Extinct Plants in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Extinct Plants in Canada

There is one plant native to Canada that is extinct. Called Macoun’s shining moss (Neomacounia nitida), this plant grew near Belleville, Ontario. Given the abundance of plant species found in Canada, it’s perhaps surprising that only one is extinct, especially when compared to the number of extinct animals in the country — 18 as of 2021. However, Macoun’s shining moss is likely not the only extinct Canadian plant. It is possible that many more species went extinct before botanists observed and recorded them. Because early settlers were more likely to notice animals and use them for food and economic purposes, their disappearance was better documented. (See also Extinct Animals in Canada.)

Macoun’s shining moss (Neomacounia nitida)

Macoun’s Shining Moss

While moss is often thought of as the carpet-like type that grows on forest floors and between the cracks in sidewalks, Macoun’s shining moss grew in loose tufts at the base of tree trunks. In particular, the moss was known to have grown at the base of elm trees and possibly cedar trees. Its brownish-green tufts reached up to 6 cm in length.

The moss was named for John Macoun, a self-taught botanist who collected the plant near his home in Belleville, Ontario, between 1862 and 1864. Though only known from this area, it is likely that Macoun’s shining moss had a wider range. Botanists do not know the exact reason for the moss’s extinction. However, they believe habitat loss was a factor, as the land on which Macoun found the moss was cleared in the years following his observations. Despite various attempts at locating Macoun’s shining moss again, in particular in 1972 and 2001, the plant has not been recorded since 1864. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada designated Macoun’s shining moss extinct in 2002.