Moss is a key nurse plant for reintroduction of the endangered herb, Primulina tabacum Hance.
The rare and endangered plant Primulina tabacum is a calciphilous perennial herb found only at the entrances of a small number of karst cave drainages in southern China. In a conservation effort, we identified potentially suitable habitats and reintroduced P. tabacum plantlets (propagated in vitro) to one historical and two new cave entrances. The transplanted seedlings survived (10%) at only one new location where a moss, Gymnostomiella longinervis Broth, existed. Our field observations indicate that it is probably impossible for this rare plant to naturally recolonize the places where it went extinct because the habitats have changed. Transplanted P. tabacum grew slower than wild P. tabacum. The transplanted P. tabacum performed especially well under the cover of the nursing moss. Positive interactions between species, i.e., nurse plant effects, are important for reintroduction of success. Although light and soil conditions also appeared to be critical for transplantation success, the presence of moss should be considered as a useful and convenient indicator of suitable habitat for P. tabacum. This study case suggests that the use of new propagation methods and nurse plants can facilitate the reintroduction of rare and endangered herbs.