Species Profile

Engelmann's Quillwort

Scientific Name: Isoetes engelmannii
Other/Previous Names: Isoëtes engelmannii
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
Range: Ontario
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2001
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Engelmann's Quillwort

Engelmann's Quillwort Photo 1



The Engelmann's Quillwort is an aquatic plant. It has a cluster of weak and stringy leaves that rise from two corms. The leaves usually measure 20 to 40 cm, but can extend to 90 cm. The colour of the leaves varies from bright green to brownish-green. The leaves often float on water or sprawl across mud flats; the corms are not usually visible, but buried within the substrate.


Distribution and Population

Although widespread across the eastern United States, in Canada, the Engelmann's Quillwort is found in only two locations in southern Ontario. Firstly, there is a cluster of eight sites in four populations along the lower reaches of the Severn River in Muskoka District and adjacent Simcoe County, and a second location with a single population along the Gull River near West Guilford, Haliburton County. Estimating the size of these populations is complicated by deep water conditions, obscuring associated aquatic vegetation, particularly Isoetes hybrids, and poor water quality. The total number of plants known in Canada is likely under 2,000 individuals.



In Canada, both locations of Engelmann's Quillwort are found in waterways where the water flow is regulated either for flood control or for electrical power generation. The corm is anchored in sand and clay substrates in shallow water along the rivers’ shores.



The Engelmann's Quillwort reproduces through spores, which mature in late summer. The mixing of megaspores (female) from one plant with microspores (male) from another are required to generate new individuals. The spores are usually dispersed by water currents, close to the parent plants.



Habitat destruction due to changes in water levels and an increase in recreational activities is a threat to populations of Engelmann's Quillworts. Toxic spills are also potential threats to the Canadian populations of Engelmann's Quillworts. Seepage from private and public facilities in both areas inhabited by Engelmann's Quillworts could be detrimental to the populations of these plants. The Canadian populations have declined in recent years at some sites and are suspected to be declining overall, apparently as a result of degrading water quality, competition from associated aquatic vegetation, abundance of zebra mussels and direct removal by collectors.



Federal Protection

The Engelmann's Quillwort is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Engelmann’s Quillwort (Isoetes engelmannii) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry


Recovery Team

Englemann's Quillwort Recovery Team

  • Kirsten Querbach - Chair/Contact - Environment Canada
    Phone: 819-938-4038  Send Email


Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date A recovery team has been formed for Engelmann’s Quillwort. In 2004 extensive surveys in the Severn river resulted in the discovery of several new Engelmann’s Quillwort subpopulations. Researchers are currently studying the plant’s habitat requirements. Engelmann’s Quillwort occurs along both the Severn and Gull rivers, and these two sites are quite different ecologically, indicating some flexibility in habitat use. Researchers are using genetic techniques to study the relationships among Canadian and American populations of the plant. Engelmann’s Quillwort is known to hybridize with other plant species, and this genetics work will also help researchers investigate the rate and effect of hybridization.


PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

2 record(s) found.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Engelmann’s Quillwort (Isoetes engelmannii) in Canada (2007)

    This national Recovery Strategy provides guidance for the recovery of Engelmann's quillwort (Isoetes engelmannii) in Canada. Engelmann’s quillwort was listed as Endangered under the Species at Risk Act given that there are only two known populations in Canada, restricted to two rivers in Ontario. In addition, the Canadian populations are disjunct from the core range of the species in the northeastern United States.

Critical Habitat Statements