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Short's goldenrod is a perennial plant known for its bright yellow flowers. The plant stands as tall as 2 feet with narrow leaves alternately arranged on the stalk. The longer leaves (up to 4 inches long) are found near the middle of the stem. Look for them in the middle of August to early November when the flowers are in bloom.
Short’s goldenrod prefers habitats near riverbanks, cedar glades and dry, open pastures. Although the plants prefer locations where full sunlight is available, they can also persist in the shady areas going through succession from pasture and openings in oak and hickory forests. Locations where you can find this particular species of goldenrod are limited.
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According to the Center for Plant Conservation, Short’s goldenrod was discovered by Dr. Charles Wilkins Short near Rock Island, Kentucky in 1840. Unfortunately the construction of a dam near the Falls of Ohio River (between Clarksville, Indiana & Louisville, Kentucky) dramatically affected this particular goldenrod’s population, and for decades after the initial discovery the species was considered extinct. That is until renowned ecologist Lucy Braun found several small groupings of the yellow flowers in eastern Kentucky in 1939.
For more than 60 years Short’s goldenrod was thought to exist in the Bluegrass State alone, but this would prove to be false. The Nature Conservancy, in a cooperative project with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Nature Preserves, had been working on an inventory of the natural area within the Blue River watershed. To many people’s surprise, DNR ecologists found Indiana’s first population of Short’s goldenrod in 2002.
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The appearance of Short’s goldenrod in Indiana is quite puzzling. Ecologists are not sure as to how long the rare species has occurred in the state, but the answer as to how it got here is simple: bison. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the locations in Kentucky known to harbor Short’s goldenrod are connected by a buffalo trace that also extended across Indiana’s Blue River. Lucy Braun and other ecologists believe that bison were able to transport seeds via the mud caked on the bison's hair. While goldenrod seeds are normally dispersed via wind, there is no evidence that Short’s goldenrod used this method to expand. In fact, the historic range of Short's goldenrod is said to be related to the open lands created by bison and natural wildfires, not wind dispersion.
Before settlement and the consequent land development, Short’s goldenrod was found throughout the Midwest. The absence of these natural disturbances – and the changes in vegetation due to succession because of these absences – continues to threaten populations in Kentucky and Indiana. The plant is incredibly rare not only to the United States (listed as federally endangered since 1985), but to the entire world. Therefore it is important to protect the lands surrounding the existing populations, and to also take care when visiting the areas that are havens for Short's goldenrod.
Where to Find Short's Goldenrod
In Indiana: Considered to be one of the most biologically diverse areas in Indiana, it is no wonder that a rare species such as Short’s goldenrod would be found around the Blue River, located in Crawford, Harrison and Washington counties. The plants are found embedded in fissures of limestone and surrounded by other karst features.
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In Kentucky: Blue Lick Battlefield State Park of Robertson County was dedicated as a nature preserve in 1981 in order to better protect Short’s Goldenrod. The endangered species has seen a significant increase in the area due to more open spaces created by prescribed fires and cedar removal.
The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky also has a nature preserve that protects Short’s goldenrod. Buffalo Trace Preserve is located near Blue Lick Battlefield State Park as are the other dozen or so sites harboring the rare plant.