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Pine Barrens Gentian by Joanna L Patterson

Pine Barrens Gentian by Joanna L Patterson

Science Rocks: Protecting the Pine Barrens Gentian

PPA, with the help of fire, hopes to give new life to this threatened plant.

August 25, 2020

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An extraordinarily beautiful wildflower, the Pine Barrens Gentian (Gentiana autumnalis) is native to the Atlantic coast from New Jersey to South Carolina.  Historically fires were common where this wildflower grows, helping to keep the forests open and allowing this plant to thrive in the more open sunny conditions this plant prefers.

The primary threat to the Pine Barrens Gentian are the indirect impacts of development.  Since they grow in the wetlands or wetland buffers, a development won’t be built on a gentian population.  But activities associated with development like protecting homes from wildfire, infrastructure like roads that can change the soil chemistry, roadside mowing in the fall when these plants are still blooming or setting seed, and activities that change the hydrology do impact the species. 

This is even true in the Pinelands National Reserve where there are protections for this special plant.  Believe it or not some of the best places to see the Pine Barrens Gentian when it blooms in the fall are the roadsides of the Pinelands.  Roadsides are open sunnier places that Gentians prefer.  The challenge is to manage roadsides in a way that maximizes survival of this threatened species.  This requires the cooperation of the municipalities and the state Pinelands Commission.

Protecting the threatened or endangered plants found in the Pine Barrens is a top priority for our science program.

The Pine Barrens Gentian is a globally rare species that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has prioritized for recovery.  One protection strategy is to improve habitat for existing populations of the plant.  Earlier this month staff from PPA led by Dr. Rebozo worked on public and private land to improve habitat where the Pine Barrens Gentian is found. 

This was done by opening the canopy and cutting back shrubs to mimic the site conditions found at more robust populations of the Pine Barrens gentian elsewhere. This management will help prepare these sites for prescribed burns that can improve fruiting and seed set in these populations. Work was done in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and New Jersey Conservation Foundation.  

This post is part of our regular Wednesday series Science Rocks the Pinelands!

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