Photo of a Goldenseal plant, showing a white flower with green in the middle, on a slightly hairy stem, with a large green leaf

Photo: Sam Brinker

Protecting and recovering species at risk in Ontario

Species at risk recovery is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and recovering species at risk and their habitats.

Under the ESA, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (the Ministry) must ensure that a recovery strategy is prepared for each species that is listed as endangered or threatened. A recovery strategy provides science-based advice to government on what is required to achieve recovery of a species.

Within nine months after a recovery strategy is prepared, the ESA requires the Ministry to publish a statement summarizing the government’s intended actions and priorities in response to the recovery strategy. The response statement is the government’s policy response to the scientific advice provided in the recovery strategy. In addition to the strategy, the government response statement considered (where available) input from stakeholders, other jurisdictions, Indigenous communities and organizations, and members of the public. It reflects the best available local and scientific knowledge, including Traditional Ecological Knowledge, at this time and may be adapted if new information becomes available. In implementing the actions in the response statement, the ESA allows the Ministry to determine what is feasible, taking into account social and economic factors.

The Recovery Strategy for the Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) in Ontario was completed on June 2, 2016.

Goldenseal is a perennial herb that reaches 20 to 50 cm in height, with between one and three leaves and a bright yellow or orange underground stem (rhizome). It produces a solitary flower in the spring that lacks showy petals but has conspicuous white stamens, and develops a raspberry-like fruit in July and August.

Protecting and recovering Goldenseal

Goldenseal is listed as a threatened species under the ESA, which protects both the plant and its habitat. The ESA prohibits harm or harassment of the species and damage or destruction of its habitat without authorization. Such authorization would require that conditions established by the Ministry be met.

Goldenseal is found in eastern North America, and grows in moist deciduous woodlands. Its range extends from southern Ontario and New England to Georgia and Arkansas in the south, and west to Kansas and Oklahoma. It is considered at risk in most of the U.S. states in which it is found. In Canada, it is found mostly in the Carolinian Zone of southwestern Ontario, between the north shore of Lake Erie and the southern end of Lake Huron from Windsor to Goderich. It also occurs farther north in Grey County, its most northern location, where it is reported to have naturalized from cultivated plants of unspecified origins.

Goldenseal populations have been reduced throughout the species' range with most remaining populations being small and restricted to woodland fragments. Within Ontario, there are estimated to be 24 extant populations. Although several known populations have been recently surveyed, about half of Goldenseal surveys in Ontario occurred at least 15 years ago, and location data for some of these populations is vague.

The overall Ontario population abundance appears to be stable, with variation in growth rates among populations. Increases observed in some populations may be linked to recent forest canopy disturbances. This includes those caused by Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) and Hickory (Carya cordiformis and Carya ovata) die-off that have provided small canopy openings, resulting in reduced over-shading and enhanced light penetration.

Goldenseal reproduces both asexually (from rhizomes) and sexually (via seed production). Despite the fact that pollination does not seem to be limiting and seed production is successful, reproduction by seed is low. Because of its vegetative growth and presumed limited seed dispersal, Goldenseal tends to occur in clumps. It is typically found in or at the edge of deciduous forests in nutrient rich, moist soils with varying amounts of canopy cover.

The main threats to Goldenseal in Ontario include habitat loss resulting from woodland clearing associated with land development for residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural purposes, along with habitat degradation. Historically, causes of habitat degradation are thought to have included alteration of natural disturbance regimes (e.g., fires, floods, and effects of colonial birds on canopy gaps, soil disturbance and seed dispersal) and of hydrologic regimes (e.g., changes to soil drainage patterns). Goldenseal is often associated with forest edges and paths, suggesting that it may benefit from localized disturbance such as tree-fall openings. The reduced levels of the natural woodland disturbances once typical of northeastern woodlands may limit seedling establishment and inhibit the spread of Goldenseal within its range. Forestry, land developments, road construction and agricultural activities can alter site drainage, which can change soil moisture and micro-habitat conditions from those which are required by the species.

