Mountain Golden Heather
Mountain Golden Heather
|Listed||October 20, 1980|
|Description||Decumbent-stemmed heather, bearing pale yellow flowers and forming denseclumps.|
|Habitat||Sandy soil interspersed with gravel.|
|Threats||Hikers, competing plants.|
Mountain golden heather, Hudsonia montana, grows from numerous decumbent stems, often rooting at the nodes to produce spur shoots. It forms low, open clumps, 3-6 in (8-15 cm) high and 6-8 in (15-20 cm) across. Thick, dark green, alternate leaves, 0.12-0.31 in (3-8 mm) long, overlap into tight spirals from the base to the tip of the stems.
Five-petaled, yellow flowers sometimes bloom in May, but usually appear in early June. Flowers, which can self-pollinate, last from morning until late afternoon, then close and wither. Several buds are grouped into an inflorescence (flowering stalk).
Mountain golden heather is found along the North Carolina's Linville Gorge, on outcroppings of Chilhowee quartzite—a type of rock found nowhere else in the Blue Ridge region. Plants grow on ledges in shallow sandy soil, interspersed with quartzite gravel; they require partial shade to full sunlight. This habitat is a transitional zone between bare rock and the pine-shrub community, and mountain golden heather is locally dominant. Elevation of the site is between 2,800 and 3,800 ft (855 and 1,155 m).
From the time of its discovery in 1816, specimens of mountain golden heather were collected at frequent intervals from Table Rock, which is located in North Carolina's Burke County and in the Pisgah National Forest. It was widely assumed that Table Rock was the only locality for the species. Mountain golden heather was considered extinct until re-discovered in 1978.
By the late 1980s, Mountain golden heather was found on Jonas Ridge along the eastern rim of Linville Gorge, and in populations occurring between Table Rock Mountain and Shortoff Mountain. Locating sites is difficult in the rugged terrain, and it is possible that a few unexplored sites may still exist on either side of the gorge. A 1983 estimate put the total population at less than 2,000 plants.
The most serious threat to mountain golden heather may be the encroachment of other species, such as sand myrtle, that shade out the heather. The problem of shading appears to be common throughout the plant's range. Extended drought is also a threat, but moderately dry conditions actually benefit the plant by slowing successional changes and reducing shading by larger shrubs.
Another problem is trampling by rock climbers, hikers, and campers. Although not a rangewide threat, it is significant in heavily used national forest areas where visitor traffic is increasing.
Conservation and Recovery
In conjunction with the state Plant Conservation Program, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture has conducted research on this species. In February 1990 the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that biologists from the Asheville office, in cooperation with the U. S. Forest Service (USFS) and the North Carolina Plant Conservation Program, had developed a 10-year management plan for the mountain golden heather. Previous experimental work with this species indicated that fire suppression had been adversely affecting the plant, especially within the Linville Gorge Wilderness, by allowing the encroachment of competing vegetation; thus, prescribed burning is being used as a primary management tool in the recovery of the plant.
Goals of the species' recovery plan are to maintain the five known populations at current or higher numbers and to protect plants from undue encroachment by future recreational traffic. Because all populations are on land administered by the USFS, appropriate strategies for the recovery of the mountain golden heather are included in the land management plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests.
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345
Norse, L. E. 1980. "Report on the Conservation of Hudsonia montana, a Candidate Endangered Species." New York Botanical Garden, Bronx.
Skog, J. T., and N. H. Nickerson. 1972. "Variation and Speciation in the Genus Hudsonia. " Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 59: 454-464.
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1983. "Mountain Golden Heather Recovery Plan." U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta.