Florida Keys plants move closer to being Endangered Species.
In accordance with a landmark settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that four increasingly rare plants in Florida may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. The Big Pine partridge pea, wedge spurge, sand flax and Blodgett’s silverbush have all lost significant pine rocklands habitat due to urban and agricultural development and are now threatened by sea-level rise.
“It’s amazing these four plants have survived the development that’s destroyed nearly all pine rocklands habitat,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Endangered Species Act protection will help reverse their decline and highlight the importance of this unique habitat.”
The four plants have been candidates for listing since 1980. Characterized by limestone rock outcroppings, a low understory of tropical shrubs, palms, vines, grasses and wildflowers, and an overstory of slash pine, pine rocklands have been reduced to less than 2 percent of their former extent. The highly specialized habitat is also home to several endangered species. Pine rocklands and the four plants require periodic fire, making unchecked development particularly problematic.
The Service estimates that 3- to 6-foot sea-level rise in South Florida by 2100 is possible. The plants all occur at elevations from 9 feet to 13 feet, making them highly susceptible to the rising waters.
The decision is part of a historic settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity that expedites decisions on protection for 757 species around the country and has to date resulted in endangered species protections for more than 140 species.
Big Pine partridge pea: The Big Pine partridge pea is a small shrub with five-petal, yellow flowers and pea-shaped fruit. It is found only in the pine rocklands of the lower Florida Keys, historically Big Pine Key, No Name Key, Ramrod Key, Cudjoe Key and Sugarloaf Key. The plant is now only found on Big Pine Key and Cudjoe Key.
Wedge spurge: The wedge spurge is a small, perennial herb with slender stems and a silvery appearance. It occurs in pine rocklands and roadsides on Big Pine Key, where its population is declining.
Sand flax: The sand flax is a small, perennial herb with yellow, buttercup-looking flowers. It is found in pine rocklands in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties, and its populations are declining.
Blodgett’s silverbush: The Blodgett’s silverbush is a woody shrub with small, green flowers. It grows in the pine rocklands of Monroe and Miami-Dade counties, but has become increasingly rare.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.