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~Fire brings rare plants back to life~

St. Joe Buffer Preserve

From left to right: tropical waxweed, Florida skullcap and Chapman's Crownbeard.

ST. JOSEPH BAY – Significant discoveries at a Northwest Florida Buffer Preserve are creating excitement for scientists, staff and residents alike. Several new sites of five rare plants were recently discovered at St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve by Allix North, park service specialist. These plants appeared after a prescribed burn of conservation land this spring, which had no recorded previous burn history. The new plants are tropical waxweed (Cuphea aspera), Florida skullcap (Scutellaria floridana), Chapman’s Crownbeard (Verbesina chapmanii), bog tupelo (Nyssa ursina) and Telephus spurge (Euphorbia telephioides).

Tropical waxweed is considered imperiled and Florida skullcap is listed as endangered in Florida and threatened in the United States. Chapman’s Crownbeard is labeled as globally vulnerable. These plants are very rare and are part of more than 20 species of rare, protected plants that have been documented on the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve lands.

Prescribed burning takes place on Buffer Preserve lands to keep the natural communities of plants and animals healthy and help prevent destructive wildfires. The burn itself clears the forest floor of vegetation creating a clean slate for new growth, and at the same time releasing much needed nutrients back into the soil that is stored within the plants. The fire-dependent plants that thrive within the Buffer Preserve are able to recover quickly after a prescribed burn either through re-sprouting or the seed bank within the soil.

“The survey of the prescribed burn area brought about many new exciting plant sites. This survey process will continue monthly, for the next year, with the hope that more new sites will be discovered, and other rare or endangered plants will begin to grow and bloom,” said Park Service Specialist Allix North. “The opportunity to find new plants is fantastic and the idea that new life comes from fire is what makes natural plant communities wonderful."

The foresight to conserve the property by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been critical. As a coastal buffer of undeveloped land it protects the waters of the St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve keeping water quality high in an important seafood production area. It also conserves the historical cultural and pre-Columbian sites on the uplands. The area offers researchers remarkable opportunities, while allowing the public sustainable recreational access.

First Fridays at the Buffer Preserve offer tram tours which introduce the flora and fauna of the Buffer Preserve. You can click HERE to make a reservation.