Photo: Allen Woodliffe

The Heart-leaved Plantain is a perennial herb with fleshy branching roots and large heart-shaped leaves at its base. It produces 80 to 130 tiny purplish-green flowers, clustered along a tall stalk.

Protecting and recovering Species at Risk in Ontario

Species at risk recovery is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. Biodiversity – the variety of living organisms on Earth – provides us with clean air and water, food, fibre, medicine and other resources that we need to survive.

The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and recovering species at risk and their habitats. As soon as a species is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened under the ESA, it is automatically protected from harm or harassment. Also, immediately upon listing, the habitats of endangered and threatened species are protected from damage or destruction.

Under the ESA, the Ministry of Natural Resources (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.

Government response statements

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 recovery strategy for Heart-leaved Plantain (Plantago cordata) was published on June 15, 2012.

The response statement is the government’s policy response to the scientific advice provided in the recovery strategy. All recommendations provided in the recovery strategy were considered and this response statement identifies those that are considered to be appropriate and necessary for the protection and recovery of the species. In addition to the strategy, the response statement is based on input from stakeholders, other jurisdictions, Aboriginal communities and members of the public. It reflects the best available traditional, local and scientific 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.

Moving forward to protect and recover the Heart-Leaved Plantain

The Heart-leaved Plantain is listed as an endangered 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.

The Heart-leaved Plantain’s range originally extended across eastern North America, but its populations are now diminished and more localized. It is known to have been extirpated from five locations in southern Ontario. The two existing populations of Heart-leaved Plantain in Canada occur near the southern shores of Lake Huron at Parkhill in Middlesex County and at Stony Point in Lambton County. The land at Stony Point has been historically used by Kettle and Stony Point First Nation and by the federal government as a military training area (Camp Ipperwash). The removal of unexploded ordnances, if undertaken, has the potential to disturb the Heart-leaved Plantain. Other potential threats to this species include the removal of vegetation bordering streams, hydrological changes, degraded water quality, tree harvesting, collection for food and medicinal uses, invasive plant species, and herbivory by slugs, snails, and other invertebrates.

The Heart-leaved Plantain’s two existing populations occur in relatively large numbers with a few thousand mature plants. In addition, this species is limited by its specialized habitat requirements, and it is unknown whether or not locations of historical occurrences could support Heart-leaved Plantain. As a result, the focus of recovery efforts is on retaining and improving the viability of the existing populations in Ontario.

The government’s goal for the recovery of Heart-leaved Plantain is to promote or maintain a self-sustaining Ontario population.

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 Heart-leaved Plantain, the government will directly undertake the following actions:

  • Develop a survey protocol to be used by proponents and partners to detect the presence or absence of Heart-leaved Plantain.
  • Educate other agencies and authorities involved in planning and environmental assessment processes on the protection requirements under the ESA.
  • Encourage the submission of Heart-leaved Plantain 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 Heart-leaved Plantain and its habitat through the ESA.
  • Support conservation, agency, municipal, industry partners and Aboriginal communities to undertake activities to protect and recover the Heart-leaved Plantain. Support will be provided where appropriate through funding, agreements, permits (including conditions) and advisory services.
  • Establish and communicate annual priority actions for government support in order to encourage collaboration and reduce duplication of efforts.

Government-supported actions

The government endorses the following actions as being necessary for the protection and recovery of the Heart-leaved Plantain. Actions identified as "high" will be given priority consideration for funding or for authorizations under the ESA. The government will focus its support on these high-priority actions over the next five years.

Focus area: Protection and Management

Objective: Protect and promote habitat management at existing sites in Ontario.


  1. (High) Develop and distribute best management practices for appropriate forest, watershed, and upstream agricultural management within the watersheds of existing populations. This may include:
    • ensuring unimpeded upstream water flow and natural water level fluctuations;
    • preserving and restoring native vegetation and forest cover bordering streams; and,
    • enacting specific measures to prevent or reduce agricultural, industrial and domestic run-off (e.g., pesticides, fertilizers) and siltation.
  2. Develop outreach materials that highlight the significance, vulnerability and threats to the Heart-leaved Plantain and distribute these materials to appropriate conservation authorities, Aboriginal communities, partners, land owners, municipal planners and other key stakeholders.

Focus area: Monitoring and research

Objective: Improve knowledge of the species' biology, habitat, and threats.


  1. (High) Conduct surveys for the Heart-leaved Plantain in association with other priority species to monitor current habitat quality and extent, population size and health, and major threats.
  2. Survey areas of suitable habitat along streams that have historical reports of the species, and additional sites with suitable habitat in order to identify additional populations.
  3. Investigate major threats to the Heart-leaved Plantain and its habitat, such as whether collection of the plant is occurring and impacting population viability, and the effects of changes in water quality and hydrologic regime.

The recovery goal is focused on retaining a self-sustaining population in Ontario by addressing the threats to the species and improving habitat conditions at existing sites. The relocating of Heart-leaved Plantain from its current locations may have significant adverse effects on the remaining population and its ability to naturally increase.

The planting of a species at risk without appropriate precautions may have potential negative impacts on the target species, the broader ecosystem, or other activities in the surrounding area. To be successful, these projects require long-term financial and technical commitments to monitoring, managing, and evaluating the site. Avoiding and preventing adverse impacts should be the first priority.

Implementing actions

Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario, Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program, Community Fisheries and Wildlife Involvement Program, or Conservation Land Tax Incentive 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 Heart-leaved Plantain.


We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the "Recovery Strategy for the Heart-leaved Plantain (Plantago cordata) in Ontario" for their dedication to protecting and recovering species at risk.