Wednesday, June 28, 2017

You Can Only Find This Plant in New Jersey

Spring Beauty Claytonia virginica
Spring beauty is a plant found in abundance in the Eastern temperate deciduous forest of North America throughout many different habitat types including lawns, city parks, forests, roadsides, wetlands, bluffs, and ravines.

The very rare and endangered Spring Beauty variety hammondiae
But Hammond’s Yellow Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica var. hammondiae) is a very rare and endangered wildflower. Of interest here is that this variety only exists in a few patches of wet meadow in the northwest corner of New Jersey.

When we say rare, we mean this is not just the only place in NJ, or in the United States, but the only place on Earth where we know of this particular plant variety existing. That the location being in our often-misunderstood and highly developed state is another reminder that there are places of ecological and environmental importance in all parts of the planet.

Don't rush out to try to see this dime-sized gem of a flower. Thankfully, it is protected in The Nature Conservancy’s 100-acre Arctic Meadows Preserve. The Preserve itself is a rare inland acidic seep that because of the underlying geology and soils is a habitat where Hammond’s Yellow Spring Beauty can exist. (The blooms appeared in April.)

How did the plant and its habitat get discovered? I discovered in a post by Jim Wright that more than fifty years ago, naturalist Emilie K. Hammond noticed in a NJ meadow blooms which looked like Spring Beauty but were not the expected white or pinkish color but instead a deep yellow. Her discovery was reported to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, which researched the flower and categorized it as another color variation of the common Spring Beauty. Not big news.

When there was home construction near that meadow in the mid-1980s, a botanist for The Nature Conservancy, David Snyder, checked out the situation. He discovered that not only that were they that odd color, but they were growing in an unexpected kind of habitat and blooming long after the more common variety had finished. This was a new type of Spring Beauty, found only in this location.

The Nature Conservancy bought the 77-acre property in the 1990s to protect the rare flower, and has since added 23 acres of adjacent land.

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