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Science and the Environment

Endangered Species: Geocarpon and Bladderpod

http://ozarkspub.vo.llnwd.net/o37/KSMU/audio/mp3/endangered_2132.mp3

In this installment of KSMU's Endangered Species Series, Michele Skalicky talks with MO Department of Conservation biologist Mike Skinner about two of the state's endangered plants.

As KSMU's series on Endangered Species in MO continues, we focus on two endangered plants—geocarpon and bladderpod.

There are 473 plant species in MO that are listed as endangered. Some of them found in SW MO are the Mead's Milkweed, which is also on the federal endangered species list and occurs only on remnants of prairies and several rare species of native clover. Running Buffalo Clover used to grow here, but has since disappeared.

Geocarpon is among those 473 endangered plant species. It's a very small, but striking plant. At its full height, it's only about an inch to an inch and a half long. Geocarpon blooms in the spring, and the plant turns from a light green to a beautiful magenta.

Mike Skinner, biologist with the MO Department of Conservation, says, here in MO, the plant grows only on glades with channel sandstone.

The southernmost populations of geocarpon, he says, are in Lawrence and Greene counties. The northernmost populations are up around Truman Lake.

Geocarpon is federally listed as threatened. Its state status is endangered.

"In MO, it's only known from about 24 different sites, and the sites where it does occur tend to be very, very small, so those populations are very small. And the total number of plants is, in some years, very, very low."

Skinner says, while we may not know just what geocarpon's role is in our ecosystem, it's important to work to save it.

"It is part of Missouri, part of our natural heritage. That's one of the things that the Department of Conservation has been assigned to protect is our natural heritage, and that's just one very small piece of it."

According to Mike Skinner, the Department of Conservation is working to manage the sandstone glade areas where geocarpon occurs including cutting down cedars and doing prescribed burns. He says, not only does that help geocarpon, but also the other plants and animals that live on those glades.

According to Skinner, the effort is helped by the fact that many of the spots where geocarpon grows are owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers, particularly around Stockton and Truman Lakes.

Another plant that's endangered in MO is the MO Bladderpod. It's listed federally as threatened.

The MO Bladderpod occurs in only four counties around the Springfield area and only on limestone glades. It varies in height, according to Skinner, from around a couple of inches to a foot. It blooms in April and features small yellow flowers.

Besides MO, bladderpod is found only in one other state—there are about five populations in Arkansas. In MO, there are about 65 populations, and Skinner says Greene County probably has the most bladderpod.

Some of those populations are on public land. Bladderpod can be found at the Bois D'Arc Conservation Area, Wilson's Creek National Battlefield and at Rocky Barrens Conservation Area. In fact, Rocky Barrens was originally purchased by the Department of Conservation to preserve a large population of bladderpod.

But much of the plant's population grows on private property.

"Part of the problem is, since most of its locations are in Greene County and most of its locations are on private land, it is suffering, I guess, from things like development. Several of the sites have been wiped out over the years from anything from subdivisions to quarries being put in, the golf courses and in some cases, just lack of management of its habitat."

Skinner says the presence of geocarpon and bladderpod is a sign of healthy natural communities.

"Those areas where they occur are also areas that a lot of people consider very scenic, and they also have a lot of wildflowers and songbirds and stuff like that, and, if those plants disappear, that's a pretty good indication that those communities are in trouble, and a lot of the other plants and animals will disappear also."

Skinner says both geocarpon and MO Bladderpod were listed as endangered in MO in the late 80s and early 90s. He says in the last 20 years, the outlook for both species has greatly improved.

This story and others in the endangered species in MO series can be found online at ksmu.org.

For KSMU news, I'm Michele Skalicky.