Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the removal of the Tennessee coneflower from its List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants, marking an extraordinary recovery from the brink of extinction. The announcement is a cause for celebration at The Nature Conservancy, which played a major role in the flower’s comeback.
“This is a true conservation success story,” said Gina Hancock, State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee. “And a great day for Tennessee.
“In the 1980s, we began a two-decade campaign to purchase key cedar glades to protect the Tennessee coneflower and other rare flowering plants. We saved three key sites for the coneflower. With the help of our generous donors and our partners at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, those coneflower populations and three others are healthy and thriving today. The coneflower’s recovery could not have happened without this public-private partnership.”
Beginning in 1984, the Conservancy purchased 950 acres of cedar glades in Middle Tennessee, including land at three key sites for the Tennessee coneflower: Couchville Cedar Glade, Vesta Cedar Glade and Mount View Cedar Glade. The cedar glades are located in Davidson and Wilson counties.
Mount View Cedar Glade was where the Tennessee coneflower story began in earnest. In 1968, Vanderbilt biology professor Elsie Quarterman and graduate student Barbara Turner accidentally discovered the fuschia-colored coneflowers at Mount View Road. The plant had been thought extinct until the rediscovery. In time, three other coneflower sites were discovered in Davidson and Wilson counties. Two other cedar glade sites were later used to introduce new populations of Tennessee coneflower. In 1979, the Tennessee coneflower became one of the first plants to be recorded on the Endangered Species List.
Quarterman subsequently became a trustee of the Tennesee Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and urged the protection of the cedar glade habitats where the Tennessee coneflower and other rare plants have adapted to live in harsh, stony conditions. The Nature Conservancy purchased property in six cedar glades overall and transferred the properties to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to own and manage. Today all of the properties are protected State Natural Areas, managed by the state’s Division of Natural Areas.
“These days when there is precious little to celebrate, the success of the Conservancy program to save the Tennessee coneflower from extinction makes me so very happy and grateful to all the people who made it happen,” said Anne Roos, former board of trustees chair for The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee during the days of the cedar glade land purchases.
“I remember so well the barren, dry, rocky landscape that looked like nothing would ever grow there except a few cedar trees, when we were led out by botanists in the earliest days of The Nature Conservancy's presence in Nashville. They introduced us to the wealth of wildflowers that bloomed in this inhospitable place all spring. Residential development encroached from every side and as Nashville grew, these flat places looked promising as commercial sites as well.
“We held picnics and hikes when the coneflowers were in bloom to raise awareness and money to protect this treasure that lay virtually out of sight. Congratulations to the Conservancy for a job well done!”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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