Snakeroot

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Snakeroot

Eryngium cuneifolium

Status Endangered
Listed January 21, 1987
Family Umbelliferae (Apiaceae)
Description Perennial herb with wedge-shaped leaves and blue flowers.
Habitat Sand pine scrub.
Threats Agricultural and residential development, suppression of fire, off-road vehicles.
Range Florida

Description

Snakeroot, Eryngium cuneifolium, is a perennial herb with a long, woody taproot, bearing several erect, branching stems that reach 1.5 ft (50 cm) in height or, in rare cases, 3 ft (90 cm). Long-stalked, wedge-shaped leaves, with three to five bristled teeth at the apex, are clustered at the base of the plant. Leaves on the stems are smaller and lack leaf stalks.

From August to October, plants bear small, greenish-white flowers that turn powder blue after opening fully. The tiny fruit is top-shaped, and scaly. Sterile plants are easily recognized in the field by their basal rosettes. Fruiting and seed dispersal is believed to occur between October and January.

There seems to be no special seed dispersal mechanism (other than gravity), and pollination is likely to be similar to that in other members of the parsley family (i.e., most likely via insects).

Habitat

Snakeroot is a member of the sand pine scrub community, which consists of low-growing sand pines interspersed with shrubby evergreen oaks, such as myrtle oak, Chapman oak, and sand live oak. Snakeroot typically grows in full sun in open sandy areas and is one of the first plants to return after wildfires, which naturally occur every 30 years or so. Snakeroot is also found in a similar habitat, where scrub intermingles with sandhill vegetation-characteristically longleaf pine, turkey oak, and wiregrass.

Distribution

Snakeroot once ranged along both coasts and interior sand ridges of the Florida peninsula, reaching to the Gulf coast of Alabama.

Populations of snakeroot are found in remnant habitat on the Lakie Wales Ridge from the west side of Lake Placid south to near Venus (Highlands County), a distance of about ten miles. Reports of outlying populations in Collier and Putnam counties have not been confirmed. By 1990, fewer than 50 plants were known to be surviving in the wild.

Threats

Highlands County is an important citrus producer, and much of the plant's original scrub habitat has been leveled for citrus groves. Residential subdivisions have been built on the Lake Wales Ridge, which features well-drained soils, attractive hills, and numerous lakes. Snakeroot plants have been damaged by off-road vehicles or disturbed by hikers in areas set aside for scientific and educational use, such as the Hammock State Park, and the Tiger Creek and Arbuckle Lake preserves.

This herb depends on periodic firesor mechanical disturbance in the absence of fireto maintain its open sand habitat. Another past and present problem for snakeroot, as it is for several other herbs of the same habitat, is that it does not tolerate shading or extensive competition from other plants.

Conservation and Recovery

Archbold Biological Station in Hammock State Park conducts prescribed burning, while Tiger Creek Preserve and the Arbuckle Lake Wildlife Management Area and State Park may already be engaged in similar actions. These management activities should allow the snakeroot to maintain adequate reproduction at these sites.

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is involved with the formation of a Scrub Refuge in Highlands County, encompassing the habitat of this and dozens of other rare and endangered plants. A refuge of this type, together with parcels of state-owned lands, would go a long way toward alleviating the developmental pressures that are claiming sand scrub habitat in central Florida.

Recovery efforts for this species are outlined in the Recovery Plan for Nineteen Florida Scrub and High Pineland Plants, first announced in draft form by the FWS in 1995. The recovery plan outlines basic elements necessary to restore the snakeroot and other endangered plants in the area, including habitat protection through land purchase and other means (including the Habitat Conservation Plan process for threatened animals in the Florida scrub habitat); the management of protected habitats; and the assessment of progress and plan post-recovery monitoring.

This plan is a revision and expansion of a recovery plan, published in 1990, that covered eleven of these plant species. The 1990 edition emphasized the need for land acquisition to protect these plants. At the time, the State and private organizations had already made significant acquisitions, and more have been accomplished since then (including initial land purchase for the Lake Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge). These land purchases, accompanied by the other elements of the recovery plan, are likely to assure the full recovery, or at least the downlisting, of the large majority of the nineteen, including the snakeroot.

Contact

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

References

Abrahamson, W. G. 1984. "Post-Fire Recovery of the Florida Lake Wales Ridge Vegetation." American Journal of Botany 71:9-21.

Abrahamson, W. G., A. F. Johnson, J. N. Layne, andP. A. Peroni. 1984. "Vegetation of the Archbold Biological Station, Florida; An Example of the Southern Lake Wales Ridge." Florida Scientist 47:209-250.

Meyers, R. 1985. "Fire and the Dynamic Relationship between Florida Sandhill and Sand Pine Scrub Vegetation." Bulletin, Torrey Botany Club 112:241-252.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1995. "(Draft) Recovery Plan for Nineteen Florida Scrub and High Pineland Plants." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta.

Wunderlin, R. P. 1982. Guide to the Vascular Flora of Central Florida. University Presses of Florida, Gainesville.

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