This chapter provides a review of progress toward protection and recovery of Virginia Mallow in Ontario from 2007 to 2015.
Virginia Mallow (Sida hermaphrodita) is a perennial flowering herb that reaches one to three metres in height. The species has white flowers made up of five petals that grow in clusters. Virginia Mallow has toothed leaves with three to seven points that resemble maple leaves and are arranged in an alternate pattern along the plant’s stem.
Virginia Mallow exists in two locations in Ontario, one in Haldimand County and another in the Niagara Region. Virginia Mallow generally grows in open, sunny areas along floodplains as the species requires a habitat that periodically floods. The species can live in many different types of soil and is able to grow in highly disturbed areas, such as roadsides and railroad banks.
Virginia Mallow faces several threats to its survival and recovery. The most significant threats to the species are habitat destruction and invasive species. Historically in southern Ontario, floodplains were developed for housing and agriculture or altered to control flooding. This has reduced the amount of habitat available for the species. Invasive species, such as European Common Reed (Phragmites australis ssp. australis), are considered to be a potential threat to Virginia Mallow because they may compete with the species for light, space and nutrients if they spread into one of two Ontario populations.
Virginia Mallow is listed as endangered at both the provincial (Species at Risk in Ontario List) and federal (Schedule 1 under the Species at Risk Act) levels. Globally, it is considered to be vulnerable.
The Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO) assessed Virginia Mallow as endangered. Following this assessment, it was added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List in 2010. In future assessments, COSSARO may consider information gained through protection and recovery actions regarding the species’ threats and trends in population and distribution.
Species and habitat protection
Protecting Virginia Mallow and its habitat are key components in the implementation of the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA or “the Act”), and continue to be government-led actions, as identified in the government response statement. As an endangered species, Virginia Mallow has been protected from being killed, harmed, harassed, captured or taken under the ESA since it was listed in 2010. In addition, the species’ habitat has been protected from being damaged or destroyed since 2010. Habitat protection was initially based on the general habitat definition in the ESA. The habitat of Virginia Mallow is now protected through a habitat regulation that came into force in 2012.
The government developed the habitat regulation (Ontario Regulation 242/08, section 29.2) for Virginia Mallow within the timeframe required by the ESA. The habitat regulation provides clarity to the public and others on what areas are protected as Virginia Mallow habitat. The regulated habitat includes areas that are required by the species to carry out its life processes (e.g., dispersal) within its range in Ontario. The habitat regulation was developed based on information regarding the habitat needs of the species as well as social and economic factors, collected from a variety of sources including comments received through public consultation. Any person who negatively impacts Virginia Mallow or its habitat without prior authorization may be prosecuted under the ESA.
Virginia Mallow has been protected from being killed, harmed, harassed, captured or takensince 2010.
In addition, the habitat of Virginia Mallow has been protected from being damaged or destroyed since 2010. Habitat protection was initially based on the general habitat definition in the ESA. The habitat of Virginia Mallow is now protected through a habitat regulation that came into force in 2012.
A recovery strategy for Virginia Mallow was published on February 18, 2011, which was in advance of the date required by the ESA, 2007. Recovery strategies are advice to government and represent the best available scientific knowledge. The strategy identifies Virginia Mallow habitat needs and the threats that it faces, while recommending objectives and approaches for protecting and recovering the species. The recovery strategy also includes recommendations on the areas of habitat to be considered in the development of a habitat regulation.
Government response statement
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (“the Ministry”) published the government response statement (GRS) for Virginia Mallow on November 18, 2011, which was within the timeframe required by the ESA. The GRS is government policy that contains the Government of Ontario’s goal for the recovery of Virginia Mallow.
To help achieve this goal, the government leads and supports recovery actions identified in the GRS. Common actions for the government to lead as it works toward achieving a species’ recovery goal are provided in section 2.5 of the Species at Risk Program Status (2008–2015). The GRS for Virginia Mallow also lists six actions the Ministry supports others to undertake for the species. These government-supported actions fall under the objectives identified in the GRS, which are:
- Protect and reduce threats to extant populations of Virginia Mallow and its habitat;
- Regularly assess all known sites and search suitable habitat for additional populations; and
- Improve knowledge of Virginia Mallow ecology.
