Upland Pine, Blackwater River State Forest. Photo by Gary Knight

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Curious About Florida’s Natural Wonders? Check Out the Atlas of Florida’s Natural Heritage

When is the best time to view wildflowers in the Florida panhandle?  Which region of Florida has the most reptiles?  Why is prescribed fire used to manage many of Florida’s natural areas?  If you’re curious about these and other facts about Florida natural areas and conservation, check out FNAI’s Atlas of Florida’s Natural Heritage!  The Atlas covers a broad range of topics from natural communities, rare plants and animals, conservation and land management efforts, and some of the most spectacular natural areas in the state. 

We're pleased to announce the Atlas is now available at a new lower rate: $50 for hardcover and $35 for softcover editions.  You can order from Amazon or directly from FNAI.  Here’s just a sample of pages included:

Florida panther Atlas page.
Apalachicola natural area Atlas pages.
Florida plants overview Atlas pages.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Species in Focus: Fringed Campion

Fringed campion (Silene polypetala).  Photo by Gary Knight.

Beautiful, rare, and flowering now, fringed campion (Silene polypetala) is a small herb (~12 inches tall) with showy lavender-colored, fringed flowers found in upland hardwood forests.  The species is known only from a small area of Florida and Georgia.  It is listed as endangered by Florida and Georgia, as well as the USFWS at the federal level.  FNAI ranks the species G2/S1.  The flowering period runs from March through May.

A status survey for Silene polypetala was conducted by FNAI in Gadsden and Jackson Counties during April and May of 2006.  Plants were relocated at all seven previously documented locations in the FNAI database.  Three new sub-populations were documented, including a location one mile south of the previous range limit.  No new populations were documented on the west side of the Apalachicola River despite searches in six potential areas, nor were any new populations documented on publicly-owned conservation lands.  A total population size of approximately 1500-2000 plants was estimated in 10 element occurrences—approximately half being found on not yet acquired portions of the Apalachicola River Florida Forever project (see the project boundary in the FNAI Conservation Lands map viewer).

Heritage Global Rank:    G2 (globally imperiled)
Heritage State Rank:       S1 (critically imperiled in Florida)
Federal/State Listing:     Both Federal and State Listed as Endangered
Element Occurrences:   10 (documented sub-populations)

Silene polypetala is one of 493 plants currently tracked by FNAI.

Note:  wild populations of this species are protected by state and federal law.  Cultivated plants are available from native plant nurseries for those interested in growing it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Update from the Field: Harper's Beauty

Harper's Beauty (Harperocallis flava).  Photo by Amy Jenkins

A tiny yellow beauty is blooming now in the colorful wet prairies of the Apalachicola National Forest.  Harper’s Beauty (Harperocallis flava) is considered critically imperiled globally and listed as endangered at both the state and federal level.  With the exception of one additional population in Bay County, the Apalachicola National Forest is the only place in the world that Harper’s Beauty is found.  The US Forest Service, which manages the forest, tracks the status of the species to ensure its persistence.  Harper’s Beauty is in the Tofieldiaceae Family, the only member of the genus in North America, its nearest relatives in northern South America.  It thrives in wet prairie, a diverse herbaceous wetland, maintained by frequent fire, dominated by grasses, sedges, and wildflowers.  While wet prairie is widespread across Florida, this species appears to occupy a little understood niche within this larger habitat type noted for seepage, plentiful orchids, and carnivorous plants.  An extremely narrow range combined with habitat degradation due to long-term fire exclusion both contributed to the rarity of this species.  FNAI botanists have collaborated with the US Forest Service since 2011 to monitor known populations of Harper’s Beauty, search out new populations, and document habitat conditions where it grows to help prioritize management efforts to both maintain and restore the places where this beauty grows. 

May is the month for monitoring Harper’s Beauty and the FNAI botanists have been busy censusing the 27 populations in the Apalachicola National Forest.  Especially exciting, two new populations of Harper’s Beauty were discovered this month, pushing the range of this species further east than previously known!!  

Wet prairie in the Apalachicola National Forest.  Photo by Amy Jenkins

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Notable Natural Areas: Triple N Ranch Wildlife Management Area

In the heart of central Florida’s big sky country in Osceola County lies Triple N Ranch Wildlife Management Area, a 16,000 acre expanse of exquisite natural beauty and open park-like scenes reminiscent of those depicted in writings of Florida’s early settlers.  Acquired in 1996 with Preservation 2000 funds and managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC), this property’s extensive mosaic of flatwoods and prairies exemplifies central Florida’s natural heritage.  Intermingled within these vast uplands of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and wiregrass (Aristida stricta) are ribbons of wet prairies, often connecting to circular depression marshes with rings of grasses and wildflowers; each tied to a specific hydroperiod.  Wet prairies are home to a diverse assemblage of herbaceous plants including the carnivorous hooded pitcherplant (Sarracenia minor) and blueflower butterwort (Pinguicula caerulea).  Also among these wetland communities are dome swamps, characterized by their domed shape of pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) trees and inhabited by animals such as the ever-vocal pine woods treefrog (Hyla femoralis).

Reference mesic flatwoods at Triple N Ranch WMA.     Photo by Gary Knight

Wildflowers are abundant at Triple N. Ranch WMA, including largeflower rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora) and the endemic yellow milkwort (Polygala rugelii).  Photo by Gary Knight
For more than a decade, FNAI has worked extensively on Triple N Ranch, creating a present day and historic vegetation map while monitoring community structure and species composition across the property to aid the FFWCC in adaptive land management.  FNAI recognizes three reference natural communities at Triple N Ranch: one each for mesic flatwoods, wet flatwoods, and wet prairie.  These are among the best examples in the central Florida region.  These high quality communities are a product of good land management practices, including frequent prescribed fire application and good invasive species control.  Triple N Ranch also boasts a suite of rarities including many-flowered grass pink (Calopogon multiflorus), celestial lily (Nemastylis floridana), and gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus).  It is the perfect spot for your next central Florida adventure. 

Many-flowered grass pink (Calopogon multiflorus) is an extreme fire-follower, it only blooms in the few weeks following fire. Photo by Ann Johnson

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

From Planning to Habitat Modeling, Partners Rely on FNAI Data

FNAI recently hosted a meeting with key data partners to discuss planned changes to the data format for our Element Occurrence GIS data, the most comprehensive and thoroughly-vetted coverage of rare species occurrences across Florida.  Representatives from several divisions of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Forest Service, and U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service were in attendance.  

The meeting turned out to be a pleasant surprise as we learned of the variety of uses of and needs for FNAI’s data, ranging from land management planning, landowner assistance, regulatory permit review, hazardous waste site screening, and habitat modeling.  Attendees were eager to ensure that they are using and interpreting FNAI’s data as accurately as possible in their program work.

The meeting involved a refresher on FNAI’s element occurrence data framework, and gave partners a chance to offer feedback on data format and interpretation.   We were pleased with the consensus support for the improvements we are proposing.

It was satisfying and invigorating to know that the work we do every day is benefitting such a broad range of needs across Florida.  Stay tuned for more details on upcoming improvements to the format of FNAI’s Element Occurrence data.  We’ll share them here as they become available!