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Gentian Pinkroot

Gentian Pinkroot

Spigelia gentianoides

Status Endangered
Listed November 26, 1990
Family Loganiaceae (Logania)
Description Perennial with opposite, stalkless leaves and tubular pink flowers.
Habitat Upland pine and mixed pine-oak forests.
Threats Limited distribution, timber cutting.
Range Alabama, Florida

Description

Spigelia gentianoides (Gentian pinkroot) is a perennial which has a single, erect, sharply ridged stem, 4-12 in (10-30 cm) tall. The opposite, sessile (stalkless) leaves are largest at the top of the stem. In May and June a few pale pink, upward-pointing, tube-like flowers form a cluster on a short, spikelike stem. The flowers, which usually stay nearly closed, have five slits, a fact that has led one botanist to suspect that the species is pollinated when a moth inserts its proboscis into the slits probing for nectar. The flowers resemble those of gentians, a fact reflected in its name.

The closest relative of Spigelia gentianoides is a plant that was widely used in folk medicine during the nineteenth century in the South. S. marilandica was a widespread species that grew in clumps and had red flowers. It was used as a popular cure for intestinal worms, although there are reports of it causing death. Collections for medicinal use substantially reduced its occurrence. The medicinal properties of gentian pinkroot have not been evaluated.

Habitat

Gentian pinkroot is found in both sunny and shaded areas of upland pine and mixed oak-pine forests. The plant is extremely rare and has seldom been collected. Little is known about its habitat requirements.

Distribution

The species was first collected in 1837 near the Apalachicola River, probably in Jackson County, Florida. Other historical collections have been made from near Chattahoochee (Gadsden County), from Chipley (Washington County), and from near Wewahitchka (Calhoun County). The species was probably extirpated from much of its historic range during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when much of the upland forest in the area was cleared for cultivation or converted to pine plantations.

At present, three populations of gentian pink-root, in northwestern Florida, are known to exist: two in Jackson County and one in Calhoun County. A recent survey of these populations found that one Jackson County site consisted of about 30 plants, a substantial decrease from the 150 plants surveyed 12 years earlier. The other site, which is on publicly owned land near the Jackson-Bay County line, consists of no more than 10 individuals. The Calhoun County population, located south of Blountstown, is the largest of the three. It occurs in a pineland which was cut in 1983 and replanted with pines in 1989. This species is also considered Endangered in Alabama.

Although a thorough search might uncover additional populations, the few historic collections and small number of sites discovered by field biologists strongly indicate that the plant was never widespread and is currently extremely rare.

Threats

The low numbers and limited range of genetian pinkroot make it vulnerable to extinction. One site is threatened by its proximity to recreational activities; the two others are vulnerable to habitat alteration by timber cutting and replanting. The smallest population occurs on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers and is managed by the Florida Department of Natural Resources. It is easily accessible to the public and vulnerable to accidental damage or vandalism. The other two populations are on privately owned land that may be altered by timber cutting. The largest population appears to have survived one cutting and replanting. However, the landowner, aware of the presence of a rare plant, took special care with the timbering operation. The cutting was done with minimal habitat disturbance and the replanting was done by hand.

Another threat to this population is the possible use of herbicides to free the young pine trees from competition from herbs and grasses. The Fish and Wildlife Service expects to deal with this threat through direct contacts with the landowner.

Conservation and Recovery

One small population of the gentian pinkroot occurs on land managed by the State of Florida, and is being conserved to benefit the rare plant. Other critical habitats are all privately owned, and are threatened by various human activities. These habitats should be protected by acquiring the land and establishing ecological reserves, or by negotiating conservation easements with the owners. The populations of the gentian pinkroot should be monitored, and research undertaken into its biology, habitat needs, and beneficial management practices, such as prescribed fire.

Contact

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345
http://southeast.fws.gov/

References

Rogers, G. K. 1988. "Spigelia gentianoides-A Species on the Brink of Extinction." Plant Conservation 3(3):1, 8.

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