually been extinct for a long time. It is now considered the 53rd plant species known to go extinct in Canada and the United States.

In 2016, scientists studying museum specimens of the Appalachian Barbara's buttons, a member of the daisy family, noticed striking differences between the ones from North Carolina and those observed in the wild in Pennsylvania. After further examination, they determined these did not belong to the same, but two different species. One of them was a species that could only be found in western North Carolina and was last seen in 1919.

"It is surprising to note that after its last collection 101 years ago, it is only now being recognized as a putatively extinct two county endemic," the researchers wrote in the study describing the find. "Discoveries such as this underscore the scientific importance of natural history collections."

As such, the name Appalachian Barbara’s buttons has been given to the now known to be extinct species, while the remaining surviving species, which can only be found in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, is now called Beautiful Barbara’s Buttons.

Wildflower conservationists have been fighting to protect Appalachial Barbara's button under the Endangered Species Act since 2010. Now, it has been recognized as extinct while federal protection is still being sought for the newly renamed, surviving species.

What’s concerning is that the Appalachian Barbara’s buttons is just one of the many species that have gone extinct or are in danger of going extinct. As mentioned, it is now considered the 53rd plant species known to have gone extinct in the U.S. and Canada. It is also just one of the species that conservationists have tried to protect before they were declared extinct.

"It's sobering that Appalachian Barbara's buttons is the fifth southeastern species conservationists have tried to get endangered protection for that's been declared extinct in the past decade," Curry said in a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity. "Many more plants and animals will be lost soon if we don't prioritize protecting rare species and wild places."

In a 2019 report, wherein scientists assessed 28,000 plant species, about half of them were said to be in danger of extinction within decades.

Beautiful Barbara's Buttons
The surviving species, Beautiful Barbara's Buttons, in Kentucky. John Burkhart/Center For Biological Diversity