Atlantic Coastal Plain Flora

Atlantic Coastal Plain Flora (ACPF)

The Atlantic Coastal Plain Flora (ACPF) is a group of 90 species of taxonomically unrelated wetland plants that inhabit lake and river shores, bogs, fens, and estuaries. Some of these plants occur no where else in Canada, except Nova Scotia (NS). Eleven of these plants are “Species at Risk” which means that without conservation and recovery efforts they are at risk of going extinct. These 11 plants are legally protected under federal and provincial legislation.

These plants are small, slow-growing, and adapted to living in areas where many other plants cannot survive. The conditions where they grow are low in nutrients, and subject to disturbance by wind, waves, and changing water levels. They do not compete well with other more aggressive plants and therefore can not establish in undisturbed, fertile areas. An example of a habitat where Coastal Plain Flora could thrive is an exposed, gently sloping, sandy or gravel lake shores.


The Atlantic Coastal Plain was formed at the end of the last glacial period (10,000 to 14,000 years ago) when the sea level was as much as 100 m lower than present day. There was a land bridge between Nova Scotia and Massachusetts and plants likely migrated northwards to southwestern Nova Scotia. As the glaciers melted and the sea level rose the land bridge was submerged and Nova Scotia separated from New England. The Atlantic Coastal Plain exists in southwestern Nova Scotia, around the Great Lakes and extends down the coastline of the USA. There is also a Pacific Coastal Plain.

The distribution of Atlantic Coastal Plain Flora extends down the eastern coast of the USA with isolated populations in Nova Scotia and the Great Lakes in Ontario. These isolated populations can be called disjunct populations. Some of world’s largest and least disturbed populations of Atlantic Coastal Plain Flora (ACPF) are located here in NS where they are at the northern limit of their range.

Within NS the ACPF are concentrated in the southwestern portion of the province with the majority of the Red and Yellow ranked species. There is another concentration of species in southeastern Cape Breton Island and a few locations within the northern-central region of the province.


Human activities are probably the greatest threat to the ACPF. There are negative impacts from activities such as all-terrain vehicle use, shoreline enhancement (dock building, beach clearing), peat mining, cranberry production, drainage of land for agriculture and development. Hydro-electric dams eliminate natural fluctuations in water levels. Logging operations, agriculture, and waterfront residence can cause runoff which increases nutrient levels negatively affecting the flora.

Courtesy of Nova Scotia Species at Risk website


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