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Rare Lily Removed From "Lost" List

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Friday, July 25, 2014

A rare lily, broadleaf bunchflower (Veratrum latifolium) has at last come off the “lost” plant list, an informal list of plants that have been documented from Arkansas in the past but have not been seen recently. This species was collected from Arkansas just once before, by Dr. Dwight Moore, who collected it in southern Baxter County back in 1951. The area where he found it, the headwaters of rugged North Sylamore Creek, is widely known to botanists as a botanical hotspot, with many rare and unusual species. But in all the trips botanists have made to that area since 1951, no one has ever reported finding the bunchflower.

Fast forward to May 2014 when ANHC botanist Theo Witsell visited a site in nearby Stone County and found dozens of clumps of large, dark green, pleated leaves scattered across a mountain side. “I knew these were some kind of lily, but they were a little different than those of all the other possible species, and the habitat wasn’t quite right either.” After a little searching, he found a dead flowering stalk from last year, which provided further evidence that this was indeed the missing bunchflower. But despite being pretty confident, solid confirmation would have to wait until the plants flowered. That confirmation came last weekend, when nature photographer and ANHC volunteer Craig Fraiser visited Theo’s coordinates and photographed the plants in flower!

Broadleaf bunchflower, like several other rare plants in that part of the Ozarks, is a species typically found to the east and north of Arkansas, mainly in the Appalachian Mountains. In fact, the Arkansas populations are the only ones known west of the Mississippi River and are more than 275 miles from the nearest known site in central Tennessee. These northern and eastern species likely arrived in Arkansas in the distant past, during periods of cooler climate, and became stranded in areas of rugged topography as the climate became warmer and drier.

Photos by Craig Fraiser





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