Conserving Clasping Warea with The Duke Energy Foundation

The Duke Energy Foundation has graciously provided funding to the Rare Plant Conservation Program (RPCP) since 2016 to restore and protect Florida’s unique flora and habitats. This work focuses on protecting federally endangered plant species that reside in critically imperiled habitats and involves ex-situ seed preservation, improving habitat quality, biological research on rare plants, and increasing plant numbers in the wild.

One of the endangered species under these projects is the Clasping warea, Warea amplexifolia, a delicate annual wildflower that occurs nowhere else in the world other than the northern third of the Lake Wales Ridge. Clasping warea is a federally endangered species largely because much of its xeric sandhill habitat has been converted for agriculture use and residential developments. The remaining natural populations are severely fragmented, and the habitat is often degraded.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recovery goals to protect the species from further decline include securing a sufficient number of self-sustaining populations on protected lands. Towards this goal, the Conservation Program has been collaborating with the Florida Park Service and Duke Energy to establish new populations of Clasping warea on protected public lands. Areas with quality sandhill habitat within park lands are selected, and each year hundreds of Clasping warea are introduced into these areas to create protected populations.

To propagate seedlings for each introduction, Conservation Program staff members germinate seeds in the greenhouse at the Gardens during the early spring from a genetically diverse mix of provenance-specific seeds that are regionally adapted. By summertime, the seedlings are ready to be planted in their new home in the park. Each seedling is transplanted along pre-installed irrigation lines that provide water to the seedlings as needed while the plants acclimatize to their new environment. Over the summer, the plants grow, and in fall, they form cleome-like flowers, attracting numerous butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. Seeds then ripen and fall, establishing a seed bank in the soil so the new population can persist into the future.

The success of the new population is monitored each fall during flowering by park and Gardens staff and volunteers. Plant survival and phenology is recorded, and the number of seeds produced by each new population is estimated. Each spring another round of monitoring takes place to count and map the number of new seedlings.

This Duke Energy-funded introduction work has been underway since 2016, and the new populations are being successfully established. To our delight, in 2019, a record number of seedlings were counted, hundreds of reproductive plants were recorded, and hundreds of thousands of seeds were produced. Collaborative projects like this are greatly helping in the conservation of highly endangered species, their habitats, and their pollinators.

This blog post was written by Cheryl Peterson and photographed by Whitney Costner. Cheryl and Whitney are part of the Rare Plant Conservation Program team at Bok Tower Gardens.