Oxypolis canbyi - (Coult. & Rose) Fern.
Canby's Dropwort
Other English Common Names: Canby's Cowbane
Other Common Names: Canby's cowbane
Synonym(s): Tiedemannia canbyi (J.M. Coult. & Rose) Feist & S.R. Downie
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Oxypolis canbyi (Coult. & Rose) Fern. (TSN 29545)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.139094
Element Code: PDAPI1L010
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Carrot Family
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Apiales Apiaceae Oxypolis
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Oxypolis canbyi
Taxonomic Comments: Molecular and morphological studies have shown evidence that the genus Oxypolis as currently circumscribed, including compound-leaved and rachis-leaved species, is not monophyletic: the rachis-leaved species of Oxypolis (which include O. canbyi) are transferred to their own genus, Tiedemannia (Feist and Downie 2008 and Feist et al. 2012).
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G2
Global Status Last Reviewed: 05Jan2010
Global Status Last Changed: 29Dec1992
Rounded Global Status: G2 - Imperiled
Reasons: Oxypolis canbyi is native to the Coastal Plain from southwestern Georgia through South Carolina to southeastern North Carolina, and from eastern MD to (historically) Delaware. Approximately 40 occurrences are believed extant, mostly in South Carolina and Georgia, with an additional 16 occurrences considered historical or of unknown status. There are likely over 10,000 total plants, as at least three Georgia occurrences have "thousands" of plants, and at least four South Carolina occurrences are described as "very large." Other sites have fewer plants. This species' herbaceous wetland habitats - characterized by long periods of inundation and little canopy cover - have declined significantly from historical levels due to drainage and conversion to pasture, farmland, and pine plantations. This threat continues to some extent presently. Habitat degradation is the other major threat to this species, primarily resulting from hydrological alterations and/or fire suppression, both of which can alter successional patterns to the detriment of this species. Water table-lowering activities in the general vicinity of sites can still constitute significant hydrological alteration, such that protecting the sites themselves may be insufficient to ensure persistence. A significant proportion of known occurrences are described as declining in habitat quality and/or population size; many require active management.
Nation: United States
National Status: N2

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Delaware (SX), Georgia (S2), Maryland (S1), North Carolina (S1), South Carolina (S2)

Other Statuses

U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): LE: Listed endangered (25Feb1986)
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Lead Region: R4 - Southeast

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Native to the coastal plain, from southwestern Georgia through South Carolina to southeastern North Carolina (mostly in the middle and inner Coastal Plain), and from eastern MD to (historically) Delaware (Weakley 2008).

Area of Occupancy: 126-2,500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments:  

Number of Occurrences: 21 - 80
Number of Occurrences Comments: Approximately 40 occurrences are believed extant, mostly in South Carolina and Georgia (North Carolina and Maryland have 1 occurrence each). An additional 16 occurrences are ranked "failed to find," "historical," or "unknown."

Population Size Comments: In Georgia, at least three occurrences have "thousands" of plants, and at least four more have several hundred to a thousand; others are smaller (25-250) or of unknown size. In South Carolina, one occurrence is described as "extremely large", three others as "very large", and one additional as "fairly large"; remaining occurrences are described as "good size", "fair size", or "small", or are of unknown size. The Maryland occurrence fluctuated between 14 and 82 plants over nine years of detailed monitoring. The North Carolina occurrence has had very few plants (e.g., 2 individuals) observed in recent years, although it was larger in the past.

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Few (4-12)
Viability/Integrity Comments: Approximately nine occurrences are believed to have excellent or good viability; a few others have not yet been ranked but may eventually be scored as such due to substantial population size and/or solid protection and management.

Overall Threat Impact: Very high - high
Overall Threat Impact Comments: A primary threat to O. canbyi is the loss of wetland habitats in which it occurs. The main source of the destruction of these habitats is drainage of lowland areas followed by bulldozing and conversion to pine plantations, pastures, or croplands.

