Species Profile

Bolander's Quillwort

Scientific Name: Isoetes bolanderi
Other/Previous Names: Isoëtes bolanderi
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
Range: Alberta
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2006
Last COSEWIC Designation: Threatened
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Bolander's Quillwort

Bolander's Quillwort Photo 1



Bolander’s Quillwort is a small perennial aquatic plant classified as a fern ally. The plant has soft-textured, straight leaves arising in tufts from an underground stem usually embedded in the bottom of a lake. Bolander’s Quillwort is a true aquatic species, growing underwater and only rarely as an emergent along lakeshores. In Canada, the plants typically grow between 3 and 7 cm in height. The leaves are bright green to brownish green and taper to a very fine point. They are usually between 6 and 13 cm long, but they can be as short as 3 cm and as long as 25 cm. There is a translucent flap of tissue (velum) on the inner side of the leaf base; the size of the velum can be used to distinguish this species from other quillworts. Embedded in the leaf base is a sporangium, an organ that produces small reproductive cells (spores) that germinate and give rise to new individuals. Female sporangia, called megasporangia, contain white oval spores with numerous tubercles (raised bumps) that occasionally form ridges on the upper surface. Male sporangia, called microsporangia, contain spores resembling brownish-gray dust. Both types of spores mature in late summer.


Distribution and Population

Bolander’s Quillwort is found in the Rocky Mountains and the Coast, Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains from southwestern Alberta to California, northern Arizona and New Mexico. It was first discovered in Canada in 1946 in the Carthew Lakes area of Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada in Alberta. This population has not been seen again, despite several recent searches. In 1953, a substantial population was discovered in Summit Lake, also in Waterton Lakes National Park. Currently, the entire Canadian population of Bolander’s Quillwort is confined to the Summit Lake location, a lake of 2 ha. In 2002 and 2003, 24 potentially suitable lakes were surveyed in southwestern Alberta and adjacent British Columbia but no additional populations were found. A 2003 survey estimated the Summit Lake population to be about 12 million plants. A 2004 survey found no significant change in the size of the population. This population has not been evaluated often enough to determine trends.



Bolander’s Quillwort grows in high-elevation ponds and small lakes with clear, cold water. These mountain lakes are deficient in plant nutrients, and no other vegetation is found within stands of this quillwort species. The species usually grows in layers of silt or in silty sand overlying coarse sand. The plants in Summit Lake grow in water at least 1.5 m deep. This population occupies a relatively stable habitat.



At the Summit Lake location in Alberta, Bolander’s Quillwort forms almost pure stands and extends across virtually all of the lake bottom, where it produces large quantities of viable spores and appears to be reproducing successfully. No vegetative reproduction is known for this species. The biology of Bolander’s Quillwort is poorly known, but its life cycle is believed to be similar to that of other quillwort species. In quillworts, the main plant is a sporophyte (spore-producing individual). Quillworts produce two types of spores: large female spores (megaspores) and small male spores (microspores). Spores that germinate form minuscule plants called gametophytes. Megaspores give rise to female gametophytes, which produce eggs; microspores give rise to male gametophytes, which produce sperm. When an egg is fertilized by a sperm, a young sporophtye, which will in turn generate spores, is produced. It probably takes three to five years for the plants to mature sufficiently to produce spores. Spore dispersal begins when the sporangia are ruptured, either by physical impact or by decay at the end of the growing season. The frequency of dense stands suggests that the spores are usually dispersed only a short distance. Dispersal likely occurs in late summer and the fall. Shorebirds may transport spores of Bolander’s Quillwort on their feet, but Canadian locations are not suitable for migratory shorebirds. Waterfowl and large wading animals, such as moose, may transport spores.



Since Bolander’s Quillwort is currently known from only one 2-ha location in Canada, it is vulnerable to extirpation by a single catastrophic event. Although little impact is evident at the Summit Lake site, recreational activity may be the greatest immediate threat to the small population. The main recreational trail is located beside the lake, where it could cause erosion. The impacts of erosion (which has the potential to degrade adjacent areas of shallow water) have already been observed round the lake. Signs of recreational wading have also been observed. These impacts are highly localized and are not significant at present but could become significant if there is an increase in recreational activities. Another potential threat relates to impacts from the use of Summit Lake as a source of water to fight forest fires. Although Parks Canada has implemented measures to minimize such disturbances, pumping of water from the lake or helicopter bucketing operations could physically disturb the plants. A fuel spill could affect the entire population of this small lake. An accidental or intentional release of toxic substances, such as pesticides or petroleum products, represents the most severe potential threat to the long-term viability of the Summit Lake population. An incident of this type would affect the population directly or encourage growth of competing aquatic species. One such event could extirpate this species from Canada.



Federal Protection

The Bolander'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.

The only Bolander’s Quillwort population in Canada occurs within Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada, where it is protected under the Canada National Parks Act.

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 and Action Plan for Bolander's Quillwort (Isoetes bolanderi) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry



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.

10 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

COSEWIC Assessments

Response Statements

  • Response Statements - Bolander's Quillwort (2006)

    A small aquatic plant currently known in Canada from only one small lake in southwestern Alberta. The population has a large number of plants but is prone to being extirpated by a single, unpredictable event that could affect the entire population in a short period of time. Another population in a nearby lake has already disappeared over the past 50 years.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy and Action Plan for Bolander's Quillwort (Isoetes bolanderi) in Canada (2011)

    Bolander's Quillwort is an endemic aquatic pteridophyte (fern ally) of mountainous landscapes between southern Alberta and northern Arizona - New Mexico, centered on the Intermountain Region of the United States. It occurs locally, growing in circumneutral, relatively sterile substrates, sometimes in considerable abundance, in higher elevation pools and streams. It typically occurs in shallow water (m) but plants can also withstand periodic emergence. High water quality and an absence of competing aquatic vegetation appear to be important to the survival of this and most other North American aquatic quillworts.

Action Plans

  • Recovery Strategy and Action Plan for Bolander's Quillwort (Isoetes bolanderi) in Canada (2011)

    Bolander's Quillwort is an endemic aquatic pteridophyte (fern ally) of mountainous landscapes between southern Alberta and northern Arizona - New Mexico, centered on the Intermountain Region of the United States. It occurs locally, growing in circumneutral, relatively sterile substrates, sometimes in considerable abundance, in higher elevation pools and streams. It typically occurs in shallow water (


  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2007) (2007)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of 40 species done pursuant to paragraph 15(1)(a) and in accordance with subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (2007)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act, hereby makes the annexed Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2006 (2006)

    2006 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act Terrestrial Species: December 2006 (2006)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list. Please submit your comments by March 16, 2007 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 14, 2008 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

  • Description of critical habitat of Bolander’s Quillwort in Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada (2012)

    Bolander’s Quillwort (Isoetes bolanderi) is a species listed on Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act as threatened. Bolander’s Quillwort is an aquatic plant that is known to occur at only three sites in Canada; these sites are entirely within Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada. Critical habitat for Bolander’s Quillwort is identified in the Recovery Strategy and Action Plan for Bolander’s Quillwort (Isoetes bolanderi) in Canada.