Efforts to save an endangered species -echinacea laevigata (smooth coneflower)

Efforts to Save an Endangered Species -Echinacea laevigata
(Smooth Coneflower)
Department of Biological SciencesClemson University USDA Forest ServiceDepartment of Forest ResourcesClemson University The South Carolina Botanical Garden contains living collections of several rare plants. Amongthese, Echinacea laevigafa (Boynton and Beadle) Blake is federally listed as endangered. TheGarden staff and plant ecologists from the USDA Forest Service's Endangered and ThreatenedSpecies in Southern Forests Research Work Unit have been cooperating on a research projectinvolving this rare species. Botanical Gardens play an indispensable role not only in research, butalso in the education of students, visitors, the citizens of South Carolina, and others regardingnatural resources.
Echinacea laevigata (Asteraceae), is a perennial herb. Originally reported to occur in eight states, the current range is limited to Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia. Little is known ofthe life history or the basic biology of any stage in the life cycle of E. laevigata Aerial shoots arisefrom underground rhizomes as basal rosettes of glabrous leaves (hence, the common name,Smooth Coneflower) or as flowering, leafy stems. A single rhizome can have variouscombinations of the above and may be connected to as many as a dozen (or more) above-groundparts. Flowering rosettes usually produce a solitary head of perfect disk and pistillate ray floretsbetween May and August. Ray petals are pink to pale purple (infrequently white) and drooping.
The attractive inflorescence and prominence of plants along roadsides and open, sunny areas ledpeople to uproot entire plants from the wild. Collection of plants from natural populations was asignificant factor in placing this species on the national list of endangered species. South Carolinarecognizes the federal listing for this species.
The SC Botanical Garden and the Endangered Species Research Work Unit applied for and weregranted permission by the US Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, the SouthCarolina Non-Game and Heritage Trust Program and the US Forest Service to conduct basicresearch projects on E. laevigata plants maintained in Garden facilities. In addition to other ForestService research on E. laevigata, pilot studies are also being conducted to determine: 1. thepotential of E. laevigata for vegetative reproduction and 2. the optimal time of year for such events.
Results are very encouraging. As suspected, E. laevigata has the potential to producephysiologically independent plants from a single mother plant when the rosettes are severed fromeach other; and from rhizome cuttings which include roots. In the second part of this study,rhizome segments were taken early in the growing season and again in late summer. In general,more new plants developed from cuttings made later in the year, than from cuttings taken at thestart of the growing season. Although applications of exogenous hormone (indole-butyric acid, or1BA) were effective in small concentrations (i.e., treated segments developed both shoots androots); controls (no hormone treatment) also developed into plants.
Among other on-going projects at the South Carolina Botanical Garden, the Forest Service'sClemson unit has been conducting research to determine what environmental factors are necessary for successful seed germination of additional rare plant species, as well as seedling growth andestablishment of E. laevigata . Plants were grown outside under shade cloth of varying densities inorder to measure effects of light intensity on growth and development (including flowering).
The Forest Service sought not only the facilities of the South Carolina Botanical Garden, but alsoits wide expertise in horticulture and plant research. Research alone, however, will not recoverrare, endangered or threatened species. Education, an on-going activity at the Garden, is also avital tool. In its Smooth Coneflower Recovery Plan (The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1995.
Atlanta, GA) the FWS identifies this and other activities as important to the conservation ofEchinacea laevigata. The Botanical Garden in its collaboration with the Forest Service, ClemsonUniversity and private industry is uniquely suited to further address at least three (if not more) ofthese targets: 1. "conduct research on the biology of the species that includes(.sun/shade.asexual reproduction via rhizomes, conditions and requirements for seedling.survival, etc)."; 2. "maintain cultivated sources for the species"; and 3. "(encourage and assist)nurseries in the development of cultivated stock". Public education about the need for conservationefforts can also include outdoor exhibits (which the Garden has) of other commercially availablenative coneflowers and equally attractive flowering plants with a similar appearance. Successfulconservation efforts are collaborative ventures; the SC Botanical Garden and the US Forest Servicehave initiated just such an association.

Source: http://virtual.clemson.edu/groups/hort/sctop/pdf_docs/bsec/bsec-13.pdf

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