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Small-flowered Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia parviflora)

Life history

Species overview

Small-flowered Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia parviflora), a Wisconsin Endangered plant, is found on the Lake Michigan shoreline in crevices in wet, dolomite pavement, or moist, open, sandy beaches and dunes. Its appearance is irregular. Blooming occurs throughout July; fruiting occurs throughout August. The optimal identification period for this species is early July through late August.

Synonyms: Parnassia parviflora


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Leaves all narrowed to the base.
  • Flower characteristics: Flowers bisexual; petals white, 5- to 13-nerved, 6 to 10 mm, one fifth to one half longer than the green sepals.
  • Fruit characteristics: Numerous seeds that are oblong and angular.
  • Leaf characteristics: Mostly basal with a single cauline leaf, entire, palmately veined; blades of basal leaves ovate to oblong, 1 to 3.5 cm, one half to three quarters as wide, narrowed at the base; cauline leaf usually present, erect, lanceolate to ovate, 3 to 15 mm, narrowed to a sessile base.


  • Blooming phenology: throughout July
  • Fruiting phenology: throughout August
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is early July through late August


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Lobelia kalmii, Hypericum kalmianum, Castilleja coccinea, Selaginella eclipes, Carex aurea, Equisetum variegatum.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Small-flowered Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia parviflora). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Parnassia parviflora in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusEND
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG5?
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found on the Lake Michigan shoreline in crevices in wet, dolomite pavement, or moist, open, sandy beaches and dunes. Its appearance is irregular.
  • Soils: Moist to wet, sandy or calcareous soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Small-flowered Grass-of-Parnassus. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Small-flowered Grass-of-Parnassus. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological landscape score
Northern Lake Michigan Coastal 3

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Avoid disturbance to shorelines and the forest-beach interface.
  • Avoid any activities which destabilize the dune, including the use of off-road vehicles, removal of native vegetation and pedestrian recreational overuse.


Small-flowered Grass-of-Parnassus Photo.

Photo © William S. Alverson.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition