Morefield's Leather Flower
Morefield's Leather Flower
|Listed||May 20, 1992|
|Description||Perennial vine with urn-shaped pinkish flowers and white hairs on the shoot.|
|Habitat||Clay-loam soils in rocky limestonewoods on the south and southwest facing slopes of mountains.|
|Threats||Residential development, illegal collecting, seed predation by insects, limited range.|
Morefield's leather flower is a perennial vine in the buttercup family and is endemic to north Alabama. The species is distinguished by urn-shaped flowers that occur singly or in few-flowered groups in leaf axils. Its primary flower stalks (peduncles) are subtended by leafy bracts. It has white hairs on the shoot, velvety lower leaf surfaces, and stouter, usually shorter (0.6-1 in [1.5-2.5 cm] long) peduncles with sessile to nearly sessile bracts at the base. It attains heights up to 16 ft (4.9 m) and its compound leaves may attain lengths of 8 in (20.3 cm). Leaves have nine to 11 leaflets forming tendrils. The flowers are pinkish and grow 0.8-1 in (2-2.5 cm) long. Fruits are clusters of achenes (single seeds). Flowering occurs from late May to early June.
The species' vines are rooted in basic clay-loam soils in rocky limestone woods on the south and southwest facing slopes of mountains. Plants often sprawl over shrubs and boulders or climb understory understory shrubs. Morefield's leather flower occurs locally near seeps within a juniper-hardwoods community with smoke tree as the principal indicator species.
The species' known distribution is limited to Alabama. When the species was first collected, there were eight reported populations. Three of these are believed to have been destroyed.
At the end of the twentieth century the species occurred at only five sites in Madison County, Alabama all of them on private or city-owned land. Morefield's leather flower is limited by restricted ecological requirements. Plants are locally distributed and seem to require areas where shale seeps are moist for a good part of the year.
Four of the five remaining populations are within 0.2-1.1 mi (0.3-1.8 km) of one another. A single vine represents one site. Three sites have approximately 20 plants, and the fourth site has several hundred. The fifth site is disjunct, approximately 6 mi (9.7 km) from the other sites, and has an estimated 300 vines. On all sites, the plants are clustered within a small area (0.25 acre [0.1 hectare]).
The species' range is currently recognized as limited to five sites in northern Alabama, all in Madison County. While surveying potential habitat for additional populations, it was noted that residential development had destroyed or adversely modified similar habitats. Residential development on mountains in the Huntsville area is increasing. Two of the existing populations are imminently threatened due to their precarious location on lots in a residential area. Clearing has already impacted habitat and individuals on these sites. Destruction of these two sites would result in approximately a 55% loss of total known individuals. In the 1990s alone, three populations were destroyed by road building, clearing, and herbicide use associated with residential development.
The species is attractive and has horticultural potential. Publicity from its listing could generate an increased demand. Taking and vandalism pose threats because of its visibility when flowering and the accessibility of many of the sites. Overcollecting for any purposes could extirpate populations, especially at sites with only a few plants.
Seed predation by insects was noted in several populations and requires further investigation.
This species is extremely vulnerable because it has a limited range and low numbers of plants at many of the sites. (All sites occupy less than an acre in area.) A single unnatural or natural disturbance could destroy a significant percentage of the known populations. In addition, the small number of individuals at three sites may indicate a limited gene pool; without infusion of gene flow, it is questionable if these smaller populations can survive.
The species seems to have restricted ecological requirements. Plants are locally distributed and seem to require areas where shale seeps are moist for a good part of the year. One population, located under a closed canopy, appeared to be stressed. Individuals were smaller and fewer flowers were observed, when compared to populations where the canopy was somewhat open. This species may require habitat management to curtail succession.
Conservation and Recovery
Pesticides registration and waste management actions will be monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Corps of Engineers will include this species in project planning and operation and during the permit review process. The Federal Highway Administration will consider impacts of bridge and road construction at points where known habitat is crossed. Urban development within the drainage basin may involve the Farmers Home Administration and its loan programs.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345
Ecological Services Field Office
P. O. Box 1190
Daphne, Alabama 36526-1190
Telephone: (334) 441-5181
Fax: (334) 441-6222
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 20 May 1993. "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Status Determined for the Plant Clematis morefieldii (Morefield's Leather Flower)." Federal Register 57 (98): 27562-27564.