Management of Rare Plants on Your Property
December 13, 2013
Photo by Mark Tancig, Sandhill Ecosystem at Woodville Community Park
By Mark Tancig
Leon County is a unique place, not only because we are the location of several universities and the Capital, but because of the interesting and rare plants and animals that are found in our borders. Leon County Government, both in its policies (i.e. ordinances and laws) and in its actions (i.e. land management decisions), strives to be a good steward of our natural resources. Leon County staff helps to develop a stronger community by engaging and educating citizens in ways to protect and improve our local environment.
According to the Florida Natural Areas Inventory, an FSU affiliated organization dedicated to gathering, interpreting, and disseminating information regarding Florida’s biological diversity, 158 rare plant and animal species occur in Leon County. Of those 158 species, about 50 are recognized as threatened or endangered by the state or federal government. The reason for this abundance of rare species has to do with our closeness to the Apalachicola River basin, one of six recognized biological (or biodiversity) hotspots in the country. A biological hotspot is an area with many rare species that occur nowhere else in the world. Due to our area’s climate, location, and history we are blessed with a very special flora and fauna that deserves protection.
One way in which citizens can help is to learn and identify any rare species that may be found on their property, and to take action to protect and promote the growth of these special plants. Many of these plants have specific habitat needs, this can help narrow down the potential plants that may occur. In addition, there are also many field guides and other books that can help with identification and, of course, the internet is a great resource. Some websites are the Florida Natural Areas Inventory website (www.fnai.org) and the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants (www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu) website. Once you are sure that you have a rare species on your property you need to learn what it requires to thrive. Visiting other areas where the plant is found and thrives could provide insight into what management activities may need to be done on your property. These management activities might range from simple weeding or brush removal to more intense (and potentially dangerous) activities such as prescribed fire. A good idea is to ask for assistance from an experienced biologist or forester. State and local government staff can provide some help if needed and also may be able to put you in contact with other professionals.
An example of Leon County’s actions as a property owner to protect rare species is the management of our parks and greenways, conducted by the Parks and Recreation Division. One particular rare species, the bent golden-aster (Pityopsis flexuosa), has flourished under the management of Parks and Recreation Staff at the Woodville Community Center. This plant, a member of the daisy and sunflower family, is only known to occur in six Florida counties and nowhere else. It is considered endangered by the State of Florida. The bent golden-aster grows in sandhill ecosystems, which are very dry, sandy areas that support longleaf pine, turkey oaks, and wiregrass. These ecosystems, including all of the plants and animals within, have adapted to and rely on frequent fires to maintain them in their optimal condition. During development of the Woodville Community Center, the bent golden-aster was found and, according to Leon County land development regulations, was required to be protected and preserved. Buildings and ballfields had to be designed around the natural area where the plants occurred and the County was directed to maintain the ecosystem in a healthy state. Faculty from UF/Leon County Extension and the Florida Forest Service began a prescribed burning program. Later, after Parks and Recreation staff completed the required prescribed burning training, they began to burn it with continued help from UF/Leon County Extension. This prescribed fire program continues today and, as a result, this plant has thrived and another generation of Leon County citizens can enjoy the pretty yellow flowers that bloom in the fall.
Protecting our environment takes work on behalf of Leon County and its citizens. From prescribed burns to how we maintain our front yard, we all have a role to fill.
Mark Tancig is a Water Resource Specialist with the Leon County Public Works and a member of the Leon County/UF IFAS Extension Urban Forestry/Horticulture Newspaper Column Working Group. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov