Rare Plant Stories

Melissa K. McCormick, Dennis F. Whigham, Rachel Rock-Blake, Hope E.A. Brooks

North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC) and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC)

Orchids are widely threatened and endangered worldwide, but efforts to conserve and restore them has been limited by not knowing about the pollinators and fungi they need to grow and reproduce. The absence of appropriate mycorrhizal fungi can limit where orchids grow, but little is known about how the abundance and diversity of appropriate mycorrhizal fungi can affect orchid growth and population dynamics. Light availability is also expected to affect population dynamics, but with orchid life stages occurring predominantly above- or below-ground it seems reasonable to hypothesize that different life stages would be driven by above- or below-ground factors. In particular, emergent, green, above-ground stages would be most impacted by light, while seed, protocorm, and dormant stages would be most affected by mycorrhizal fungi. We hypothesized that the distribution, abundance, and emergence of the globally rare temperate, terrestrial orchid, Isotria medeoloides, would be driven at least partly by their mycorrhizal fungi. We combined the use of specific PCR primers, quantitative real-time PCR, and spatially nested soil samples to measure the distribution and abundance of mycorrhizal fungi that associate with I. medeoloides and measurement of light availability and orchid growth in three distinct studies. We found that I. medeoloides distribution and emergence were affected by the distribution and abundance of their mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. In contrast, plant growth during the growing season and the likelihood of flowering the subsequent year were more affected by light availability. We conclude that orchid conservation and studies of the drivers of orchid population dynamics need to consider both the mycorrhizal fungi and light resources they require.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

James Lange and Jennifer Possley, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

In the event of a hurricane, low elevation and proximity to the coast place Fairchild at high risk, and thus contingency plans must be in place to preserve our ex situ collections. Anticipating severe damage and extended power loss from Hurricane Irma, we took several measures to protect our conservation collections. We will discuss actions taken by conservation staff and lessons learned from this unique storm.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Thursday, May 3, 2018

Wesley M. Knapp, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program

Preventing extinction is the lowest bar for conservation success we can set and the roll of ex situ conservation efforts in preventing extinction is becoming more significant. Continued work to document the extinct plants of North America north of Mexico has resulted in the discovery that up to 7 plants are extinct in the wild (EW). While these extinct plant taxa have no naturally occurring populations, they are still found in ex situ collections at botanical gardens. These collections may have issues in having full conservation value. Many collections were taken from few or single individuals and not necessarily intended to prevent the extinction of a species, but now represent the last known individuals. Some species reported as present in seed banks or botanical gardens are incorrectly identified. Additionally, botanical gardens having the last known individuals of a species are not necessarily aware of the significance of these collections. Evidence suggests a species has gone extinct while at a botanical garden because the specimen was destroyed before the significance of the collection was recognized. A prioritization of ex situ conservation efforts, using the best data is critical to prevent future extinction events. Single site global endemics or species of extremely narrow geographic distributions are the most susceptible to extinction. I will discuss a collaboration with NatureServe to identify global single site endemics that we hope will help prioritize seed banking and ex situ collections for these species following best practices to ensure quality/genetic diversity of collections. Additionally, an ongoing collaboration with the North Carolina Botanical Garden to prioritize the rarest plants in North Carolina for ex situ conservation efforts has already seen significant results.

Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

R. Todd Engstrom, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy

The Miccosukee gooseberry (Ribes echinellum) was discovered in on private land in Jefferson County, Florida, in 1924. A second population was located in McCormick County, South Carolina, in 1957, but this is a study of the Florida population only. The species was classified as federally threatened in 1985. A portion of the Florida population was monitored from 1992 to 2001 by The Nature Conservancy and intermittently from 2010 to 2016 for the USFWS. Florida Natural Areas Inventory ecologists mapped the general distribution of Ribes in Jefferson County in 1985. A resurvey of the same area in 2016 determined that gooseberry still occurs to the same extent 31 years later. Ribes appears to thrive in tree fall gaps. Some of the most productive plants, in terms of the number of fruit produced, and some of the densest patches of gooseberry occurred along trunks of large fallen trees. Fruit production in the gooseberry is rare (median number of clumps with fruiting stems was 1.4% for the two subpopulations from 1992-2001), but the species is still common in the small area where it was first described. In 2010 I estimated that there were 8600 gooseberry clumps in the two largest subpopulations, but how clumps relate to genets is unknown. The population trend of gooseberry in one of the two largest subpopulations indicated by transects declined by 14.2% from 2011 to 2013, and nearly every transect in the subpopulation declined from the 10-year average collected from 1992 to 2001. Recent genetic studies revealed low genetic variation suggesting an increased risk of extinction or population decline, and another recent study indicates that seed predation by a mouse could have a significant negative effect on seed dispersal. One hypothesis for local declines of Ribes is rapid growth of extremely dense stands of laurel cherry (Prunus caroliniana).