A second primary threat is habitat degradation via alteration of hydrology. Drainage, ditching, dredging, or lowering of the water table as a result of road construction, agriculture, logging, plantation establishment, and other human activities results in succession leading to increased competition from other herbaceous species which are not as tolerant of high water conditions as is O. canbyi. Note that activities remote from the site of an occurrence can still threaten this species by this means; protecting a site may be insufficient to ensure persistence if activities that lower the water table are occurring in the general vicinity, for example.

A third primary threat is habitat degradation via succession, predominantly resulting from fire suppression. In most of the habitats in which this species occurs, periodic fire is necessary to maintain the open, herbaceous vegetation that it requires. Such fires no longer occur at many of the sites where this species is found, and succession-related decline has been noted in numerous occurrences throughout its range.

Among the lesser threats to this species, road construction and maintenance appear to be directly impacting plants at a few sites. Drought years are also associated with significantly reduced plant numbers - prolonged, severe drought could thus potentially cause lasting population declines, but the length and severity of drought beyond which population rebound is possible is not yet known. Predation by larvae (caterpillars) of the black swallowtail butterfly has also been noted in some South Carolina and Georgia populations. ORV damage was observed at one Georgia site. Finally, because of scientific interest in O. canbyi, it could be exploited for research or educational purposes; at some sites, the population is sufficiently small that such collection would be detrimental.

Short-term Trend: Decline of 10-50%
Short-term Trend Comments: In Georgia, approximately 4 of 16 extant occurrences are described as declining in habitat quality and/or population size; 4 additional occurrences were ranked "failed to find" as of 2007 fieldwork. The Maryland occurrence appeared to be fluctuating but not necessarily declining in 1993-2001 monitoring, following reintroduction of plants (from the population) propagated ex situ. Between 1986 and 1988, it had declined from 100-200 to 7 plants. The North Carolina occurrence has declined from a high of 2000-3000 plants in 1987 to 2 plants in 2004. Occurrence-level trend information is not available for South Carolina, but the species is believed to have declined significantly overall due to the severe drought of the late 1990's and early 2000's in that state (Glitzenstein no date); it remains to be seen whether populations will rebound.

Long-term Trend:  
Long-term Trend Comments: Habitat for this species has declined significantly from historical levels. For example, in South Carolina over 90% of Carolina Bays over 1.2 ha in size are believed to have been ditched or destroyed (Glitzenstein no date). The few known extirpated populations are presumed or known to have been destroyed by habitat loss or modification (USFWS no date); for example, at least one Georgia occurrence was destroyed by urbanization, and another was likely destroyed by agricultural development.

Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Specific habitat requirements; vulnerable to succession if hydrology and/or fire regime changes.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: Native to the coastal plain, from southwestern Georgia through South Carolina to southeastern North Carolina (mostly in the middle and inner Coastal Plain), and from eastern MD to (historically) Delaware (Weakley 2008).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States DEextirpated, GA, MD, NC, SC

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
GA Burke (13033), Dooly (13093), Jenkins (13165), Lee (13177), Screven (13251), Sumter (13261)*
MD Queen Annes (24035)
NC Scotland (37165)
SC Allendale (45005), Bamberg (45009), Barnwell (45011), Berkeley (45015), Charleston (45019), Clarendon (45027), Colleton (45029), Florence (45041), Hampton (45049), Lee (45061), Orangeburg (45075), Richland (45079)*, Sumter (45085), Williamsburg (45089)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
02 Chester-Sassafras (02060002)+
03 Lynches (03040202)+, Little Pee Dee (03040204)+, Black (03040205)+, Congaree (03050110)+*, Lake Marion (03050111)+, Santee (03050112)+, Cooper (03050201)+, Edisto (03050205)+, Four Hole Swamp (03050206)+, Salkehatchie (03050207)+, Broad-St. Helena (03050208)+, Bulls Bay (03050209)+, Middle Savannah (03060106)+, Upper Ogeechee (03060201)+, Lower Ocmulgee (03070104)+, Middle Flint (03130006)+, Kinchafoonee-Muckalee (03130007)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A perennial herb with strong, fleshy rhizomes. Plants have slender stems, often more than 1 m tall. Leaves are thin and quill-like. Herbage smells slightly of dill. From mid-August to October the plants bear compound clusters of small white flowers (sometimes tinged with red).
General Description: From Chafin (2007): Perennial herb forming colonies by long, thin underground stems (rhizomes). Stems up to 150 cm tall, erect, smooth, the lower portion purple, branching only near the top. Leaves 20-30 cm long, alternate, round in cross-section and tapering to a point, hollow except for cross-partitions; lower leaves usually drop by flowering. Flowers in flat-topped clusters containing 7-12 smaller, flat-topped clusters. Flowers with 5 tiny, white petals curving up and inward. Fruits less than 6.5 mm long, flattened and broadly oblong, with corky ribs and broad, thickened wings, giving the fruit a flattened, rectangular shape in cross-section. All parts of the plant smell faintly of dill.
Technical Description: Oxypolis canbyi is an herbaceous perennial which produces numerous pale, fleshy stoloniferous rhizomes. Buds formed at the ends of these rhizomes produce an ascending rhizome which expands into an erect stem base usually embedded in the substrate.