Recovery GoalThe government’s goal for the recovery of Virginia Mallow is to protect and maintain all existing populations of Virginia Mallow in southern Ontario and to ensure the species’ long-term persistence within its current range.
through the general habitat definition under the ESA in 2010 and then a habitat regulation in 2012
Government funded projects
An important government-led action in the GRS for Virginia Mallow is to support partners to undertake activities to protect and recover the species.
Through the Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario, the Ministry has provided funding for two projects to help determine the size and distribution of the Taquanyah Conservation Area population of Virginia Mallow and to fill the knowledge gaps identified in the species’ GRS. These projects were undertaken from 2013 to 2015 by Dr. Kevin Stevens and Dr. Mihai Costea of Wilfrid Laurier University and Anthony Zammit from the Grand River Conservation Authority, which owns and manages the Taquanyah Conservation Area.
Ontario’s Invasive Species Act
The GRS for Virginia Mallow indicates that invasive species pose a threat to the survival and recovery of the species in Ontario. The provincial Invasive Species Act, 2015 came into force on November 3, 2016 and provides an enabling framework to support the prevention, detection and control of invasive species in Ontario. This framework may support actions to reduce the threats of invasive species on native and at-risk species, including Virginia Mallow.
The main objectives of these projects were to estimate and map the current size and distribution of the Taquanyah Conservation Area population of Virginia Mallow and to gain information on the species’ biology and habitat needs, including its population demographics, seed biology and optimal growth conditions. The partners mapped the current distribution of this population in 2014 after completing surveys for the species. They also attempted to map the historic distribution of the species in Ontario by looking through Canadian herbarium collections. To continue this work, the partners began to survey for additional populations upstream and downstream of the Taquanyah Conservation Area. To estimate the size of the population, the researchers counted stems of Virginia Mallow within 1 metre by 1 metre square quadrants at various areas within the population. The partners are currently working with geographic information system (GIS) specialists at the Grand River Conservation Authority to explore ways of counting the current population more accurately. To determine information on Virginia Mallow’s biology and habitat needs, the partners established a seed collection to use for conducting germination and seedling growth studies. These studies helped determine the most optimal way to grow Virginia Mallow and the effects of soil characteristics on seed germination and seedling growth.
These research projects also investigated two factors that potentially limit the species’ ability to recover, European Common Reed (Phragmites australis ssp. australis) and the viability of seeds within the population’s natural seed bank. According to these studies, viable seeds are present within stands of the species; however, the number of viable seeds present outside stands of the species is very low. This finding suggests that Virginia Mallow seeds do not disperse very far from the parent plant. The effect of European Common Reed on Virginia Mallow remains uncertain. Further work is underway to continue this research.
Field inventories and mapping suggest that the Virginia Mallow population at Taquanyah Conservation Authority has increased since 2010. In addition, growth studies conducted in natural and laboratory settings suggest that this population has the potential to expand through seed dispersal. This work supported the species’ GRS actions to undertake research related to species demographics, genetics, minimum viable population requirements, and factors that may be limiting the species’ recovery, and to develop and implement a standard monitoring program to detect changes in the species distribution and abundance.
Efforts to minimize adverse effects on Virginia Mallow
Supporting partners through permits and their associated conditions, is an important government-led action. A total of three permits have been issued for Virginia Mallow since the species has been protected under the ESA, all of which have been ‘protection or recovery permits’ (i.e., 17(2) (b) permit). Protection or recovery permits are issued if the purpose of the activity is to assist the protection or recovery of a species at risk. Two of the permits were issued exclusively for Virginia Mallow while the third included multiple species at risk. These permits focused on estimating the historic distribution of the species and the current size of the Taquanyah Conservation Area population as well as increasing understanding of the species’ habitat characteristics and population demographics. These permits support the GRS actions to undertake research related to species demographics, genetics, minimum viable population requirements, and factors that may be limiting the species’ recovery and to develop and implement a standard monitoring program to detect changes in the species’ distribution and abundance.
