30 Endangered Plant Species Rediscovered
NEW JERSEY, USA
3 April 2006
NJCF asked Brooklyn Botanic Garden to research the plant life on the property because of its expected habitat significance. BBG proposed a comprehensive survey of the plants and vegetation in order to identify the populations of rare plants that grew there allowing the Preserve to better manage the land. Dating back to 1880, botanists had reported that the site contained numerous rare plant populations, but for the past century research was not possible because the land was privately owned and operated as a cranberry farm.
Adjacent to 250,000 acres of state preserved lands, the Franklin Parker Preserve is home to sandy roads that wind through pitch pine forest, blueberry fields, shallow lakes and pristine streams. The Franklin Parker Preserve contains some of the most beautiful wetlands in the Pine Barrens and provides critical habitat for many unique wildlife species, such as the Pine Barrens Tree Frog, in addition to the now documented rare and threatened plant species. The preserve also filters rainwater that feeds into the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, which is essential to protecting the pristine quality of 17 trillion gallons of underground water. The preserve includes the headwaters of the West Branch of the Wading River watershed, which is known for having some of the rarest and most unique plants in the U.S.
“We knew this was a special property,” said Emile D. DeVito, Ph.D., NJCF Manager of Science & Stewardship. “But we had no idea how many critical species would still occur on the property after all these years. This research is important because it identifies critical natural resources and makes recommendations for managing the property to protect them.”
Dr. Kerry Barringer, Ph.D., Curator of the BBG’s Herbarium, conducted most of the research visiting the preserve every week from May through October of 2005. Barringer was assisted by Dr. Gerry Moore, Ph.D., BBG’s Director of Science. Moore grew up in southern New Jersey and is an expert on the Pine Barrens. In a recent report to NJCF, BBG scientists noted that approximately 465 species of plants are now known to exist on the Franklin Parker Preserve, 30 of which (6.5 percent) are currently recognized as rare, threatened or endangered in New Jersey by either the Natural Heritage Program or the Pinelands. “This percentage of rare plants is extremely high and is especially remarkable considering the high plant diversity in the preserve,” said Barringer.
“For a botanist, this project is a tremendous opportunity to study an extraordinary ecosystem. The preserve is right in the middle of the Pine Barrens, which is recognized worldwide as being a unique place to study plants. Further, because the property was in private hands until fairly recent, the historical records and plant inventory for the preserve were previously unavailable to scientists. Through this collaboration, we were able to search through these collections and plant records.” Subsequently, the botanist used these old records to help guide the fieldwork. Barringer explained, “It was extremely rewarding to help provide part of the data that the Conservation Foundation will use to restore parts of the preserve where these species occurred.
BBG’s Moore added, “In addition, we found some species that had never been reported from the preserve. This is very encouraging because it indicates that additional rare and threatened species have been able to find a home in the preserve. And our collaboration further allows the scientists at the Conservation Foundation to use the same data to identify critical habitats for special preservation or restoration and to protect endangered species.”
“There are many more endangered plant species in New Jersey than there are endangered animal species—roughly triple,” said DeVito from the Preserve. However, there are few programs in place to protect these critical components to the natural systems. “Rare plant species are simply not on the general public’s radar screen,” said DeVito. “If more people could experience the beauty of a Pine Barrens gentian or bog asphodel in bloom, there would be a lot more support for these disappearing species.”
Despite New Jersey’s large number of endangered plant species, there are only a few botanists working throughout the entire state to document and protect these rare plants. NJCF and botanists in the Division of Parks and Forestry are now collaborating to undertake ambitious new management projects. In 2005, NJCF received a $25,000 grant from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support this work.
One species that formerly grew in the preserve, American chaffseed (Schwalbea americana), is federally listed as an endangered species; another Long’s bulrush (Scirpus longii), is a candidate for federal listing. One existing species, the bog asphodel (Narthecium americanum), is a candidate for federal listing. Seven species are state endangered. An additional nine species that grow in the preserve were included on the Natural Heritage list until recently. Of the 30 rare, endangered and threatened species, 18 have been found recently. Twelve are known only from historical records, but Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s botanists will spend the next year diligently searching for these species.
“The preserve is home to at least 12 additional plant species that are characteristic of the New Jersey Pine Barrens,” Moore said. “They may be relatively common in the Pine Barrens, so they are not listed as endangered, but in New Jersey they are restricted in their overall distribution to the Pine Barrens.”
As the first research team to explore and catalog the Preserve in more than a century, the sense of discovery was keen throughout the project. According to Barringer, “Maybe the biggest moment for me was on a day in September the first year I worked in the Preserve. I was working along the river, searching for populations of rare plants. It had been a good day, but it was hot and getting late and I had been walking through muck and pushing through thickets. I was heading back to the car, when by pure chance I saw a dry stalk of Tofieldia, called false asphodel. It was dry and the seed had been shed and I thought it was something else at first, but when I saw a little patch of dark, sticky hairs on the stalk I knew it was Tofieldia. Now, Tofieldia is a very rare plant and we had been looking for it since July. The plants that grow in the Pine Barrens are only found in a couple of watersheds. It was a good find — and when I looked up I saw that there were more plants growing nearby. As I was looking around I realized that within a hundred yards of the spot I was standing, there were at least a dozen different species of very rare plants growing: asphodels and orchids, rare grasses and rushes, the showy aster, and the bog goldenrod. They had probably been growing there for a thousand years or more and would continue to grow there now that they were part of the preserve.”
NJCF has initiated several important projects to enhance public access and to restore the preserve to its original wetlands state. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and NJCF launched a wetlands preservation and restoration project at the Franklin Parker Preserve – the largest NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) project in the Northeast. NRCS and NJCF are collaborating on the restoration of 1,100 acres of cranberry bogs and blueberry fields that have been altered by historic agricultural practices. NJCF is also partnering with several public and private organizations to restore approximately 150 acres of Atlantic White Cedar forest, which is vital habitat for many threatened and endangered species. The project is particularly important since 80 percent of the Pine Barrens cedar swamp have been lost to non-sustainable timbering practices.
The Garden’s Moore said, “We will work in the preserve through this season, as the Conservation Foundation and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance set up long-term monitoring of the rare plant populations. We should be finished with a scientific paper describing the flora and vegetation of the preserve by the end of the year, and we hope to see that published in 2007. “
NJCF has launched a $3 million campaign to help fund restoration and stewardship activities at the Franklin Parker Preserve. To learn more about this effort and NJCF’s land preservation efforts statewide, contact the Foundation at 1-888-LANDSAVE or visit http://www.njconservation.org/.
Rare Plants at the Franklin Parker Preserve
1. Aristida dichotoma var. curtissii – Curtiss’ three-awned grass
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