Harvesting and trade of wild Goldenseal is also a significant threat to the species across its North American range, and these activities have resulted in the listing of the species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The root of wild Goldenseal in Ontario and the United States is used in herbal medicines, and almost all of the Goldenseal sold in Canada comes from North American wild populations. In particular, populations on public land close to recreational trails may be at risk from illegal harvesting. Plants in such locations adjacent to well-used trails may also be at risk from trampling.

Competition with invasive woodland species poses a potential threat to Goldenseal. Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) may be out-competing Goldenseal at three population locations, and four other Goldenseal sites also have invasive woody shrub species and non-native woody plants.

Approaches to Goldenseal recovery will require collaboration with landowners, land managers and Indigenous communities and organizations to effectively protect and manage habitat and reduce threats. They will also include filling knowledge gaps through monitoring and research on Goldenseal habitat requirements, biology (e.g., seed dispersal and conditions for germination and establishment), and response to management techniques. Reducing threats to the species from illegal harvest and invasive species at the site-level will support persistence of the population in Ontario, while research to understand natural disturbance effects and requirements, and the application of this knowledge, will support natural increases within the Ontario population.

Government’s recovery goal

The government’s goal for the recovery of Goldenseal is to maintain self-sustaining populations of Goldenseal throughout its current distribution in Ontario, and to support natural increases in its abundance through effective threat mitigation.


Protecting and recovering species at risk is a shared responsibility. No single agency or organization has the knowledge, authority or financial resources to protect and recover all of Ontario’s species at risk. Successful recovery requires inter-governmental co-operation and the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities. In developing the government response statement, the Ministry considered what actions are feasible for the government to lead directly and what actions are feasible for the government to support its conservation partners to undertake.

Government-led actions

To help protect and recover the Goldenseal, the government will directly undertake the following actions:

  • Continue to implement the Ontario Invasive Species Strategic Plan to address the invasive species (e.g., Garlic Mustard) that threaten Goldenseal.
  • Continue to monitor populations and manage Goldenseal habitat in provincially protected areas where the species occurs.
  • Co-operate with federal partners, such as Environment and Climate Change Canada, to implement protection and recovery actions, where appropriate.
  • Educate other agencies and authorities involved in planning and environmental assessment processes on the protection requirements under the ESA.
  • Encourage the submission of Goldenseal data to the Ministry’s central repository at the Natural Heritage Information Centre.
  • Undertake communications and outreach to increase public awareness of species at risk in Ontario.
  • Protect the Goldenseal and its habitat through the ESA.
  • Develop direction to provide greater clarity to proponents and partners on the areas of general habitat protected under the ESA for species at risk plants.
  • Support conservation, agency, municipal and industry partners, and Indigenous communities and organizations to undertake activities to protect and recover the Goldenseal. Support will be provided where appropriate through funding, agreements, permits (including conditions) and/or advisory services.
  • Encourage collaboration, and establish and communicate annual priority actions for government support in order to reduce duplication of efforts.

Government-supported actions

The government endorses the following actions as being necessary for the protection and recovery of the Goldenseal. Actions identified as "high" will be given priority consideration for funding under the ESA. Where reasonable, the government will also consider the priority assigned to these actions when reviewing and issuing authorizations under the ESA. Other organizations are encouraged to consider these priorities when developing projects or mitigation plans related to species at risk. The government will focus its support on these high-priority actions over the next five years.

Focus area: Threat and habitat management

Objective: Manage Goldenseal populations and their habitats to improve long-term viability and reduce threats to the species in collaboration with local landowners, land managers, municipalities and the community of Bkejwanong (Walpole Island First Nation) and other interested Indigenous communities and organizations.

Habitat degradation and loss, and associated population declines, are significant threats to Goldenseal. Because this plant is found on public land, including in protected areas, as well as on private land and in Bkejwanong (Walpole Island First Nation), a collaborative approach to developing, implementing and assessing effective management practices will ensure that the best available resources and information are shared and used to support Goldenseal recovery.


  1. (High) Collaboratively work with landowners, land managers, municipalities and the community of Bkejwanong (Walpole Island First Nation) and other interested Indigenous communities and organizations to minimize threats to the species and maintain or enhance habitat conditions for Goldenseal by:
    • developing, implementing, and evaluating the effectiveness of site management plans for Goldenseal, including for logged woodlots;
    • removing invasive species (e.g., Garlic Mustard) in Goldenseal habitat, in locations where invasive species are degrading habitat or threatening the species;
    • implementing best practices for woodlot management to support suitable habitat conditions for Goldenseal;
    • minimizing site-level threats to the species by redirecting recreational activities through the use of signage and fencing, as appropriate; and,
    • monitoring the species' and habitat responses to invasive species control, woodlot management and canopy thinning, and threat management to inform adaptive management of the habitat.

Focus area: Research and monitoring

Objective: Improve understanding of Goldenseal habitat requirements, effects of changes to disturbance regimes, reproductive biology, and population trends to inform approaches to habitat management and species conservation.

There are substantial knowledge gaps that exist for Goldenseal, including its ecology, habitat requirements, and approaches to address threats. Improving the availability of knowledge on how natural disturbance patterns and the hydrologic regime affect Goldenseal and its habitat will support woodlot management for the species. Filling knowledge gaps related to reproductive ecology and propagation such as pollination, seed dispersal, germination and establishment will inform the implementation of recovery actions related to reproductive success. In addition, continued population monitoring will track whether current Ontario population levels are being maintained, and how they are responding to management actions.


  1. (High) Conduct research on Goldenseal demographics, ecology and habitat requirements, including:
    • research into the effects of forest fragmentation and alterations to disturbance and hydrologic regimes (e.g., land drainage, flood mitigation) on Goldenseal; and,
    • research on Goldenseal seed pollination, dispersal and germination, and seedling ecology.
  1. (High) Monitor Goldenseal populations and habitat conditions using standard survey techniques to track trends in population abundance, area occupied, demographics, and reproduction at existing locations.
  2. Survey historical locations of Goldenseal to determine if populations are extant.
  3. Investigate knowledge gaps related to the resilience of Goldenseal populations to harvest and the prevalence of this threat in Ontario.
  4. Work with Indigenous communities and organizations to record, share and transfer Traditional Ecological Knowledge on Goldenseal as available, including information on the condition of the species and its habitat to inform habitat management actions.

Focus area: Education and awareness

Objective: Increase public awareness about Goldenseal, its potential threats, and approaches to address threats.

Indigenous communities and organizations, municipalities, landowners and land managers have an important role to play in reducing threats to Goldenseal, in particular those associated with illegal harvest, invasive species control, and woodlot management. By increasing the level of awareness of the public with regards to the species and its habitat, more effective protection can be provided.

Due to the popularity of Goldenseal for medicinal use, public awareness of the status of Goldenseal and the effects of illegal harvest on wild populations is also important for its protection and recovery. Because of the risk of illegal harvest, caution should be used about providing information that could result in identification of species' locations.


  1. Increase awareness among private landowners and the public about Goldenseal, its protections under the ESA, and its vulnerability to illegal harvest. Educate users of herbal medicines on the status of the species and legal sources of Goldenseal to support demand reduction for wild populations.

Implementing actions

Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Program. Conservation partners are encouraged to discuss project proposals related to the actions in this response statement with the Ministry. The Ministry can also advise if any authorizations under the ESA or other legislation may be required to undertake the project.

Implementation of the actions may be subject to changing priorities across the multitude of species at risk, available resources and the capacity of partners to undertake recovery activities. Where appropriate, the implementation of actions for multiple species will be co-ordinated across government response statements.

Reviewing progress

The ESA requires the Ministry to conduct a review of progress towards protecting and recovering a species not later than five years from the publication of this response statement. The review will help identify if adjustments are needed to achieve the protection and recovery of the Goldenseal.


We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the Recovery Strategy for the Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) for their dedication to protecting and recovering species at risk.

For additional information

The government response statement for Goldenseal is available in PDF format upon request. Please email PDF requests to