Alabama Canebrake Pitcher-plant
Alabama Canebrake Pitcher-plant
Sarracenia rubra ssp. alabamensis
|Listed||March 10, 1989|
|Family||Sarraceniaceae (Pitcher Plant)|
|Description||Insectivorous herb with pitcher-like leaves and maroon flowers.|
|Habitat||Sandhill seeps, swamps, and bogs.|
|Threats||Loss of wetlands, gravel mining, herbicides, fire suppression.|
|Range||Alabama, South Carolina|
Alabama canebrake pitcher-plant, Sarracenia rubra ssp. alabamensis, is an insectivorous herb that grows from a rhizome. The primary leaf type is a pitcher (hollow, cylindrical leaf) that can attain a height of 20 in (50 cm) and serves to trap insects, which are then digested for nutrients. Maroon flowers are borne singly on erect stalks that appear with the pitchers from late April through early June. In summer, the pitchers are enlarged and turn yellow-green. The fruit is a small capsule.
This plant occurs in sandhill seeps, swamps, and bogs along the fall line of central Alabama. It prefers saturated, acidic, peaty soils in full sunlight. It is most vigorous in open bogs and declines when the habitat becomes overgrown with woody vegetation. Common plant associates are cinnamon ferns, pipeworts, orchids, sundews, and butterworts. The water table has decreased across the entire range, reducing the number of flowing seeps and generally restricting the amount of available habitat.
Canebrake pitcher-plant is known to occur only in central Alabama. Historically, 28 sites were documented, but 16 of these have been lost for a variety of reasons, including drainage of wetlands, use of herbicides, and natural plant succession.
Currently, this species is known from 12 sites in Autauga, Chilton, and Elmore Counties. Four sites support viable, reproducing populations that range in size from 70 to more than 300 plants. Two populations are considered limited and consist of fewer than 50 plants at each site, while the remaining populations are mere remnants with none numbering more than 20 plants. All known sites are privately owned.
Because of low numbers and a very localized pattern of distribution, this pitcher-plant is vulnerable to further alteration of its wetland habitat. Much of this plant's former range has been cleared and drained for agricultural uses, particularly to create pasture for livestock. Where pasture is not improved, plants can coexist with moderate numbers of livestock. Typically, however, farmers drain the boggy areas, and pitcher plants decline or are eliminated.
Much of the remaining boggy habitat of this plant is underlain by gravel deposits that have been intensively exploited in the past. One population site is currently threatened by active gravel mining, and a second site, supporting one of the largest populations, has been proposed for a mining operation. A number of colonies once found along railroad and highway rights-of-way were eliminated by the application of herbicides by maintenance crews.
In addition, most remaining sites are being overgrown by woody plants because of the suppression of fire. Fire maintains the open bogs and clearings that are conducive to the vigorous growth of this plant.
Conservation and Recovery
Conservation of this species will require active habitat management through controlled burns or mechanical thinning of woody vegetation. Because all sites are privately owned, the first priority for recovery is to negotiate agreements with landowners to protect the Alabama canebrake pitcher plant while a recovery plan is developed.
Regional Office of Endangered Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345
Kral, R. 1983. "A Report on Some Rare, Threatened, or Endangered Forest-Related Vascular Plants of the South." Technical Publication R8-TP2, USDA, Forest Service, Washington, D.C.
McDaniel, S. T., and R. L. Troup. 1982. "Status Report on Sarracenia rubra ssp. alabamensis." Report.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1989. "Endangered Status for Sarracenia rubra ssp. alabamensis." Federal Register. 54(46): 10150-10153.