The first week of March found a team of plant biologists down on their knees in a highway right-of-way in the Florida Panhandle, searching for Harper’s beauty, one of Florida’s rarest native plants.
A perennial lily with a solitary yellow flower and iris-like leaves, Harper’s beauty (Harperocallis flava) is listed as federally endangered and found only in three Panhandle counties, with most plants occurring in the Apalachicola National Forest.
Volunteers from the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station and National Forest System, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Florida Department of Transportation (FLDOT), and Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) were there to take the first step in a project to move the endangered plants from the roadside to a more secure home.
Harper’s beauty prefers to grow in the acidic, sandy soil of longleaf pine forest sedge and seepage-fed shrub bogs maintained by regular prescribed burning. The species was first discovered in the 1960s when fire was still suppressed, and most of the plants identified at that time were found in the right-of-way of a state road where regular mowing created the conditions they needed to grow.
With increases in growing season prescribed burning and intensified search efforts, populations of Harper’s beauty have been located within the forest. “Studying those populations helped us understand more about its habitat requirements,” says Joan Walker, research plant ecologist with the SRS Restoring Longleaf Pine Ecosystems unit. “Meanwhile plants have persisted through decades in the roadsides, but theyre increasingly exposed to effects of traffic and necessary maintenance activities.”
Recognizing the likelihood that roads through the national forest will continue to be improved to meet growing transportation needs, USFWS and FLDOT approached Walker to work with them to develop a reliable method to move the roadside plants to more secure locations in the national forest.
On March 6 and 7, a team of volunteers from SRS, the national forest, and FNAI dug the first 60 plugs of Harpers beauty plants from two roadside populations and replanted them to the new home they had previously identified in the forest. Biologists measured and counted individuals within each plug, while others prepared planting holes.
The team varied the size of holes and aspects of the planting environment that will be evaluated as the project continues. “At the end of the project we expect to understand how different factors affect the survival of Harpers beauty transplants, and to produce a guide for moving plants and selecting new habitats,” says Walker.
For more information, email Joan Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org