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Endangered and Threatened Plants of Alabama

Lawrence J. Davenport, Samford UniversityChris Oberholster, The Nature ConservancyBrian R. Keener, University of West Alabama
Pitcher Plant Flowers
The state of Alabama is much celebrated for its biodiversity, ranking fourth in the United States (after Hawaii, Florida and California) in total number of species. Most of its very rare plants and animals are protected from human impact by federal law, specifically the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). Alabama currently has 23 plant species protected under the ESA. (The official number of listed protected species varies depending upon additions and subtractions by federal authorities, and the status of a species may change based on new information that is gathered about its rarity.) Some species are endemic to Alabama, meaning they are only found in the state and nowhere else. The list of protected species is overseen by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A species is declared "endangered" when it faces likely or imminent extinction. It is listed as "threatened" when extinction is likely if negative changes predicted to affect a large part of its range are not prevented. A species is declared a "candidate" for listing when it is being studied regarding its likelihood of being or becoming endangered or threatened. Of the 23 plant species currently listed for Alabama, 14 are endangered and nine are threatened; no species are presently listed as candidates. Federal listings of endangered and threatened plants include the common and scientific name, date of listing (and scientific name at time of listing, if different), a brief description of the plant, and a summary of its distribution in Alabama.
Conservation of these species is dependent upon public education and awareness. Efforts by federal, state and local agencies have made Alabama's citizens—and particularly farmers and foresters—better aware of the potential presence of these species, their rarity, and the need for their protection.
Endangered Species
Alabama Canebrake Pitcher Plant (species identification is debated)
This is a subspecies (variant form) of the canebrake pitcher plant (Sarracenia alabamensis) in the pitcher plant family (Sarraceniaceae). It inhabits open boggy areas of the upper Coastal Plain, and, like many other plants growing in such nutrient-poor environments, it is carnivorous, catching insects in its tubular leaves and digesting them in the enzyme-filled fluid at the base of the pitcher. Its flowers are maroon, drooping from two-foot stalks from April to June. Endemic to central Alabama, it is found in Autauga, Chilton, and Elmore Counties. It was listed in March 1989 as Sarracenia rubra ssp. alabamensis but was renamed after further study.
Alabama Leather-Flower (Clematis socialis)
This sprawling herb in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) grows up to one foot high in full sunlight in wet, silt-clay areas bordering creeks and bottomland woods. It produces blue, inch-long, bell-shaped flowers in April and May. Known only from Georgia and Alabama, it is found here in Cherokee, Etowah, and St. Clair Counties. It was listed in September 1986.
American Chaffseed (Schwalbea americana)
This species in the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae) is a hemi-parasite, meaning that it is dependent on a variety of host plants for part of its nutritional requirements. It prefers open, moist savannas and is adapted to surviving frequent fires during dry periods. Large, tubular, purplish-yellow flowers are produced from April to June. This species is found from New Jersey south to Florida and Alabama; in Alabama, it has been recorded in Baldwin, Bullock, Geneva, and Mobile Counties. It was listed in September 1992.
Fleshy-Fruit Gladecress (Leavenworthia crassa)
This Alabama endemic—a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae)— is only known from Lawrence and Morgan Counties. It grows in wet cedar glades (ecosystems with thin soils over near-surface or exposed bedrock), in low pastures and fields, and at roadsides. Yellow to white flowers with four cross-like petals appear during March and April, with round-to-oblong fruits appearing soon after. It was listed in August 2014.
Gentian Pinkroot (Spigelia gentianoides)
Gentian pinkroots grow in pine-dominated forests of the Florida Panhandle and adjacent southernmost Alabama, where it is found in Geneva County. In these dry and highly fragmented habitats, the plant produces tubular white flowers whose five pointed lobes are tinged with pink. It was listed in November 1990.
Green Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia oreophila)
Green Pitcher Plant
Unlike the Alabama Pitcher Plant, this species grows along wet streambanks or near seeps (wet areas or pools created by groundwater discharge) in upland areas of Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. Both its drooping flowers and erect, tubular leaves are green. In Alabama, it is found in Cherokee, DeKalb, Elmore, Etowah, Jackson, and Marshall Counties. It was listed in October 1979.
