Catching Up with Conservation: Brooksville Bellflower

In March, annual counting of all the Brooksville Bellflower, Campanula robinsiae, was performed at each population by the Rare Plant Conservation Program (RPCP) and project partners including the Florida Department of Evironmental Protection, the Florida Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida A&M University, and several volunteers. Brooksville Bellflower is a small, short lived annual that appears only from mid-March to early April each year. It grows between the low and high water levels along the shoreline of ponds and ephemeral wetlands. The plant is highly dependent on the timing and amount of winter rainfall. It needs wet soil in which to germinate and grow: too much rain can keep the shoreline too flooded for the species to grow, and if rainfall is too low, the shoreline soil will be too dry to allow germination.

The RPCP has tracked the number of plants present in all known populations each spring since 1992. We have seen plant numbers dramatically rise and fall. Some populations have been extirpated in favor of development, and new populations have been discovered. Plant numbers in a population have declined due to degrading habitat quality, then rise again once habitat is improved. 2023 was overall a poor year for the species, with the lowest overall plant count in six years. Pond water levels were extremely low in all but one site. The one site with good water levels had experienced complete destruction of the habitat due to the damage done by feral hogs during its growing season. Where 500-2,500 plants were typically found, only one small plant was located this year.

However, another site contained more plants than expected. Because of the good research by Florida A&M University on the benefit to the pond margin habitat by cattle grazing, the population at the FAMU station in Brookville had 685 plants – a very good number for a ‘bad’ bellflower year.

The land managers at each site are dedicated to improving the habitat around the pond margins to help support their populations, so as long as the timing and amount of rainfall is right next year, we expect plant numbers to rebound nicely in 2024.

Article written by Cheryl Peterson, Conservational Program Manager at Bok Tower Gardens.

Posted in