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Flower Power: Collaboration Keeps Rare Plant off the Endangered Species List

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Georgia asterFifteen years ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) acknowledged that a rare plant called the Georgia aster (Symphyotrichum georgianum) deserved and needed protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Unfortunately, a lot of other species also needed protection—some of them much more urgently. As such, the Georgia aster was determined to be a lower-priority species and it never got the protection it needed.

But now that’s changed, although not in the usual method. Under a plan announced last week the Georgia aster will finally be protected, but not under the ESA. Instead, several federal and state agencies and a number of private landowners have entered into a collaborative conservation agreement that will take actions to both protect the plant’s habitat and increase its population. Signatories to the conservation plan include the FWS, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, Clemson University, Georgia Power, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation department in North Carolina.

Many of the partners in this agreement were already working to preserve the Georgia aster, says Gary Peeples, education and outreach specialist for the FWS in North Carolina. “It wasn’t much of a challenge to go to the extra effort,” he says. “Signing on to the agreement to take a few additional measures wasn’t that big of a leap for them.”

Protecting the Georgia aster requires preservation of open land because the bright purple flower only thrives when it gets enough direct sun. Natural forest fires and grazing animals used to help the plants get that sunlight by keeping the populations of woody shade plants in check. Human development and fire-suppression techniques used over the past several decades eliminated that part of the equation and the asters suffered and died out in most of their locations. Today the plant only exists at 118 sites in Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas.

The agreement will help the plant at some of those sites. For example, many of the aster’s remaining habitats are around utility rights-of-way, where work crews routinely mow wild grasses to ensure easy access and cut back vegetation that could damage power lines. Under the agreement, Georgia Power will avoid mowing these areas from late spring until mid-fall, when the aster is both at its tallest and most likely to be reproducing. Aster populations will also be marked so no one accidentally damages them; herbicide use will be avoided.

The agreement not only helps the Georgia aster but also serves landowner interests by keeping the plant off the endangered species list. “Once it goes on that list, regulatory protections stemming from the act kick in,” Peeples says. The ESA typically identifies critical habitat for species in need, which would affect how federal agencies act in that habitat. If the list were invoked, private landowners would be forbidden from harming or killing endangered species on their properties. The agencies and landowners in this case wanted to avoid that happening yet still preserve the asters. A similar agreement was made last year to protect the Yadkin River goldenrod (Solidago plumosa), an even rarer plant that only exists in an eight-to-10-meter range on property owned by Alcoa Power Generating.

Peeples said the conservation agreement is a good alternative to protecting the Georgia aster under the ESA while accomplishing the same goals. “When you get down to it,” he says, “this type of stuff—people coming together and agreeing to do, what needs to be done—is where endangered species conservation happens.”

Photo by Michele Elmore/The Nature Conservancy, courtesy of FWS

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. SJCrum 6:12 pm 05/20/2014

    For a little help with the Georgia aster described, the reason it is endangered is because it is purple, and bees simply do not “see” it to pollenate it.
    The solution is then to accomplish it in a non-bee type of method. Okay, so I made up a word thing there. Duh-uh to me.
    To accomplish that, just take a sprayer of some type that can spray pollen dust and apply the dust when the flowers are in their early blossoming period.

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  2. 2. Alaa07 10:53 pm 05/20/2014

    Bees have a photoreceptor peaking at 430 nm. They can see purple.

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  3. 3. GSChandy 11:28 pm 05/20/2014

    ALL species, except I guess human beings (and perhaps cockroaches and other pests) should be on an ‘endangered list’.


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  4. 4. SJCrum 5:31 pm 05/21/2014