Stems are erect to ascending, slender, terete, fistulose and finely ribbed. They are simple to tell above the middle with the internodes elongating into the inflorescence. The lower portion of the stem is usually strongly suffused with purple or pink, while the upper portion is more uniformly green. Plants are up to 1.5 meters tall with stems 3-10 mm thick.

Leaves are alternate, simple, nodose-septate and terete, comprised of petiole and rachis only, thus appearing phyllodial. Generally, the leaves are slender, elongate and linear-subulate. Leaf bases are dilated and clasping. By flowering time, the lower leaves are usually absent. The lower leaves are 1-2(3) dm long with the median and upper leaves gradually decreasing in length.

Inflorescence is composed of axillary, compound umbels on erect or ascending, terete primary peduncles which are 4-10 cm in length. The slender, stiff primary rays (secondary peduncles) usually number 5-9(12) and are (1) 2-3 cm long. These are subtended by 3-7 linear-setaceous involucral bracts, 0.5-2.5 cm long. The secondary umbels are 1 cm high, on pedicels 2-7 mm long and are subtended by involucel bractlets 3-10 mm long.

Flowers are regular, bisexual, or unisexual. The inner flowers of some umbels are male, while some outer flowers are female. The flowers are small with 5 inconspicuous sepals and 5 clawed white petals. The petals are 1.2-1.3 mm long with the blades strongly incurved. The inferior ovary is topped by a conical stylopodium with two short fleshy style branches and slightly capitate stigmas. Functionally, male flowers bear 5 stamens.

Fruits are broadly ovate or elliptic to suborbicular schizocarps. Each is (4)5-7 mm long and 4-6 mm wide, dorsally flattened, notched apically and frequently bowed inward due to the unequal growth of the paired mericarps. Toward the edge of the fruit is a dilated corky tissue which forms wing-like structures. There are 3 parallel ribs over the seed cavity of each mericarp.

Diagnostic Characteristics: Oxypolis canbyi is distinguished by its stoloniferous rhizomes; lower internodes suffused with pink or purple; primary rays of the umbel 5 to 9, rarely more; fruits dorsally flattened with dilated margins (i.e., thickest at the edges).

In the Apiaceae, there are two other taxa which could be confused with Oxypolis canbyi. These are Ptilimnium nodosum and Oxypolis filiformis. P. nodosum can be distinguished from O. canbyi by the terete and wingless fruits. And, unlike O. canbyi, P. nodosum is an annual. The following features are important in separating O. canbyi and O. filiformis:

O. canbyi has stoloniferous rhizomes; lower internodes that are suffused with pink or purple; primary rays of the umbel that are 5 to 9, rarely more. It tends to have somewhat finer stems and leaves than O. filiformis and usually loses its lower leaves before flowering. The fruits of O. canbyi are dorsally flattened with thick, corky ridges and dilated margins, i.e., thickest at the edges.

In contrast, O. filiformis has crown buds; lower internodes are usually green; primary rays of the umbel are 10 to 20. It retains its lower leaves while flowering The fruits of O. filiformis are dorsally flattened with rather narrow delicate wings thinnest at the edges and only a few corky ribs, giving them a spindle-shape in cross-section.

