Species Profile

Fernald's Milk-vetch

Scientific Name: Astragalus robbinsii var. fernaldii
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
Range: Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2001
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern

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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 Fernald's Milk-vetch

Fernald's Milk-vetch Photo 1



Fernald's Milk-vetch is a perennial, herbaceous plant that grows in small clumps. Two to eight stems emerge from rhizomes (horizontal underground stems). The leaves contain nine to 17 greyish leaflets which are short (4-8 cm long), flat, and alternate along the stem. One to three flowers, consisting of 10-20 small flowering heads, grow from the plant's upper leaves. The petals are violet to lilac, seldom white. A short (0.5-3 mm) stipitate pod and soft down on the leaflets distinguish this plant from other members of the pea and bean family.


Distribution and Population

It is found only in eastern Quebec (the Blanc-Sablon area) and northwestern Newfoundland (Barr'd Harbour Hill); the population at one of five Quebec sites may grow into Labrador. Research from 1925 situates the Newfoundland population on top of the western slope of Barr'd Harbour Hill, but this population was not verified in a 1994 study.



The species grows strictly in calcium-rich soils where vegetation is sparse or has been removed by natural disturbance, and a calcareous substrate is available. It is found mainly on the cliff tops and sides of limestone hills, where wind prevents snow accumulation and enables frost and thaw to strip away competing vegetation. The plant does not tolerate shade. Research conducted in 1994 found only sickly individuals in areas where shrub cover grew higher than 50 centimetres.



The root system is the only part of the plant to survive in winter. Blossoming occurs throughout July, sometimes into August. Seed maturation occurs towards end of August. Population growth depends upon seed dispersal. The life span appears to be several decades.



A calcareous substrate and exposure to sunlight are essential for the plant's existence. As well, competition-free sites are needed for germination. Intensive trampling, off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, snow fences and limestone extraction all contribute to the species' decline. A snow fence has been erected at the largest Quebec site, which potentially threatens 16,000 plants.



Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Fernald's Milk-vetch is protected by the Newfoundland and Labrador Endangered Species Act and the Quebec Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species. Under these Acts, it is prohibited to kill, harm, trade, possess, or harass members of this species.

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 Conservation plan for Fernald's Milk-vetch (Astragalus robbinsii var. fernaldii) in Quebec
Status Recovery team/planner in place


Recovery Team

CWS-Quebec Species at Risk Recovery Unit

  • Unité du rétablissement des espèces en péril du SCF-QC - Chair/Contact -
    Phone: 1-855-253-6708  Send Email



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.

1 record(s) found.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Fernald’s Milk-vetch (Astragalus robbinsii var. fernaldii) in Canada (2011)

    The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 65) requires the competent minister to prepare management plans for species listed as special concern. The Fernald’s Milk-vetch was listed as special concern under SARA in June 2003. Environment Canada led the development of the management plan. This management plan was prepared in cooperation with the Provinces of Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador, as per section 66 (1) of SARA.