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Sunday, March 6, 2011

North Carolina's Golden Sedge Plant Receives Critical Habitat Protection: Centre for Biological Diversity

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected 202 acres of critical habitat in Onslow and Pender counties, N.C., today for the endangered Golden Sedge (Carex lutea). This final habitat designation is the result of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2007. Critical habitat is essential to the recovery of this highly localized, rare plant, which grows only on North Carolina’s coastal plain.

“This critical habitat designation is a lifeline for the golden sedge,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist with the Center. “Saving habitat for this rare and delicate species will make all the difference in saving it from extinction.”
Only eight populations of golden sedge are currently known, limited to an area within a two-mile radius of the Onslow/Pender County line in southeastern North Carolina. Threats to the plant’s existence include fire suppression; habitat alteration such as land conversion for residential, commercial or industrial development, mining, drainage for silviculture and agriculture, and highway expansion; and herbicide use along utility and highway rights-of-way.

Image : Golden sedge from Indian Habitat

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are prohibited from permitting, funding or carrying out projects that will damage critical habitat. By identifying areas essential to the survival and recovery of species, critical habitat also provides a road map for landowners and municipalities to use to avoid siting projects that harm endangered species. Critical habitat is a highly effective tool for helping rare species to survive; a study by the Center has shown that plants and animals with federally designated critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering than those without it. 

“Critical habitat is an essential tool for recovering endangered species, and we’re elated that this lovely North Carolina sedge and the places it grows are now fully protected,” said Curry.Let us see the plant species through another source-

The golden sedge was first described in 1991. It is a yellowish green, grass-like plant whose female flowers’ fertile spikes are bright yellow in color, giving the species its common name. It is only known to grow in sandy soils overlying coquina limestone deposits and in areas that have recently burned or been mown and are wet enough to prevent shrub establishment. 

Plant Description:
Golden sedge, is  a perennial herb, growing to approximately 1 meter or more in height is endemic to restricted locations in coastal southeastern North Carolina. The grass like leaves are yellowish green in color, mostly basal growing up to 28 cm in height while vegetative leaves may reach 65 cm in length. Fertile stems produce two to four flowering spikes; the terminal spike being male and the one to three (2) lateral spikes being female. The lateral flowering spikes are subtended by leaflike bracts. The terminal male spike is approximately 2 to 4 cm in length and 1.5 to 2.5 mm in width with a peduncle (stalk) approximately 1 to 6 cm in length. The female spikes are round to elliptic, approximately 1 to 1.5 cm in length by 1 cm in width. The upper female spike is sessile while the lower female spikes, if present, have peduncles approximately 0.5 to 4.5 cm in length. When two to three female spikes are present, each is separated from the next, along the culm, by a distance of 4.5 to 18 cm. The perigynia (sac which encloses the ovary) are inflated, bright yellow in color at flowering and approximately 4 to 5 mm in length. The perigynia beaks (point) are out-curved and spreading, with the lowermost in a strongly reflexed (turned downward) spike. Golden sedge is most readily identified from mid-April to mid-June during flowering and during its fruiting period. It is distinguished from other Carex species that occur in the same habitat by its bright yellow coloration (particularly the pistillate (female) spikes), by its height and slenderness, and especially by the out-curved beaks of the crowded perigynia, the lowermost of which are reflexed (Federal Register 1999). 

Golden sedge inhabits wet savannahs with sandy soils underlain by coquina limestone. This somewhat open, calcareous habitat is highly unusual on the Atlantic Coastal Plain (Weakley, 2002). Soils supporting the species are very wet to periodically shallowly inundated. Golden sedge prefers the ecotone (narrow transition zone between two diverse ecological communities) between the pine savanna and adjacent wet hardwood or hardwood/conifer forest (Federal Register 1999). Common associated plants may include other rare plants such as Cooley's meadowrue (Thalictrum cooleyi), pineland plantain (Plantago sparsiflora), and Thorne's beakrush (Rhynchospora thornei). Golden sedge occurs mostly in the somewhat shaded ecotone between savannah and swamp (Weakley 2002). Most golden sedge plants occur in the partially shaded savanna/swamp where occasional to frequent fires create an herbaceous ground layer and suppress shrub growth. Other associate plant species may include yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens), red maple (Acer rubrum var. trilobum), wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), colic root (Aletris farinosa), and several species of beakrush (Rhynchospora spp.). All extant golden sedge populations are in the northeast Cape Fear River watershed in Pender and Onslow counties, North Carolina (Federal Register, 1999). Richard LeBlond discovered the species in southeastern coastal North Carolina (LeBlond 2003). 

The species is probably highly localized as it is found in an unusual habitat. There are 6 populations known in the world, all in Onslow and Pender counties, North Carolina (NatureServe 2003). The Federal Register document (linked below) contains additional information on golden sedge and its status.
  • Federal Register, 1999. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Endangered Status for Carex lutea (Golden Sedge). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Accessed November 30, 2003.
  • LeBlond, R. 2003. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Training Conference. Personal Communication from Mr. Richard LeBlond to Mr. James Henderson, Gulf South Research Corporation, May 2003).
  • NatureServe. 2003. Internet resource.Natureserve  USDA, NRCS. 2002. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5. Internet Resource USDA Plant Database  National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
  • Weakley, A.S. July 2002. Flora of the Carolinas and Virginia, Working Draft. Internet Resource.Flora of Carolinnas and Virginia

Key Words: Golden sedge, North Carolina, Virginia, Indian, range, habitat

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