Keeping Up with Conservation: Highlands Goldenaster

In December, the Rare Plant Conservation Program began work to collected seeds of a rare species that has not yet been represented in the National Collection. Highlands goldenaster, Chrysopsis highlandsensis, is a rare aster that is found only in Highlands, Polk, and Glades counties. It is a perennial herb that grows in sand pine scrub and scrubby flatwoods. Plants can appear a whitish-green, due to the dense covering of hairs on their leaves and stems. It has a basal rosette of oblong leaves, and tall (2-3 ft) flowering stalks that bear numerous yellow ray-and-disk flowers in the fall, and seeds become ripe in December.

Populations of C. highlandsensis are dependent upon open, sandy patches of habitat, which is the microhabitat which is required for seeds to germinate. As much of its remaining habitat is overgrown due to fire suppression, leaving few sand gaps in the landscape, the species has been in decline. In order to preserve the genetic diversity remaining in the populations and to gather plant material that can be used for research and for introducing new populations, the Rare Plant Conservation Program visited two populations in December – one on private lands in Highlands County and one in the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest in Polk County. Seeds easily fall from the developed seed heads when ripe, and are thought to primarily be gravity dispersed, though able to travel some distance in the wind due to the long pappus bristles attached to each seed. Seed collection in December was timed to coincide with the peak of seed ripening.

Seeds were hand-collected from 50 maternal parent plants at each site. Seeds are currently being cleaned from debris, counted, and dried to 25% relative humidity for safe, long-term cold storage. In spring 2023, a subset of seeds from each maternal parent and each population will be used for germination trials to record the initial viability of these new accessions. The data will help us learn how seed viability differs among the two populations and the different maternal genotypes. The data on this species will also be compared with germination data for other endemic Florida rare goldenasters, and used to inform land management and introduction strategies, as well as help us understand demographic trends.

Photo provided by Olivia Wetsch of the Florida Forest Service