Harperella (Ptilimnium nodosum)
This small herbaceous species in the carrot family (Apiaceae) is restricted to rocky creek banks and shoals of Alabama, North Carolina, and West Virginia. Clusters (called umbels) of small, inconspicuous white flowers appear in June and July; following seed formation, the plants die back to the ground. In Alabama, this species is found in Cherokee, Cullman, DeKalb, Tuscaloosa, and Walker Counties. Its common name honors Roland Harper, long-time botanist for the Geological Survey of Alabama. It was listed in October 1988 as Ptilimnium nodosum.
Leafy Prairie Clover (Dalea foliosa)
Leafy Prairie Clover
This species in the legume family (Fabaceae) grows in open, cedar glade habitats in Illinois, Tennessee, and Alabama. One- to two-feet tall, its small purple flowers appear from July to August. The plant's pinnately compound leaves are composed of 20 to 30 leaflets. In Alabama, it is found only in Colbert, Franklin, Jefferson, Lawrence and Morgan Counties. It was listed in May 1991.
Louisiana Quillwort (Isoetes louisianensis)
This inconspicuous, non-flowering aquatic plant is a member of the quillwort family (Isoetaceae) and is native to Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Its slender, quill-like leaves grow up to 16 inches long. In Alabama, it occurs on sand bars of small streams in Conecuh, Covington, Mobile, Monroe, and Washington Counties. It was listed in October 1992.
Morefield's Leather-Flower (Clematis morefieldii)
This vine grows near seeps on limestone slopes under mixed hardwoods, especially on rocky south-facing areas. Covered with dense white hairs, the vines produce pink, one-inch-long, urn-shaped blooms from late May through July. This species was once thought to be endemic to Alabama, restricted to Jackson and Madison Counties, but it has also been found in the Cumberland Plateau region of neighboring Tennessee. It was listed in May 1992.
Pondberry (Lindera melissifolia)
This spring-flowering shrub is a member of the laurel family (Lauraceae) and grows in low woods of the Coastal Plain of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, and South Carolina, especially around depressions, sinks, and pond margins. Reaching three to four feet high, its twigs and drooping, ovate, two-inch long leaves are sweetly aromatic. In Alabama, this species is known from Covington and Wilcox Counties. It was listed in July 1986.
Relict Trillium (Trillium reliquum)
Typical of members of the trillium family (Trilliaceae), this species grows best in moist, shady hardwood forests. It grows to just under one foot tall, and in early spring, its three waxy, blotchy leaves bear a single flower directly on top of their juncture. Flower color ranges from greenish brown to purple or yellow. This species was first described in 1975 by John D. Freeman of Auburn University; he named it "Relict" because it once occurred much more broadly in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. (Its habitat losses have resulted from the conversion of native forests to pine plantations and agriculture.) In Alabama, it remains in Bullock, Henry, and Lee Counties. It was listed in April 1988.
Tennessee Yellow-Eyed Grass (Xyris tennesseensis)
This species in the yellow-eyed grass family (Xyridaceae) is found in open, wet seepage areas called fens and on stream banks in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. Although not a true grass, it has a grass-like appearance, with slender twisted leaves up to 18 inches long. Small, pale yellow flowers pop out from oval heads of brown scales in August and September. This species has been found in Bibb, Calhoun, Franklin, and Shelby Counties in Alabama. It was listed in July 1991.
Whorled Sunflower (Helianthus verticillatus)
This member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) occurs in scattered locations in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, generally on wet prairies. It can grow six to eight feet tall, with three to six leaves (forming a whorl, or verticil) at each node. In Alabama, it is known from Cherokee County. It was listed in August 2014.
Threatened Species
Alabama Streak-Sorus Fern (Thelypteris burksiorum)
This species is a member of the marsh fern family (Thelypteridaceae) and requires cool, shady conditions. It is found commonly in protected coves, where it grows on overhangs and cliff faces. Its evergreen, deeply scalloped leaves grow four to eight inches long. It is known only from Winston County and is named in honor of long-time conservationist Mary Ivy Burks. It was listed in July 1992 as Thelypteris pilosa var. alabamensis.