The above description was adapted in part from Kral (1983), Tucker et al. (1983), and Chafin (2007).

Reproduction Comments: Existing populations of Oxypolis canbyi are maintained mainly through asexual reproduction. This species is strongly clonal, reproducing vegetatively by means of stoloniferous rhizomes. Stems also become decumbent and root at the nodes, especially in drier sites where there is little or no water to support the stems. The flowers can be either unisexual or bisexual. Bisexual flowers may facilitate some self-pollination; however, the flowers are protandrous, which is indicative of some degree of outcrossing.
Known Pests: Larvae of black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes asterius); scale insects and grasshoppers
Ecology Comments: Existing populations of O. canbyi are maintained mainly through asexual reproduction. This species is strongly "clonalizing," reproducing vegetatively by means of stoloniferous rhizomes. Stems also become decumbent and root at the nodes, especially in drier sites where there is little or no water to support the stems.

Perfect (bisexual) flowers are produced which may result in some self-pollination; however, the flowers are protandrous which may ensure some degree of outcrossing. The potential for outcrossing may be higher in those umbels which produce inner male flowers and outer female flowers. Outcrossing results in increased recombination and heterozygosity, thereby ensuring increased evolutionary potential. Sexual reproduction theoretically should act as a sort of evolutionary buffer enabling the species to survive environmental changes. This may not be the case in O. canbyi due to a possible high selfing rate and/or the isolation of small populations.

Predation by the caterpillar of the black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes asterius) may be a factor in reducing the sexual reproductive potential of O. canbyi. This caterpillar chews through the stems just below the inflorescence.

Habitat Comments: O. canbyi has been found in a variety of Coastal Plain habitats prone to long periods of inundation, including pond cypress ponds, grass-sedge dominated Carolina bays, wet pine savannahs, shallow pineland ponds and cypress-pine swamps or sloughs. The largest and most vigorous populations reported occur in open bays or ponds which are flooded throughout most of the year and which have little or no canopy cover. Many sites are on a sandy loam or loam soil which is underlain by a clay layer. Based on county soil surveys, known soil types which support populations of O. canbyi include Rembert loam, Portsmouth loam, McColl loam, Grady loam, Coxville fine sandy loam, and Rains sandy loam. These soil types are similar in that they have a medium to high organic content, high water table, and are deep, poorly drained, and acidic. Historically, fire was a key element maintaining the open nature of the habitat at many O. canbyi sites.

The following species are frequently found associated with O. canbyi: Ilex myrtifolia, Nyssa biflora, Taxodium ascendens, Pinus serotina, Stillingia aquatica, Rhynchospora tracyi, R. inundata, Manisuris rugosa, Rhexia aristosa, Polygala cymosa, Pluchea rosea, Lobelia boykinii and Hypericum denticulataum.

Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's immediate emphasis for recovery of this species is on protection (i.e., prevention of drainage and other site alterations which are known to be detrimental), in cooperation with the landowners, until appropriate management procedures have been developed through research. In Georgia, Chafin (2007) recommends applying prescribed fire every 2-3 years to remove competing vegetation. If burning is not possible, it may help to carefully remove encroaching woody species by other means, to allow the herbaceous layer in which O. canbyi is found to thrive.
Restoration Potential: For those sites which have been altered or damaged in some way, the potential for recovery of O. canbyi is good provided that the natural hydrologic regime can be restored and O. canbyi is present in sufficient numbers to recolonize the site.
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: The actual amount of land needed to protect a population of O. canbyi would depend on the type of habitat in which it occurs. Water levels appear to be critical to O. canbyi; therefore, that part of the watershed which contributes to the inflow and maintenance of water levels within the site should be protected. If there is an outflow, enough land should be acquired to ensure natural drainage. Thus, in addition to protection of the actual site, it is necesary to protect as a buffer that part of the watershed which is essential to the hydrology of the site.
Monitoring Requirements: Monitoring the populations should help to determine whether there is a need for active mangement.

