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New Plant for Arkansas

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Friday, March 16, 2012

During recent field inventory on native prairies in the Arkansas Valley, ANHC staff discovered a plant previously only known from Texas! The new Arkansas population is approximately 400 miles from its closest known location. 

ANHC botanist Theo Witsell and plant community ecologist Jennifer Akin were conducting field inventories of unplowed tallgrass prairie remnants in the Arkansas Valley near Charleston in southern Franklin County (pictured above). On one of their field trips they came upon several individuals of a relatively large annual bluet (a small four-petaled plant in the genus Houstonia that completes its life cycle in one growing season) in a sparsely vegetated area within a particularly nice prairie. Unlike Arkansas’s other annual bluets, these plants sprawled across the ground and had many fruit (seed capsules) arranged along highly branched stems (image inset above). Witsell knew right away that it was not one of the species known from Arkansas.

Witsell positively identified the species by comparing it with illustrations and descriptions in The Flora of North Central Texas. He also verified the ID with other sources and determined the mystery plant was Greenman's bluet (Houstonia parviflora) (herbarium specimen above left). Because this species was previously thought to be restricted to about a dozen counties in southern and central Texas, Arkansas got a new "state record plant". The USDA Plants Database website shows the plant’s nearest location to Arkansas is in Travis County, TX (map above right). This means the Franklin County, Arkansas plants are approximately 400 miles from other populations.

Witsell and Akin recorded new locations for a number of other rare plants during these surveys. They found the first locations in the Arkansas Valley for prairie sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus), plantain-leaf sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis subsp. plantagineus), downy gentian (Gentiana puberulenta), zigzag bladderwort (Utricularia subulata), shortleaf skeletongrass (Gymnopogon brevifolius), and twistleaf goldenrod (Solidago tortifolia). They also recorded new locations for rosemary rock-rose (Crocanthemum rosmarinifolium) and small-headed pipewort (Eriocaulon koernickianum), neither of which were previously known to occur in tallgrass prairie habitat in Arkansas.

Native prairie is one of the most endangered habitats in North America. Protecting prairie remnants is a high priority for ANHC and other conservation agencies and organizations. Tallgrass prairies in Franklin and Sebastian counties support at least 25 plant species of conservation concern and provide habitat for several rare animal species including Henslow's Sparrow, ornate box turtle, prairie mole cricket, and the endangered American burying beetle. ANHC has two natural areas that protect prairie remnants in this region: Cherokee Prairie Natural Area and H. E. Flanagan Prairie Natural Area.

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