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Butler Conservation Fund (land owner), USFWS (affiliate), Cecelia Dailey, M.S. Candidate, The Citadel; Dr. Richard D. Porcher, Dr. Joel Gramling, Dr. Jean Everett, Dr. Timothy Callahan, Michael Kunz, April Punsalan, Dr. John Nelson, Keith A. Bradley, Dr. Brian Scholtens, Dr. Jay F. Bolin, Peter Schafran, Steve Bowling, Dana Beach, Jonathan Keyser, Nathan Platt, and Kevin Lloyd Hill.

Butler Conservation Fund of Great Neck, NY owns 2 tracts of land on the Black River, SC with diverse habitat and several rare plants. The two most spectacular are Carolina bogmint, Macbridea caroliniana (blooming July-September) and silky camellia, Stewartia malacodendron (found blooming in April and October). The diminutive Isoetes hymenalis (quillwort) was discovered on a powerline cut and an old road, and identified using DNA Flow Cytometry. A Collinsonia sp. (thought to be C. tuberosa) is growing twice as large as typically observed, indicating that the location might be nutrient-rich or calcium-rich, found near the Stewartia site. Educating about threatened plants (especially the less-than-spectacular), gaining insight into their communities and biogeography, and providing management recommendations is a part of Dailey’s job for the Butler Conservation Fund. A large population of Macbridea caroliniana (Carolina bogmint) was discovered in 2019 and Dailey performed a seed collection project separated by maternal line for UNC Chapel Hill Botanical Garden, and USFWS for propagation and study of seed biology at Bears Bluff Fish Hatchery greenhouse. Plants grown will be installed for public access, with education signage. This disturbance-loving species is usually found in light gaps in the swamp, mowed areas, and ditches, but the Black River hosts the only population known to be managed with fire. Dailey has applied for a USFWS grant to document populations in South Carolina, collect seed, and study the habitat including plant community, groundwater, and soil attributes. The pink-striped flowers are large for a mint, an exciting floral display in the summer heat. Dailey has also found a white flowering plant (a rare variation). Stewartia malacodendron discovered was reported by Porcher to be the largest he’d seen in his 50-year career, found on a slope in a patch of remnant levee formed by the Black River. Study of the population and propagation by rooting is underway. With saucer-sized white flowers and purple stamens pointed toward the sky, this native understory shrub has innate beauty to the human eye. The Butler Conservation Fund working in association with Dana Beach (retired head of the Coastal Conservation League) hosts canoe trips and group events. Creation of hiking trails and additional plans for public access are progressing through 2020. Challenges and successes of private land conservation will be discussed.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Brenda L. Wicchman, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program

Chris Stoehrel U.S. Forest Service, Cherokee National Forest

Caitlin Elam Tennessee Natural Heritage Program, Division of Natural Areas

Some of the rarest wetlands in the southeastern United States are the non-alluvial wetlands of the Blue Ridge region. Many of these wetlands are current conservation areas or priorities and these wetlands, colloquially known as bogs, harbor many rare and endemic plant species as well as globally rare plant communities. Targets for conservation priority have traditionally been the lower reaches of these systems which contain the concentrated rare species occurrences, while not considering the sources of hydrology, the headwaters. We will discuss a non-profit, federal, and state partnership approach to enhancing the resiliency of these systems through holistic ecosystem protection in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Clayton W. Hale, Mississippi State University

Joshua J. Granger, Mississippi State University

The number and severity of Gulf Coast hurricanes is increasing, resulting in intensified disturbance on coastal forest communities. Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides L.) grows no further than one hundred miles from the coast, making the species particularly vulnerable when hurricanes collide with the coast. Occurring primarily along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida, the species does form isolated stands along the Gulf Coast regions of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. In Mississippi and Alabama, the species is considered imperiled and vulnerable, respectively, according to NatureServ. Atlantic white-cedar is imperiled and is at risk of extirpation from the Gulf Coast by extreme weather events, altered disturbance regimes, changes in hydrology, and management. This study evaluates the recovery of an Atlantic white-cedar stand fourteen years post Hurricane Katrina. Pre- and post- Hurricane Katrina data were compared with recent data to determine how Gulf Coast stands of Atlantic white-cedar recover post disturbance. Understanding the long-term recovery of Atlantic white-cedar stands after a hurricane allows land managers and conservationist to more effectively manage these systems for the perpetuation of the species on the Gulf Coast.

Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Amy Jenkins, Florida Natural Areas Inventory

Chad Anderson, Florida Natural Areas Inventory

Jason Drake, United States Forest Service

Understanding the historic conditions and habitats in a region is a vital first step to planning restoration and management activities. With our partners, US Forest Service, Florida Forest Service, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) used aerial photography from as far back as the 1930’s, coupled with current photography, soils data, LiDAR elevation data, rare plant occurrences, and GPS’d groundtruthing points, to develop an historic vegetation map of several large contiguous conservation lands in the Apalachicola region. These maps cover a large portion of the region and are an important baseline for ecological and hydrological restoration efforts by managers across property boundaries. Additionally, historic vegetation maps can be used on a smaller scale when planning silvicultural projects, targeting specific habitats for rare plant surveys, or to identify areas where fire has long been absent. This map has been a vital tool when studying rare plant species such as Harper’s beauty (Harperocallis flava). Harper’s Beauty is a critically imperiled, federally endangered plant that is endemic to the Florida panhandle and grows in the species rich pitcherplant prairies of the Apalachicola River lowlands. FNAI has been documenting its populations for more than a decade. Harper’s beauty thrives in a fire dependent habitat that in recent decades has seen a reduction in the fire application and hence an increase of woody vegetation cover and some populations have been reduced or lost. Most recently we established monitoring plots to attempt to quantify its habitat conditions, especially in relation to fire. Preliminary data analysis has provided valuable insight to help guide management.

Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Sara Johnson, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at University of Illinois: UrbanaChampaign

Brenda Molano-Flores, Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois: Urbana-Champaign

Janice Coons, Eastern Illinois University

Many rare and at-risk species exhibit a paucity of research, leaving gaps in the knowledge required to conserve them. Macbridea alba Chapman (White birds-in-a-nest, Lamiaceae) is a federally threatened and state endangered herbaceous mint restricted to a narrow distribution in the longleaf pine ecosystem of the Florida panhandle. Habitat conversion and destruction are among the primary reasons for Macbridea alba’s decline. Populations are highly fragmented by plantations, clear cuts, or development resulting in extirpation in some areas. Whereas known Macbridea alba populations are primarily found within Apalachicola National Forest, it is uncertain exactly how many exist, and few are documented outside of protected areas. There are many unknowns regarding the ecology of this species; however, previous research suggests that microhabitat differences and disturbance play an important role in its reproduction and survival. Habitat suitability models are a useful tool for gaining insight into the potential drivers of species distribution and persistence on the landscape. These models can define the environmental predictors of occurrence and facilitate the discovery of previously unknown populations. Additionally, these models can guide conservation of areas for potential reintroduction based on habitat conditions and proximity to known source populations. We have created preliminary habitat suitability models using known occurrence records for Macbridea alba as well as open sourced environmental spatial data to identify new areas of potentially suitable habitat. In 2019, field surveys were conducted for the purpose of model verification resulting in the discovery new populations. In the future, models using a disturbance variable such as fire season or time since fire, will be used to determine if the models could be improved. The results from the improved models will help us understand the specific role of fire management and fire frequency on the persistence and survival of this species. Additionally, it will assist us in defining range limits and environmental parameters for Macbridea alba’s distribution and whether it is a candidate for reintroduction or ex-situ conservation efforts.

 

 

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Tara Littlefield, Senior Botanist/Plant Conservation Section Manager, Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves

It all started with a monitoring study of a declining White fringeless orchid (Platanthera integrilabia) population in 2007 at a State Nature Preserve in the Cumberland Plateau of Kentucky. This talk will outline this long term monitoring study of the white fringeless orchids and the associated seep communities and how they responded to management of the associated habitat. In addition, status survey trends of all WFO populations in Kentucky, partnerships with the forest service on recovery of populations on forest service lands, in situ and ex situ conservation strategies, as well as the importance of restoration and connection of the adjacent upland pine oak barrens will be discussed. Topics of partnerships, life history studies, seep and habitat management, seed and mycorrhizal banking, propagation, surveys and trends will be highlighted in this white fringeless orchid recovery and seep restoration talk.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020