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More plant species at risk of extinction

A radio anouncement caught my attention the other day.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it noted, is considering the placement of three flowers native to Tennessee and the southeast region on the Endangered Species list.
All had been considered candidates for such listing several times before. Now, the Service finds the species’ survival at such high risk that protection under the federal law may be necessary to conserve them.
The Short’s bladderpod, among them, is one of the early blooming, yellow spring flowers in the mustard family. Similar to the turnip flower but a North American native, it is found primarily in middle Tennessee.
Also in the mustard family is the Leavenworthia, one of Tennessee’s small glade-cress flowers.
Germinating in fall and its rosette collar of deeply lobed leaves green throughout winter, it sends up bunches of single, creamy flowers with yellow hearts, which shine on sunny days, before the winter winds have made their exit.
The Whorled sunflower is among our 20 helianthus species which, named after the mythical Greek god of the sun (Helios), keep their flower heads turned toward that body during the course of the day.
The conservation status of these of our wildflower species seems dire.
Of the bladderpod, for example, a 2012 survey established only 77 plants left at four sites in Tennessee and 52 additional individuals at seven sites in Kentucky and Indiana.
At less than half the places where it lived historically, it now is just barely hanging on.
Their endangerment has the usual, known causes: Chemical vegetation management in industrial farming, forestry, and road maintenance kills them. Road building and residential and industrial development relentlessly squeeze their habitat. Japanese honeysuckle, ground ivy and other, invasive non-native plants strangle, starve and crowd them out.
They are the latest of many Tennessee plants that could disappear before we know it.
The Natural Heritage Program’s list of those which have dwindled so much as to “require careful monitoring” at the least, or whose “continued existence … [is] in jeopardy,” contains 508 species.
Five years ago, the list numbered 487 species.
The great majority of the grasses and sedges, ferns, wildflowers, shrubs and trees on the list are designated as “imperiled or critically imperiled in the state.”
As shown in a recent article in the Johnson City Press, habitat destruction due to commercial development is continuing unabated in Tennessee.
The “Showdown on 81” piece noted that, with multi-million dollar public funding, developers are busy “grading and blasting” nearly 800 acres of “virgin farmland” along the interstate, between Johnson City and just north of Bristol.
Construction jobs and sales tax revenue, entertainment opportunities and gas-fueling and convenience shopping expansion are among hoped-for rewards for the public investment involved and the extensive loss of green land.
Where we already find ourselves in terms of endangerment of plants and loss of landscape beauty, one might view our commercial planners’ vision of “progress” as needing enlargement so as to include the natural as well as the human world.