|Listed||April 26, 1978|
|Description||Perennial legume with heart-shaped leaves and yellow flowers; stems and leaves covered with tiny hairs.|
|Habitat||Well-drained, sandy ridges in open pine-palmetto flatwoods.|
|Threats||Logging, suppression of fire, insect damage.|
Hairy rattleweed, Baptisia arachnifera, is a perennial legume with stems up to 32 in (80 cm) tall and heart-shaped leaves up to 3.2 in (8 cm) long. The plant, except for parts of the flower, is entirely covered with tiny hairs. Five-petaled, yellow flowers appear in June and continue blooming into August. This species reproduces sexually through pollination, but is capable of asexual reproduction. When the long, horizontal underground roots are cut, plants sprout at the ends. This plant is also known commonly as hairy wild indigo.
Hairy rattleweed is restricted to low sandy ridges in open pine-palmetto woods. Soil in the habitat is underlain by a layer of organic hardpan, which traps and holds moisture. The ground is nearly saturated in early spring and dries out slowly by late summer or early fall. Vegetation consists almost exclusively of mature pines with an understory of shrubs, such as palmetto, gallberry, blueberry, gopherberry, and wax myrtle. Periodic fire and low fertility tend to maintain widely spaced trees and moderate under-growth that seems to benefit the plant's need for light and minimal competition from other plants.
Hairy rattleweed was once fairly widespread along the lower coastal plain of Georgia, a region characterized by many swamps, marshes, ponds, and bogs. Interspersed among these poorly drained areas are sandy, well-drained, broad terraces of low relief, commonly known as flatwoods. The higher, drier sites support a sandhill vegetation community that includes the most thriving populations of the rattleweed.
Hairy rattleweed was first collected from a site 10 mi (16.1 km) south of Jesup (Wayne County), Georgia. Additional sites have been discovered within an area roughly bounded by highways US 301 on the west, US 341 on the north, and state road 50 on the east. Other population sites extend south into Brantley County for about 2 mi (3.2 km), mostly parallel to Georgia state highway 32.
Although the range of the hairy rattleweed covers 125 sq mi (323.8 sq km), populations are widely dispersed. No current population figures are available, but it is believed that most populations are dwindling.
Most of the lands within the rattleweed's range are owned and managed as pine plantations by the Brunswick Pulp and Land Company and by the ITT-Rayonier Corporation. Although plantation management techniques are not necessarily harmful to the plant—some are actually beneficial—replanting practices of chopping and bedding with heavy machinery are too drastic for hairy rattleweed to survive. These extreme logging activities are probably the major cause of the rattleweed's decline. After clearcutting, once-thriving populations have been reduced to a few individual plants growing along access roads.
A second major reason for the plant's decline has been the suppression of fire within the habitat area. Several stands of the plant in pine plantations could probably be restored if undergrowth was cut back or burned periodically.
Insects are also a problem for hairy rattleweed. A widespread North American weevil, Apion rostrum, deposits eggs in the plant's young flower buds, and the larvae feed on developing seeds, mature in the seed capsules, then chew through the capsule walls, destroying up to 35% of the seed crop annually.
Conservation and Recovery
The key to this plant's survival would seem to be finding the proper blend of forestry management techniques that will benefit the plant. This requires enlisting the aid of the private landowners. Brunswick Pulp and Land Company has cooperated with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in protecting a stand of about 2.2 acres (1 hectare) in their Tyler Tract public hunting area. This tract was clear-cut in the late 1970s and will be used as an experimental test plot for monitoring recovery of rattleweed after clear-cutting. Some seed research is also being conducted by the Forest Service and by the state of Georgia.
Regional Office of Endangered Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345
McCollum, J. L. and D. R. Ettman. 1977. "Georgia's Protected Plants." Endangered Plant Program, Resource Planning Section—OPR. Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Atlanta.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1983. "Hairy Rattle-weed Recovery Plan." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta.