Thursday, July 18, 2013
Plants get the short stick when it comes to conservation. Just this week, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced it’s dissolving the Native Plant Conservation Initiative (NCPI) grant program, which began in 1995 and provided about $400,000 per year for projects related to conservation and restoration of native plants and their ecosystems. Although the vast majority of federally-listed threatened and endangered species defined under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are plants, less than 2% of federal biological research dollars under ESA go to plant research. Oh yes, the human animal likes to spend money on biological entities with brown eyes and soft fur. Cute.
The SWEPCO power line superhighway proposal and application follows this human tradition of treating plants and their habitats as a single green entity that is just in the way. Yes, there was a tiny pitiful effort to determine in the proposed routes what important genetic material might be there. So what?
In regard to the need to protect rainforests, the mantra “they may contain the next cure for cancer or AIDS” is heard. Yes, tropical rainforests have more than 10 times the biological diversity of our temperate forest. But what do we have in Arkansas that might be worth raising an eyebrow?
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) is found in every county in Arkansas except extreme Northwest Arkansas. Last year researchers discovered the alkaloid reserpine in the leaves. Reserpine is used worldwide as a hypotensive and antipsychotic drug, although little prescribed in the U.S.
First described in 1990 Stern’s medlar (Mespilus canescens) is the first species in the genus described outside of Europe. It is closely related to Mespilus germanica (previously the only known species in the genus), source of the European fruit known as medlar. Only 25 plants are known in Prairie County, Arkansas, and it was considered one the rarest trees in the world.
Recent genetic evidence suggests it is a hybrid between the European medlar and the blueberry hawthorn (Crataegus brachyacantha). As it turns out, in the early 20th century immigrants from near the Czech/Austrian border settled in Arkansas’s Grand Prairie. The nearest town to the Stern’s medlar population is the unincorporated community of Slovak, Arkansas. The nearest cemetery in Prairie County? Czech National Cemetery.
What was once one of the world’s rarest tree species is now theoretically relegated to mere hybrid status. But we wouldn’t have known any of that had the population been destroyed by bulldozers. Oh those humans – dreaming of Mars travel while thinking like Neanderthals.
I’m grateful to be from another planet.
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