Sweet home Ketona Glades

Gentian Pinkroot - Photo Courtesy of James Allison Spigelia gentianoides var. alabamensis, otherwise known as Alabama gentian pinkroot, is quite similar, although different enough to be considered a variety of the almost-extinct gentian pinkroot. Gentian pinkroot was thought to be restricted to growth in longleaf pine-wiregrass communities; however, Allison's discovery proves that is no longer the case because it also grows, and grows well, on the Ketona Dolomite outcrops in Bibb County, Alabama! With half a dozen lesser characteristics, the Alabama gentian pinkroot is known today only on the Ketona Dolomite outcrops in Bibb County, Alabama. The Alabama gentian pinkroot is well adapted to areas of the Ketona Glades that are exposed to full sun with extreme heat and drought, as well as to partial shade of glade-forest ecotones, or transitions between two adjacent ecological communities. According to research, alabamensis flowers more abundantly where it is shaded for only part of the day. Spigelia gentianoides var. alabamensis is a strikingly impressive, shin-high, pink flower with narrow and upwardly curved leaves. Clearly the Ketona Glade populations are a distinct taxon and not just a different type of growth in a different habitat. This was demonstrated when the plants were grown together for several years in a greenhouse at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. The half dozen small but consistent differences between the plants of Alabama's Bibb County Glades and the endangered plants of the Florida Panhandle continued to hold when the plants were grown in potting soil in the greenhouse.

Preserve the beauty

Sloping Glade - Photo Courtesy of James AllisonWhen you think of biodiversity, would Alabama be one of the first on your list, or perhaps one of the first places that pops into your mind? Alabama ranks 5th in the nation for biological diversity, being both beautiful and biologically rich. However, it is truly unfortunate that Alabama also ranked 1st in the continental United States for extinctions of plant and animal species. Alabama also ranks 4th in the nation for risk to its native species, with 15 percent of its species in danger of extinction. Truly a blessing is the fact that the glades of Bibb County are preserved by the Nature Conservancy, which holds in its protection 303 acres of land on the Cahaba River and focuses on saving the last great places on Earth. Also, on September 25, 2002, The Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect the 131 species of fish as well as to manage a unique section of the biologically significant Cahaba River, totaling 2,997 acres. The Nature Conservancy has been working with federal partners to protect all lands that are within the boundaries of the refuge. In 2003, a congressional appropriation of $3 million dollars was used to purchase 1,278 acres, which brought the total acres protected to 2,977 of the 3,800 acres planned for the refuge.

The Nature Conservancy currently considers this particular site to be the most diverse piece of land in the state of Alabama. Information obtained from the Nature Conservancy indicates that their strategies for preserving the site include the control of visitor use, restoration, prescribed burning, monitoring and taking inventory. Their protection goals for the site include completion of land acquisition at this site and partnerships with neighbors and landowners, as well as improved opportunities for compatible recreational and educational uses by improving access, parking, signage, trails and other facilities. The Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge has long range plans for preservation as well. These plans include developing and implementing environmental education and interpretation programs that focus on ecosystem management and helping everyone understand the truly amazing benefits of this treasure. With this being the case, the "botanical lost world," home to over 61 rare plant species and dozens of unique aquatic species, will remain a breathtaking site for many years to come.