Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The search is on

At the joint meeting of the Arkansas and Missouri Native Plant Societies last month, Missourians were saddened to learn that with the recent discovery of an Arkansas population of Missouri bladderpod, our own cherished Ozark Highlands no longer have an endemic. Every plant native to Missouri's Ozarks can be found in Arkansas. Granted, population densities vary between states, such that plants rare to Arkansas are abundant in Missouri and vice versa. But unlike Missouri's somewhat fragmented Ozarks, the highlands in Arkansas stretch for thousands of uninterrupted acres. That Arkansas doesn't have a Branson, a Springfield, or hundreds of other little towns chopping up contiguous woodlands likely accounts (at least in part) for the species richness.

Some of the Missourians on the fieldtrip were jealous of the preponderance of sandstone outcroppings and benches in Arkansas, a substrate which affords a varied plant community rare to Missouri. The fine folks from Arkansas countered with envy over our abundant dolomite, chert and limestone, all rather uncommon in Arkansas. Jealousy aside, our society members were treated to a fieldtrip to see sandstone benches awash in the delicate pink blooms of Claytonia ozarkensis. Well, it was a cloudy day, so the flowers weren't open.

Over 50 years ago, sandstone outcroppings in Jefferson Co., Missouri supported a population of Claytonia ozarkensis. The plant hasn't been seen in Missouri since then. Inspired by the fieldtrip to see it in Arkansas, a cadre of the state's best botanists brought together a search party to scour Jefferson Co. in hopes of finding the sweet little plant again in Missouri. So, once again, I spent the day with incredible ecologists, a brilliant bryologist (one who studies bryophytes) and botanists tromping through the lovely LaBarque Creek watershed. We spent the day walking deep canyons, running into a vast array of ferns and interesting geology, checking any and every little outcropping in the dry/dry mesic sandstone woodlands in hopes of finding the spoon-shaped leaves of Claytonia.

The flower is almost identical to that of the extremely common Claytonia virginiana (which carpets the lawn up the street), but the leaves and growth habit of C. ozarkensis is truly unique. Because it grows between shelves of sandstone, its reproductive phenology must adapt. The plant performs a sort of negative phototropism to deposit seeds; the stems bearing ripe seedheads turn inwards towards the rock rather than allowing the seeds to fall to the ground. (A hearty thanks to the USFS for sharing the photos)

So, we didn't find it this week. The organizer of the trip (one who rediscovered a newsworthy plant recently)remained dubious that we would find it in Missouri. Our sandstone structures just aren't the same as they are in Arkansas. Nevertheless, a few other possible sites are on the docket for next week.

Why, you may ask, am I writing about a failed attempt to locate a spring wildflower? Frankly, I don't know who reads this, but maybe some fine Missourian out there knows of property with sandstone (don't waste your time looking at the LaMotte series...) that just might harbor a population. If so, there's no cash reward upon discovery, but the sheer pleasure and joy such a find would bring to the protectors of our biodiversity is priceless.


Ted C. MacRae said...

I hope the next search is successful, although if George is skeptical then it seems like a long shot. Shame the Lamotte formation doesn't hold promise - so many other plants are in the Ozarks because of the Lamotte.

Mark Karpinski said...

Hello and good afternoon Allison. My name is Mark Karpinski and I am the photographer for The Friends of Labarque Watershed and I came across this blog last week and noticed that you have had some experience in the back county of the watershed searching for Claytonia Ozarkensis. I shared the photo you have posted in this blog of the waterfall with other members of FOLW last Monday and no one was sure of the location or existence of that particular waterfall photo you have posted. We're planning a full inventory of the watershed such as geologic points of interest such as waterfalls like this one and was wondering if you could help me find the location of that waterfall?
By looking at the size of the waterfall in the photo it would seem that it would be around the large canyon areas around Sand Cut and Labarque roads but with my past exploration of the area I have not seen this one.

Thanks Allison... also I spend more time in the back country of the watershed then anybody and I will keep a sharp eye out for Claytonia Ozarkensis during my exploration and let you know if I come across anything.


Allison Vaughn said...

Incredible landscape, the LaBarque Creek area. We were on private land several miles from the CA. A colleague is a bryologist and does a lot of work in the area, so we had special access. The land has been set aside for protection in perpetuity after the landowner dies (but he's such a cool guy, no one wants that to happen). Thanks for reading...