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Plant Conservation Work in Tennessee

During the month of October, as part of my post-baccalaureate fellowship funded by the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, I have been involved in plant conservation work throughout the state of Tennessee. This work is part of the Sewanee Herbarium's connection to the Tennessee Plant Conservation Alliance (TNPCA), a coalition of institutions dedicated to conserving Tennessee's native plants and their habitats.

My first project was located in the Cherokee National Forest, where I assisted Dr. Mark Pistrang, an botanist with the U.S. Forest Service with a survey of the only known population of Agalinis plukenetti in Tennessee. Agalinis plukenetti is also known as the Chatahoochee false foxglove and is a state listed endangered species.

I conducted a demographic assessment of the Agalinis population and assisted Dr. Pistrang in identifying other plants species found in the same habitat. Seeds collected from the site this year will be used to expand the population next year.

My second project focused on the white fringeless orchid, Platanthera integrilabia, which was recently listed as a threatened plant species under the Endangered Species Act. This project was headed by Adam Dattilo, a botanist for the Tennessee Valley Authority, and Geoff Call with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Also involved in the project were: Rebecca Byrd with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Dr. Jennifer Boyd from University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC) and Paul Stockton, James Douglas and Richard Underwood from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA).

We met at an old decommissioned, power line site on the Cumberland Plateau from which about 50 P. integrilabia plants had been collected the previous year. This year when they revisited the site, they found additional 44 flowering individuals that hadn’t been collected. Our job was to dig up and then transplant these 44 individuals to a site owned by TWRA. Transplanting is necessary in this case because hardwoods can quickly recolonized the power line site and outcompete the P. integrilabia for light.

After carefully replanting and watering each plant in the new site, all transplants were tagged and GIS was used to make a map of the site. These were the first 44 of about 500 individuals that will eventually be planted at this location. As for future plants, Dr. Jennifer Boyd has around 100 plants that she has been growing in the greenhouse at UTC and Rebecca Byrd has about 400 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

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