Gotta save our wildflowers, y’all.
The bracted twistflower, a Texas wildflower threatened by growing urban sprawl, was declared a threatened species Monday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The tall, bright purple flower, which has seen significant decline across its range in the rapidly developing I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, will receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. Close to 1,600 acres across four Texas counties — Uvalde, Medina, Bexar and Travis — have been designated critical habitat for the plant.
The protection, which comes after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in 2021 against the federal agency, will lead to the development of a recovery plan to reintroduce the plant and prescribe conservation actions. It will also make removing, cutting, digging up or harming the plant illegal.
“Very few busy Texans in the world today pause to think about these plants … but they still play an absolutely essential role in our world,” said Michael J. Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The once thriving Hill Country wildflower blooms in the spring and requires specific soil that is only found near the edge of Glen Rose and the Edwards Plateau region. It also needs subsurface water and a mix of sun and shade that’s provided by ashe juniper trees and live oaks. Its lavender-colored flowers supply nectar and pollen for Texas bee species.
“This is a species that could be recovered within a few decades if its remaining habitats are managed appropriately,” Chris Best, state botanist for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Texas, said in a press release.
Conservationists say wildflower populations are increasingly separated from each other to the extent that pollinators like bees that ensure reproduction can’t make it from location to location, which increases the loss of genetic diversity and hurts the plant’s ability to adapt to other threats.
The Endangered Species Act defines a threatened species as “any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” The wildflower has lost habitat to development, hungry white-tailed deer and non-native grazing animals.
It’s the second Texas plant the federal agency has listed under the Endangered Species Act this year. Last month, it added the prostrate milkweed, a rare Texas plant crucial for the survival of monarch butterflies, to the endangered list last month. All 24 known populations of prostrate milkweed are found within eight miles of the Rio Grande.
See here for more about the prostrate milkweed. I thought at the time that there would be litigation of its place on the endangered list, as one of the reasons for its endangerment is the border wall, but so far nothing as far as I can tell. Then again, its official listing was on March 30, so maybe it just hasn’t happened yet. The bracted twistflower will be listed later this month, and hopefully there will be no potential for controversy with it.