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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Noteworthy Discoveries: Rare Plant Finds in the Florida Panhandle

Ann Johnson, FNAI community ecologist, has been busy this fall season looking for rare plants at Box R Wildlife Management Area under a contract with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  A rare plant survey was last conducted on the site back in 2007, and a lot has changed since then!  FWC management activities have focused on thinning densely planted pine trees, and the application of prescribed fire to restore former flatwoods and prairies.   

Flatwoods at sunrise, Box-R Wildlife Management Area, Franklin & Gulf Counties.  Photo by Amy Jenkins.

Ann’s efforts and sharp eyes have found two rare plants never before documented on Box R, both of which depend on frequent fire to bloom and persist.  Pine-woods aster (Eurybia spinulosa) is a small herb found only in mesic and wet pine flatwoods in the central Florida Panhandle.  This species is considered to be critically endangered due to its rarity, limited range, and threats to its habitat.  Wiregrass gentian (Gentiana pennelliana) is a rare winter-blooming species with showy white petals, occurring in open wet prairies.    

Wiregrass gentian (Gentiana pennelliana).  Photo by Gary Knight.

Cathy Ricketts, biologist at the nearby Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area, also found this beautiful plant growing in a restoration wet prairie location.  We are hoping for more exciting field finds this spring!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Frost Flowers

Photo by Amy Jenkins

Frost flowers (also known as ice flowers, ice blossoms, and frost castles) are delicate ribbons of ice that can form when the air temperatures are freezing but the ground remains unfrozen.  Longitudinal cracks form along the stems of some plant species because of freezing sap.  Water from the ground is then drawn out through the cracks in the stem and freezes upon contact with the air.  These beautifully intricate ice structures swirl and curl into flower-like structures as the water oozes out through the cracks and freezes.  FNAI scientists observed these frost flowers along the edge of a marsh a few days ago on a cold morning at Flint Rock Wildlife Management Area in Wakulla and Jefferson Counties.  Be on the watch for them on cold mornings!!

Photo by Amy Jenkins