One activity that may affect Virginia Mallow or its habitat has been registered under ‘Species protection, recovery activities’ (section 23.17) of Ontario Regulation 242/08 under the ESA, and includes studies to understand the plant’s biology and seed production needs. This registration requires the registered individual to comply with all conditions of the regulation, such as:
- Implementing the actions in a mitigation plan developed by an expert on the species to help minimize or avoid any adverse effects;
- Updating mitigation plans every five years to include information obtained while monitoring the effects of the activity; and
- Preparing a report following completion of the activity that provides a summary of the outcome of the activity, including a detailed assessment of the extent to which the activity achieved its purpose.
Occurrences of Virginia Mallow in Ontario
Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC)
Virginia Mallow is known to occur in two locations in southwestern Ontario, at the Taquanyah Conservation Area in Haldimand County and on private property in the Niagara Region. The Niagara Region population of the species exists within a licensed quarry and along a pipeline corridor. Both populations
Since 2008, the Ministry has received approximately 237 records of the species. These records are based on observations between 1951 and 2016 and come from a variety of sources. The Haldimand County population has been observed during surveys in 2008, 2010 and 2014 and was most recently observed in 2016. The Niagara Region population was most recently observed in 2001, 2005 and 2008. These and other records submitted to the NHIC have helped to redefine where the species is known and has been known to occur and can provide additional information on the species’ habitat and threats. For example, records from these surveys suggest that the Haldimand County population is increasing in size throughout time. In 2008 the population was estimated to have about 2,300 stems, in 2010 there were an estimated 5,000 plus stems and in 2014 the population was estimated to be over 26,000 stems. This increase is likely due to habitat improvements. In 2006, a reservoir near the Haldimand County population was decommissioned to restore a cold-water stream that ran through the property. This may have created new habitat for Virginia Mallow as the species generally grows in disturbed areas that are prone to flooding. The viability of the Haldimand County population is considered to be fair. Observations of the Niagara Region population suggest that the population has not changed in size and appears to be stable; however, the population is considered to have poor viability.
It is possible that there are observations of Virginia Mallow that have not been submitted to the Ministry. Encouraging the submission of observations of Virginia Mallow to the Ministry is included in the GRS as a government-led action.
Everyone is encouraged, or may be required by an authorization or approval, to submit observations of the American White Pelican, as well as every other species at risk, to the Ministry’s Natural Heritage Information Centre for incorporation into the provincial record of observations.
237 observations of the species were submitted to the NHIC since 2008
Summary of progress towards meeting the recovery goal
Summary of progress
Progress has been made toward all government-led actions and two of the government-supported actions outlined in the GRS for Virginia Mallow. The Government of Ontario has directly undertaken actions to:
- Encourage submission of Virginia Mallow data to the Natural Heritage Information Centre;
- Protect the species through the ESA and its habitat through a habitat regulation;
- Support partners to undertake activities to protect and recover the species;
- Establish and communicate annual priority actions for support;
- Educate other agencies and planning authorities on the requirement to consider the protection of the species and its habitat; and
- Undertake communications and outreach to increase public awareness of species at risk in Ontario.
Government-supported actions are organized under over-arching recovery objectives. Progress has been made toward two of the three government-supported recovery objectives and several of the associated actions that are identified in the GRS for Virginia Mallow.
Under the objective to regularly assess all known sites and search suitable habitat for additional populations, initial progress has been made toward one of the two actions:
- Develop and implement a standard monitoring program to detect changes in the species’ distribution and abundance (Action No. 4; High Priority).
The action has been implemented through two projects funded by the Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario which have collected baseline data for future monitoring programs and initiated a monitoring program for the Taquanya Conservation Area population.
Under the objective to improve knowledge of Virginia Mallow ecology, progress has been made toward the only action:
- Undertake research related to species demographics, genetics, minimum viable population requirements, and factors that may be limiting the species’ recovery (Action No. 6).
Parts of the action have been supported through two projects funded by the Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario. Both projects have collected information regarding the species’ biology and habitat needs, including the population demographics, seed biology and optimal growth conditions. One of the two projects has also done research on factors that may limit the recovery of Virginia Mallow by studying whether European Common Reed (Phragmites australis ssp. australis) impacts Virginia Mallow seed germination and seedling growth.
