Lechea cernua

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Lechea cernua, or nodding pinweed, is a bush that is endemic to Florida (Spalding, 2013: 14). Lechea cernua is associated with Florida rosemary scrub habitat (Spalding, 2013: 14). The leaves are pubescent or covered with hair and flowers from July to January (Spalding, 2013: 14). Lechea cernua’s conservation status is state-listed as threatened in Florida because of habitat loss from lack of forest fires that negatively impacts the Florida rosemary scrub habitat (Natureserve: 2014, 09/30/2014).

The habitat specialist Lechea cernua grows specifically in sandy microhabitat of the Florida rosemary scrub habitat (Maliakal-Witt, Menges, Denslow, 2005: 411). In a 2005 experiment at an Archbold Biological Station in Highlands County, Florida, Maliakal-Witt, Menges, Denslow (2005: 411) tested the hypothesis that habitat specialist L. cernua occurs more frequently in more constricted microhabitats than generalists such as L. deckertii (Maliakal-Witt, Menges, Denslow, 2005: 412). Lechea cernua had a mean cover of 82% in bare sand as compared to a mean cover of 47% for the habitat generalist L. deckertii (Maliakal-Witt, Menges, Denslow, 2005: 413). In addition, Lechea cernua was most likely to be >180 cm from canopy-forming oaks and the species was taller size and had 100% seedling survivorship if growing in bare sand (Maliakal-Witt, Menges, Denslow, 2005: 413- 416). Bare sand microhabitats play a critical role for Florida endemic shrubs such as Lechea cernua (Maliakal-Witt, Menges, Denslow, 2005: 419).

Florida shrubs play a role in the ecosystem by providing habitats for the only endemic Florida bird, the Florida Scrub-Jay. Because shrubs like the Florida endemic Lechea cernua are decreasing it is contributing greatly to the decline in the Florida Scrub-Jays population. While these birds are only federally threatened they continue to decline directly by 50% because of human influence by preventing prescribed fires (USFW, 2001: 1). Generally speaking forest fires have a pruning effect on all plants, which allow them to come back healthier and bigger. Natural or prescribed fires enrich the soil with nutrients and allow all plants including shrubs to thrive post-fire. Not only can this increase the abundance of Lechea cernua by enriching the soil it clears out more space, allowing for more bare sand spots. So if there is an increase of shrubs that would give the Scrub Jays more habitats. Prescribing fires not only help the Scrub Jays it increases the expanse of Lechea cernua and other Florida Shrubs.

Jenna Padgett, editor: Nisse Goldberg
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