The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) has a long-standing partnership with the Arkansas Native Plant Society (ANPS), a non-profit organization devoted to “the preservation, conservation, study, and enjoyment of the native plants of Arkansas”. ANHC staff members often lead field trips for the ANPS on Natural Areas throughout the state and ANPS members often provide ANHC staff with important information related to the state’s flora.
The fall meeting of the ANPS was held in Texarkana in early October, with field trips to Miller County Sandhills Natural Area, White Cliffs Natural Area, Millwood State Park, and The Nature Conservancy’s Prairie Ridge at Terre Noire Preserve. Participants in these field trips encountered a number of rare plant species including several that were not previously known from the areas, providing valuable data to the ANHC.
New sites for two rare orchid species were discovered on the field trips. The trip to Millwood State Park, led by Jennifer Ogle of the University of Arkansas Herbarium and Eric Sundell, professor of biology emeritus, University of Arkansas at Monticello, turned up a new population of fragrant ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes odorata), growing in a wetland among some cypress trees. This impressively fragrant species, which has a very strong and sweet vanilla-like scent, is known from scattered populations in the low-lying parts of the state, where it is one of the latest wildflowers to bloom in the fall.
The trip to White Cliffs, led by ANHC botanist Brent Baker and Virginia McDaniel with the U.S. Forest Service, found a new location for Great Plains ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum), which was found new-to-Arkansas several years ago at Terre Noire Natural Area , and was not previously known from White Cliffs or Little River County. A second new site was found the next day, on Brent’s trip to Prairie Ridge at Terre Noire Preserve in Clark County.
Two other trips were made to Miller County Sandhills, led by ANPS members Joe Stuckey and Meredith York and ANHC Botanist Theo Witsell. Highlights of these trips included the discovery of two rare species new to the natural area. One species found by the group was Long’s star-grass (Hypoxis longii). This unusual and poorly-known species is characterized by its cleistogamous flowers (flowers that don’t open but are fertilized internally without the aid of a pollinator) which emerge right at the base of the plants. These were found, with mature fruit emerging on stalks from the bare ground, in an area that was burned in a prescribed fire a week earlier.
Near the Long’s star grass, Theo discovered a small population of pitchfork crowngrass (Paspalum bifidum), a rare grass of sandy woods that had not been documented from Arkansas since 1966 and was not previously known from Miller County. These finds, plus the recent discovery of giant ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes praecox) from the site by Meredith York, bring the total number of rare plant species at Miller County Sandhills to 40, the highest of any area in the System of Natural Areas.