Management procedures are unknown at this time. For those sites that have been altered or partially destroyed, restoration of the natural hydrologic regime and thinning of the canopy may be needed. Fire may be a recommended tool. Until this is known and due to the evidence of past fires at some sites, natural fires should not be prevented from occurring in O. canbyi sites. Furthermore, the process of putting out a fire could possibly alter the hydrologic regime through the construction of ditches and fire breaks.

Management Programs: University of South Carolina, Department of Biology Contact: Dr. James Morris Program currently not active

University of North Carolina, Department of Biology Contact: Dr. C. Ritchie Bell Program currently active?

Management Research Needs: At least some of the sites show evidence of past fires. Research on the effects of fire is needed to determine whether it is important in the management of O. canbyi populations.

An in-depth analysis of the sites is needed to determine associated species and possible indicator species.

The ability of O. canbyi to successfully compete with other herbaceous plants is unknown.

Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 04Jan1993
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: C.A. Aulbach-Smith (1985); M. Ormes, rev. C. Russell, rev. Maybury (1996), rev. K. Gravuer (2009)
Management Information Edition Date: 26Jun1985
Management Information Edition Author: CYNTHIA A. AULBACH-SMITH
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 26Jun1990
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): AULBACH-SMITH, C.A. (1985)

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).




  • Boone, D.D, G.H. Fenwick, and F. Hirst. 1984. The rediscovery of Oxypolis canbyi on the Delmarva Peninsula. Bartonia 50: 21-22.

  • Chafin, L.G. 2007. Field guide to the rare plants of Georgia. State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.

  • Coulter, J. M. and J. N. Rose. 1900. Monograph of the North American Umbelliferae. Contr. U. S. Nat. Herb. 7:1-256.


  • Feist, M.A.E. and S.R. Downie. 2008. A Phylogenetic Study of Oxypolis and Ptilimnium (Apiaceae) Based on Nuclear rDNA ITS Sequences. Systematic Botany 33(2): 447-458.

  • Feist, M.A.E., S.R. Downie, A.R. Magee, and M. Liu. 2012 Revised generic delimitations for Oxypolis and Ptilimnium (Apiaceae) based on leaf morphology, comparative fruit anatomy, and phylogenetic analysis of nuclear rDNA ITS and cpDNA trnQ-trnK intergenic spacer sequence data. Taxon 61(2):402:418.

  • Fernald, M.L. 1939. Oxypolis canbyi (Coult & Rose), comb. nov. Rhodora 41(484):139.

  • Gleason, H.A. 1952. The new Britton and Brown illustrated flora of the northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. 3 volumes. Hafner Press, New York. 1732 pp.

  • Glitzenstein, J. No date. Plant communities of the SCNPS Canbys Dropwort Preserve. Online. Available: http://www.scnps.org/PDFs/oxypolis_article1.pdf (Accessed 2009)

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Kral, R. 1983c. A report on some rare, threatened, or endangered forest-related vascular plants of the South. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service Technical Publication R8-TP2, Athens, GA. 1305 pp.

  • Kral, R.D. 1981. Notes on some "quill"-leaved umbellifers. Sida 9:124-134.

  • Murdock, N., and D. Rayner. 1990. Recovery plan for Canby's dropwort (Oxypolis canbyi [Coulter & Rose] Fernald). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 4, Atlanta, GA. 40 pp.

  • Patrick, T.S., J.R. Allison, and G.A. Krakow. 1995. Protected plants of Georgia: an information manual on plants designated by the State of Georgia as endangered, threatened, rare, or unusual. Georgia Dept. Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Georgia Natural Heritage Program, Social Circle, Georgia. 218 pp + appendices.




  • Tucker, A.O. 1983. Nomenclature, distribution, chromosome numbers, and fruit morphology of Oxypolis canbyi and O. filiformis (Apiaceae). Systematics Botany 8(3): 299-304.


  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1986. Determination of Oxypolis canbyi (Canby's dropwort) to be an endangered species. Federal Register 51(37): 6690-6693.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). no date. Canby's Dropwort in North Carolina. Online. Available: http://www.fws.gov/nc-es/plant/canbydrop.html (Accessed 2009)

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