The recovery goal for Virginia Mallow is to protect and maintain all existing populations of Virginia Mallow in southern Ontario and to ensure the species’ long-term persistence within its current range. Effort made toward the government-led and government-supported GRS actions has helped to make progress toward the recovery goal. In addition, occurrence data from the Natural Heritage Information Centre strongly suggests that Virginia Mallow is showing trends that are consistent with this recovery goal. As described in section 9.1 of this chapter, both populations of the species have remained stable or increased in size since 2010 when the species was first protected under the ESA; the Haldimand County population has increased significantly in size since 2010 most likely due to habitat improvements, and the Niagara Region population has remained stable.
As stated in the GRS, the review of progress toward protecting and recovering Virginia Mallow can be used to help identify whether adjustments are needed to achieve the protection and recovery of the species. Based on progress to-date, the overall direction provided in the GRS for Virginia Mallow should continue to guide protection and recovery actions for the species, particularly for those actions identified as high priority in the GRS. Relative to actions that have received a high level of support, the following actions have received support to a lesser degree and may be considered in future decisions regarding the protection and recovery of Virginia Mallow:
- Baseline data for Virginia Mallow has been collected for the purpose of using this data to set up a monitoring program for the species. Work is now required to develop and implement a standard monitoring program to detect changes in the species' distribution and abundance (Action No. 4; High Priority).
- Actions for which progress has been limited should be supported in future implementation planning, such as implementing the Ministry’s best management practices for the control of European Common Reed within sensitive habitats (Action No. 1; High Priority); developing and providing information to land owners and land managers to increase awareness on the protection of the species and potential stewardship opportunities (Action No. 2); as opportunities arise, supporting the securement of lands that contain Virginia Mallow populations through existing land securement and stewardship programs (Action No. 3); and conducting surveys in areas of potentially suitable habitat to determine if there are any additional populations of this species (Action No. 5).
Moving forward, protecting and recovering Virginia Mallow will continue to be a shared responsibility that will require the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities. Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario or the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program. The Ministry can also advise if any authorizations under the ESA or other legislation may be required to undertake a project. By working together, progress can continue to be made toward protecting and recovering Virginia Mallow in Ontario.
Summary of progress toward the protection and recovery of Virginia Mallow (2007 to 2015)
- Virginia Mallow is classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA). The species has been protected from being killed, harmed, harassed, captured or taken and its habitat has been protected from damage or destruction under the ESA since 2010.
Species-specific documents and guidance published by the government:
- Recovery Strategy for Virginia Mallow (2011)
- Virginia Mallow: Ontario Government Response Statement (2011)
- Virginia Mallow Habitat Regulation (Ontario Regulation 242/08; 2012)
Supporting our partners:
- Through the Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario, the Ministry has provided funding for two projects to help determine the size and distribution of the Taquanyah Conservation Area population of Virginia Mallow and to fill the knowledge gaps identified in the species’ GRS.
- The Ministry has issued three ‘protection and recovery permits’ under clause 17(2) (b) of the ESA.
- One activity has been registered for this species under ‘Species protection, recovery activities’ (section 23.17) under Ontario Regulation 242/08 of the ESA.
Occurrences and distribution:
- Two populations of Virginia Mallow that have been documented in the southwestern Ontario; both populations are considered extant. In addition, evidence suggests that one of these populations has increased in size, likely due to habitat improvements.
- Categorizing and Protecting Habitat under the Endangered Species Act
- Habitat Regulation Summary for Virginia Mallow
- Natural Heritage Information Centre
- Ontario’s Endangered Species Act
- Ontario’s Endangered Species Act Regulation 242/08
- Ontario Recovery Strategy and Government Response Statement for Virginia Mallow
- Policy Guidance on Harm and Harass under the Endangered Species Act
- Species at Risk in Ontario List
- Species at Risk Stewardship Fund
COSEWIC. 2010. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Virginia Mallow Sida hermaphrodita in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. ix + 18 pp.
- footnote Back to paragraph A population is defined as an area of land and/or water on/in which an element (i.e., Virginia Mallow) is or was present. They are comprised of one or more observations and the area has a practical conservation value as it is important to the conservation of the species. An element occurrence is the technical term used to describe this.