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Big Finds of Little Plants at Fort Chaffee

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In early April, ANHC botanists Brent Baker and Theo Witsell teamed up with biologists from Fort Chaffee to search for one of the smallest (and rarest) plants in the state, geocarpon (Geocarpon minimum). Geocarpon is found in the state only in saline barrens, open short grasslands with bare “salt slicks” where naturally occurring sodium and/or magnesium salts are so concentrated that few plant species can survive.

After two days of searching some excellent habitat in Franklin and Sebastian County, the group stopped at some small barrens in a seldom used part of the military training facility in Sebastian County. Within minutes of searching, Beth Phillips, Natural Resources Manager at Fort Chaffee, spotted the plant. This was the first find of a totally new site for this rare species in Arkansas since the 1980s and the first for Sebastian County.

In addition to the “big find” the group found new populations of several other rare plant species including tumble grass (Schedonnardus paniculatus), purple three-awn (Aristida purpurea var. purpurea), whorled dropseed (Sporobolus pyramidatus), rain lily (Cooperia drummondii), Wolf’s spikerush (Eleocharis wolfii), and western dwarf-dandelion (Krigia occidentalis). At one site Brent found a population of Nuttall’s povertyweed (Monolepis nuttalliana), a species that had not been documented from Arkansas before. This species was growing in the bare soil of a “salt slick” and is usually found to the west of Arkansas.

The ANHC will work with Fort Chaffee and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make management recommendations for the geocarpon habitat in Sebastian County.

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