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Wild Plant Sanctuaries

There are many examples of exemplary native wild plant habitat across the commonwealth. They may:

  • House many rare species
  • Support native pollinators
  • Have other unique features such as outstanding natural communities

These special places can be designated as Wild Plant Sanctuaries on public and private lands.

DCNR’s Wild Plant Sanctuary Program

The DCNR Wild Plant Sanctuary Program was established through the Wild Resource Conservation Act of 1982 to create a voluntary statewide network of habitat managed specifically to conserve rare native plants.

Public Wild Plant Sanctuaries are found on DCNR land and receive special management. By designating these sites as Wild Plant Sanctuaries, DCNR ensures that future activities on public lands, such as recreation or timbering, will protect critical biodiversity areas while enhancing and sustaining habitat.

Wild Plant Sanctuaries can also be designated on private land. DCNR recognizes landowners for conserving rare native plants and ecological communities through designation.

Landowners agree to protect the area and educate others about the importance of native plants and their habitats. In return, they receive guidance on management strategies through consultation with DCNR’s natural resource professionals.

Is your property eligible?

The goal of the Wild Plant Sanctuary Program is to recognize some of the best examples of habitat supporting state-listed species of concern. A property must function as an exceptional refuge for Pennsylvania’s natural heritage.

Private properties must meet one or more of the following criteria in order to be considered for enrollment into the Wild Plant Sanctuary Program:

  • Support plants that are rare, threatened, or endangered in Pennsylvania. Naturally-occurring rare plants will be given the highest consideration. State-listed species originating from nursery stock that is not of local or ecoregional origin will not be considered. Please do not collect wild listed plant species. 
  • Contain host plants for rare moths, butterflies, or other arthropods.  Appropriate food, nectar, and host plants are important to moths and butterflies in the adult and larval phase. An active breeding population of rare invertebrates or a high potential for these species to use the site should be demonstrated.
  • Includes outstanding or unique natural features or plant communities. Pennsylvania’s natural heritage also includes geologic features and plant communities. Springs, waterfalls, rock outcroppings and fossil beds demonstrate Pennsylvania’s diverse history and may host rare plant communities.
  • Maintained or managed using ecologically sound practices. This includes management techniques such as invasive species control, native plant restoration and deer exclusion. Sites with high education potential are also of value. If you are restoring a site, be sure your nursery uses local native species that are not poached from the wild. DCNR will also consider the presence of rare animal species.

Areas not considered Wild Plant Sanctuaries include:

  • Formal gardens, landscaping, or restorations using state-listed species of cultivated stock
  • Sites heavily infested with invasive plants
  • Properties threatened by future development or poor management practices

Application Process

First determine your property is eligible to be considered. You may wish to have your property evaluated by a professional ecologist or botanist. Then fill out the application, being as complete as possible. Send in photos or other information you may have about your property. 

Send your application by email or by mail to:

DCNR, Bureau of Forestry
P.O. Box 8552
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8552

The Wild Plant Sanctuary Committee will review your application and determine whether your property can be enrolled in the program. You may be contacted in order to schedule a site visit.

You will receive a letter from DCNR with the committee’s decision. If your property does not meet the eligibility criteria, the letter will explain the committee’s reasoning and how you might improve the property for a future designation.

Upon acceptance into the Wild Plant Sanctuary Program, DCNR will coordinate with you to develop a wooden plaque and metal sign created by Penn Nursery Sign Shop free of charge. If you choose to hold a designation ceremony for your sanctuary, a committee member will be available for presentation of the plaque and sign.

Public Wild Plant Sanctuaries

DCNR hosts more than 50 public Wild Plant Sanctuaries on state forest and park lands. They are chosen based on:

  • The presence of exemplary populations of plant species of concern
  • Unique plant populations in need of active management
  • Invertebrate species of concern or their host plants
  • Habitats with high plant species diversity or values

Once identified, plant sanctuaries are surveyed to determine their:

  • Size
  • Boundaries
  • Status of or threats to the species of interest

Management plans also are developed to outline management and monitoring needs to conserve the resources for which they were identified. Wild Plant Sanctuaries are designated special resource management zones.