American Hart's Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum)
This fern variety is a type of spleenwort (Aspleniaceae) and is found at cave entrances and near limestone sinks (where underlying limestone has broken down, forming a sink hole) that provide the high humidity and deep shade necessary for its growth. This fern is found in scattered locations throughout North America, from Ontario, Canada, New York, and Michigan south to Tennessee, Alabama, and Mexico. In Alabama, it is known only from Jackson and Morgan Counties. It was listed in July 1989.
Georgia Rockcress (Arabis georgiana)
This member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae) grows on cedar glades and limestone bluffs in Alabama and Georgia. Its white, cruciform flowers produce narrow, erect fruits. In Alabama, it is known from Bibb, Dallas, Elmore, Lee, Monroe, Pickens, and Wilcox Counties. It was listed in October 2014.
Granite Pool Sprite (Amphianthus pusillus)
Granite Pool Sprite
This small (one-half inch across), aquatic, annual plant of the plantain family (Plantaginaceae) grows only in temporary, shallow pools on granite outcrops in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. In Alabama, it is known from Chambers, Randolph, and Tallapoosa Counties along or near the Georgia border. Its tiny white flowers appear between pairs of floating leaves in late winter or early spring, producing seeds that remain dormant in the dry pool bottoms until the following wet season. It was listed in February 1988 as Amphianthus pusillus but was renamed after further study.
Kral's Water Plantain (Sagittaria secundifolia)
Kral's Water Plantain
This aquatic plant of the water plantain family (Alismataceae) grows in rocky creek beds, either on or below the water's surface. Individual plants, connected by rhizomes buried in the substrate, produce pointed, linear leaves up to one foot long. Endemic to Alabama, this species is known from Cherokee (Little River), Coosa (Hatchet Creek), DeKalb (Little River), and Winston (Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River) Counties. It was listed in April 1990.
Lyrate Bladderpod (Lesquerella lyrata)
This species is endemic to Alabama and occurs on the exposed, shallow soils of cedar glades. An annual plant in the mustard family (Brassicaceae), it grows only four to 12 inches high. Small yellows flowers appear in March and April and produce seeds that remain dormant until the following spring. It is found only in Colbert, Franklin, and Lawrence Counties. It was listed in September 1990.
Mohr's Barbara's Buttons (Marshallia mohrii)
This species in the sunflower family (Asteraceae) grows in wet, open areas of woodlands and along streams and roadsides of the southern Appalachians in Georgia and Alabama. Two feet tall, it produces heads of small, pink flowers during May and June. Found in Alabama in Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Cullman, Etowah, and Walker Counties, it was named in honor of Mobile pharmacist and botanist Charles Mohr. It was listed in September 1988.
Price's Potato-Bean (Apios priceana)
A member of the legume family (Fabaceae), this climbing, yellow-green vine grows from a potato-like tuber that was used by Native Americans and early settlers for food. It prefers forest openings in mixed hardwood stands, especially in valleys that slope down toward creek bottoms. The vines, which may reach 15 feet in length, produce pale pink or yellow-green flowers during July and August; the resulting fruits or pods are four to six inches long. Price's Potato-Bean is currently known from Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. In Alabama, it occurs in Autauga, Butler, Dallas, Jackson, Lawrence, Lowndes, Madison, Marshall, Monroe, and Wilcox Counties. It was listed in January 1990.
White Fringeless Orchid (Platanthera integrilabia)
This member of the orchid family (Orchidaceae) is found on seepage slopes and in wet woods and sphagnum bogs of the southeastern States (excluding Florida). Its bright white flowers are sweet-scented at night, suggesting that it is pollinated by nocturnal animals. In Alabama, it is known from Calhoun, Clay, Marion, and Tuscaloosa Counties. It was listed in October 2016.

Additional Resources

Kral, Robert, et. al. Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Alabama. Forth Worth, Texas: BRIT Press, 2011.
Published:  March 23, 2012   |   Last updated:  February 2, 2018