Alabama

Strange flora

Strongly sloping glade - Photo Courtesy of James Allison It has been suggested that Ketona Glade communities may have, at one time, occurred outside of Bibb County and may even exist elsewhere...waiting to be discovered. The evolutionary history of the unusual Ketona Glade ecosystem may never truly be understood; however, enough research has been done to formulate hypotheses. Research has been conducted with discoveries made as to why the flora of the particular region is unique. Allison indicates that the uniqueness of the flora stems from a combination of factors such as unusual soil, geographic isolation, restriction to central Alabama, freedom from drastic climate change for many centuries, and being located within a rural setting in which human impact on the landscape has been relatively moderate. The celebrated eight new endemic taxa found during 1992 were the most distinctive elements of the flora: new taxa of rosinweed, blazingstar, prairie clover, indian-paintbrush, tickseed, marbleseed, daisy fleabane, and a pinkroot.

Dwarf horsenettle - Photo Courtesy of James AllisonGentian pinkroot - Photo Courtesy of Sarah O'SullivanAlong with the biological discoveries listed above, Allison's findings revealed at least seven other species that had never before been reported from the state of Alabama. Two of Allison's most interesting discoveries of strange flora were the dwarf horse-nettle and the pinkroot. The dwarf horse-nettle was presumed to be extinct, because its existence had not been confirmed anywhere since the 1830s. Even back in the 1830s, it was only seen twice in remote locations of Georgia, so this was truly a remarkable and historical find. The mysterious gentian pinkroot, another interesting discovery, might have been a common species early in the 19th century, but nearly disappeared between the years of 1937 and 1954, and is still on the verge of extinction. So Allison's discovery in 1992 was monumental.

Flower Power

Gentian pinkroot - Photo Courtesy of Sarah O'SullivanAlmost extinct, the gentian pinkroot was given the name Spigelia gentianoides because it has flowers that resemble those in the gentian family, with upward-pointed flowers and lobes that open only slightly (Plant Conservation). Gentian pinkroots are a species of the genus Spigelia, which is known for the production of numerous drugs and poisons. Below a family and above a species, a genus is a group of species exhibiting similar characteristics. Tim Gothard's (Alabama Wildlife Federation) research indicates that some Spigelia have been used for poisoning rats and fish, whereas others have been used in the lacing of poisoned darts, as well as being used to kill types of worms found in the bodies of human beings. Another species of the gentian pinkroot's family has been tagged as so poisonous that even touching the plant is dangerous, and yet another has been used to carry out executions. Gothard states that what we do know of the Spigelia genus, in fact, "stacks the deck" against the gentian pinkroot's chances of being different from its relatives. This is because Alvan Wintworth Chapman discovered the gentian pinkroot along the Apalachicola River in 1837, on his way to perform an amputation. With the majority of collections of this species dating from the 19th century, only two or three Florida localities today are known to support it. Therefore, it was designated as an endangered species in 1990. Prior to 1992, gentian pinkroot (Spigelia gentianoides) had been collected only from three counties in Florida, all of which were located in the Panhandle.

It has been more than 150 years since Chapman discovered gentian pinkroot along the Apalachicola River in Florida; however, surveys in Bibb County during 1992 and 1993 proved to be rather promising, as Allison and colleagues found gentian pinkroot at about 17 Ketona Glade locations close to the Little Cahaba River, with plant populations totaling several thousand. After observing populations of gentian pinkroot in Florida, Allison discovered that the Florida plants looked different; however, he did not reach a conclusion as to why this was the case. After systematic studies of Spigelia gentianoides (gentian pinkroot), it was determined in 1995 by Katherine Gould, then at the University of Texas, that the plants found in the Ketona Glades are, in fact, different from those located in Florida, and therefore merit taxonomic distinction.