Keeping Up With Conservation: Pygmy Fringe Tree

The emergence of Spring can present a cycle of revitalization that often evokes feelings of joy, beauty, and hope. A closer look unveils the result of some of plants’ most arduous work: synchronously harnessing increasingly potent sunlight, available water and nutrients, and the emergence of insects that will aid in the development of leaves and flowers, ensuring the plants’ chance of development and reproduction.

Living quietly throughout most of the year, the unadorned and unassuming Pygmy fringe tree (Chionanthus pygmaeus) graces the National Collection beds this March with an alluring burst of color. Its fragrant flowers that turnfrom almost fluorescent green-yellow toradiant white in only a few days are a true testament of the decade-spanning commitment of the Rare Plant Conservation Program (RPCP) to preserving Florida’s unique and endangered flora. The pygmy fringe tree is a fire-adapted endemic shrub native to dry sandy soils of Central Florida and is one of the many species that Florida continues to lose due to habitat loss.

Federally listed in 1987 as a result of land clearing and residential development, C. pygmaeus is not only threatened by the loss of space, but also by the altered conditions of the remaining habitats such as fire suppression, soil disturbances, and other impacts that follow land conversion and development. The RPCP has been safeguarding genetic diversity of the pygmy fringe tree for over 35 years and currently holds more than 10,000 of seeds in storage.

On March 22nd, 2024, Chionanthus pygmaeus was one of ten rare plant species from the National Collection at Bok Tower Gardens featured in the Florida Annual Rare Plant Conference. Using ‘Plantwave’ technology which converts variations in electrical conductivity of plants into sound, each species selected was displayed with a three-minute audio recording during a 30- minute presentation interlude preceding the conference’s presentations. The interlude was created to engage the Florida Rare Plant Conference attendees with this novel and entertaining technology and to highlight some of the species maintained in the National Collection at Bok Tower Gardens through an extraordinary lens.

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