    To Alaa07 – With reference to your comment about bees being able to see purple, unfortunately, that is not true as far as real science. Proof of this is found by a simple test that will totally confirm it.
    What you are thinking you see by the photoreceptor rating that you mentioned isn’t true at all, and the real science is something else.
    As for the true science, testing bees to find out if they can see purple is tremendously easy to accomplish. To do that, all that is needed is a splotch of purple made on a simple piece of paper and then stir in a sugar type of sweetener. And then bring in the bees. Not a one of them will ever land on the sweetened purple, and if you try it with any other color they will find it EVERY SINGLE TIME.
    As for what you are assuming is a photoreceptor, it doesn’t even have a lens in it, and is therefore impossible for it to serve as a device that accomplishes seeing in any way. As a matter of fact, they cannot even see the sweetened pile at all.
    So, how do they “see” it?
    The light that shines on the pile is “seen” by them as a total mass of diffused light and the only thing they are conscious of is that the pile is an edible type. To accomplish this, they have the twin types of front legs that enables them to have the sweetened mass stick to the right leg, and after that is accomplished, they lick the end of the leg to “see” if it matches the pollen that is their standard diet.
    If it doesn’t match that leg, the bee then licks its other front leg end, and then finds out whether there is a match for that leg also. This leg is the one that has the honey taste on it.
    So, with all that as far as seeing, or not, then why is the purple color totally not “seen” by them? It is because the color of purple has a type of interference that is not associated with normal flowers that all have pollen in them. All purple flower types have a very harmful type of pollen for bees, and those flowers need to be pollenated in another way. In a nut shell, purple flower pollen cannot be made into the golden color of honey.
    So, why do purple flowers even exist in the creation that God made? They are for the purpose of providing something else for another type of life form. And, that is the only type that “likes” purple, the North American fruit fly. With them, they have the same type of thing with their feet, but they have a type of pollen that is “seen” by their feet as something that is helpful for their digestive systems.
    So, what does a fruit fly need? And, which obviously isn’t like bees? In a nut shell again to keep it simple, they all absorb their needed food type from fruit, and the purple flowers are a type of fruit for them.

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  5. 5. SJCrum 6:15 pm 05/21/2014

    To Alaa07 – Just so no one gets their bloomers all twisted into a knot, there is a science item that needs to be described also. And, this is why bees cannot see purple, while I previously described the true science that the only color they could see was blue.
    The situation is that the color spectrum goes from red at the bottom valley of the light spectrum through orange, yellow, green, blue ,and then finally purple at the very top at the end. The situation then is why do they see only blue and none of the ones between red and green, and also the one beyond blue – purple?
    The color purple, for one thing, is that purple is actually the very same thing as blue, but it has a certain thing occurring that causes that blue to be seen with a red tint that creates purple. What causes the red tint is that blue and red in the spectrum have exactly the same angle of light that creates the colors. But, blue has the exact opposite polarity from red. So, the purple at the top of the light wave is only seen as purple, and slightly redish to make the color, because of a polarity change that is made in that wave location.
    This science is kind of fun, because in the color spectrum, the colors from red to blue get darker, and then for purple, it gets a little lighter. Purple is lighter than very dark blue.
    By the way also, other than just this oddity, all of the colors from red to yellow have their same polarity that causes their colors. On the top half, from yellow to blue, their polarity is opposite.
    So, the oddity of this is truly interesting as to why that single purple color has the wrong polarity.
    As for why that exists is because the light wave of color pulses between red and yellow are pulsed with a polarity that is created by an electron pulsing energy outward in a straight line pulse, and those pulses have the energy in them that is totally positive and far as an electrical charge. The other half, except for purple, gets pulsed outward with a negative electrical charge. Purple then gets pulsed outward with a mixed charge that is halfway between the two charges. So, how can a pulse have the two opposites, and not then be neutral, or no charge?
    The answer is that the red pulse that causes the reddish part of the mix for purple follows close behind the blue other pulse that precedes it. In the end, the two are seen oddly in that top location as the reddish blue purple.
    So, even though this is science, that is totally beyond top level science in this world, the end thing is what causes the odd two pulses at the top? All of the other pulses are caused by an electron spinning, and as it continually pulses in each half spin, it pulses all of the light colors equally, making the colors from red to blue. In the top purple location the electron pulses twice, and with the two opposite charges. This is caused by a time leap that is balanced so that the two charges closely travel together, and for the purpose of having them seen as proof that time shift science factually exists as real science fact.
    As for bees being able to see purple, they actually “see” the blue part of it, but not the red part. So, technically, the previous blue being “seen” is still totally dead-on right.
    So, (hee, hee), they see purple, but they actually don’t. Darn this is fun.

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  6. 6. hkraznodar 5:38 pm 05/30/2014

    SJCrum, I am going to write children’s stories based on your posts. You see, there will be a loon (a type of bird) that will wander about saying the most silly things that are clearly not true and every time when proven wrong will proclaim that the empirical evidence “isn’t true science”. On the rare occasions where the loon addresses the actual evidence it will respond with some lame anecdote that isn’t even vaguely accurate.

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