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Hairy Braya belongs to the mustard family. The stems grow from a tuft of leaves at the base of the plant and have white flowers arranged in dense clusters. Hairy Braya is distinguished from other closely related species by its large flowers and the shape of its fruits (nearly round with very long "styles" (elongated reproductive structures)).

Height: 4.5 to 12.0 cm (1.8 to 4.7 in)

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Hairy Braya is a rare flowering plant found nowhere else in the world except on the Cape Bathurst Peninsula and Baillie Island, NWT, in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Its total range is very small (about 460 km2). 

Range map information

Hairy Braya is restricted to an area that remained ice-free during the last ice age. It has apparently been unable to expand its range into surrounding areas since the ice receded. Places like Cape Bathurst that remained glacier-free during the last ice age tend to be “biodiversity hotspots” with high species diversity and species that are rare or unique, like Hairy Braya.  

The Hairy Braya occurs on bluffs and dry uplands with calcium-rich sandy loam and silty clay loam soils. It needs bare soil to become established. Periods of standing water, erosion, and disturbance from grizzly bear digs and from muskox and caribou hooves appear to be involved in creating or maintaining these bare soil habitats.

Along the coast, Hairy Braya numbers are declining because of rapid coastal erosion and salt spray. Fortunately, most Hairy Braya plants are found inland or along protected coastal areas, in habitats that appear to be stable.

Hairy Braya was first found by Sir John Richardson in 1826 during an expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. At that original site, the shoreline eroded by about 85 m between 2011 and 2015. By 2022, Hairy Braya was no longer present there.

Potential threats in the Northwest Territories include rapid erosion of habitat along the coast (erosion rate estimated at 9.5 m per year). Erosion is increasing because of climate change-related effects (reduced sea ice, rising water level, increased wave height, more frequent storms, and permafrost thaw). Hairy Braya plants and habitat on the coast can also be impacted by salt from ocean spray and waves.

Due to the remoteness of Cape Bathurst, Hairy Braya faces little direct threat from human activities. The area is also managed carefully by the Inuvialuit.

In 2012 and again in 2024, the NWT Species at Risk Committee assessed Hairy Braya as Threatened in the NWT because of its small range (the only place in the world this species occurs is in a very small area of the NWT) and shrinking coastal habitat.

In 2014, Hairy Braya was listed as Threatened in the NWT under the territorial Species at Risk (NWT) Act. An NWT recovery strategy for hairy braya is available here.

In 2013, COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) assessed Hairy Braya as Endangered in Canada. Hairy Braya was listed as Endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2018.

In 2022 researchers found more Hairy Braya in stable inland habitats and collected seeds to be conserved for the future in a seed bank.

A national recovery strategy is available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry and includes critical habitat identification.

Progress Reports