Castilleja kraliana

Thanks once again to Eric in SF@Flickr for sending along a photograph (original image | Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool) related to the conservation success series. I appreciate your sharing!

Cahaba Indian paintbrush can be found only in one county in Alabama, Bibb County. Since 1992, botanist James Allison has explored the area where Castilleja kraliana grows and exclaims, “Bibb County is blessed with an even greater number of rarities than anyone had imagined. It appears, in fact, to support the most significant diversity of rare plant species of any county in the temperate Southeast!”

Why so biodiverse? The area where Castilleja kraliana is found (along with at least sixty other taxa of conservation concern) has a set of characteristics which foster high levels of biodiversity: 1) it is mostly rural; 2) it is geologically diverse (it is the intersection of 3 geographic regions, each with its own associated flora and fauna); and 3) it contains rocky outcrops with unusual soil chemistry. The rocky outcrops are known as glades; nearly treeless, open areas with little soil. What soil does exist is the result of breakdown of the underlying Ketona Dolomite. Dolomite is a rock composed of carbonates of calcium and magnesium, but it is often filled with impurities (roughly 40%). Ketona Dolomite is special in that it is nearly pure, with impurities ranging in the 2% range. Without the impurities to balance out the magnesium carbonates, the soil that is formed from the dolomite is consequently high in magnesium concentration. Although important to the growth of plants in small amounts, high concentrations of magnesium prevent the uptake of other nutrients, i.e., it becomes toxic to plants. Only specially adapted plant species can withstand the combination of high magnesium and little soil, leaving, as Allison states, “a community of drought- and magnesium-tolerant plants able to evolve in the absence of competition from more generally adapted types. The presence of multiple newly discovered species, several of them with seemingly primitive features, as well as the occurrence of others whose nearest known locations are hundreds of miles distant, suggest that this plant community is an ancient one.”

Thanks to the discoveries of Allison and others, The Nature Conservancy has helped create a preserve, the Kathy Stiles Freeland Bibb County Glades Preserve, to protect the most significant areas of biodiversity. Similarly, in 2002, the adjacent Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge was established.

To read more about this intriguing area, visit Allison’s web site to read A Botanical Lost World in Bibb County, Alabama or Vascular Flora of Ketona Dolomite Outcrops in Bibb County, Alabama (published originally in Castanea, 66:1-2 (154-205)).

Castilleja kraliana

18 responses to “Castilleja kraliana”

  1. Er.We

    most interesting reading!! thanks a lot for explaining in such detail the specifics of rock and soil of that area.
    I’ll follow the link to Allisons pages now.

  2. Sheila

    Another stunning pic, thank you Eric and Daniel.

  3. Noel Burdette

    Hi there. Just to say that I trully enjoy reading all the facinating information given on this site. The above mentioned plant is in itself worthy of visting here. As a garden writer and Horticulurist myself, i really apreciate the well written bios on all the plants highlighted. Living In Brisbane Australia is somewhat challenging to say the least…but probably no more challenging than in your part of the world.
    Maybe I’ll add something to the site (from the land of OZ) at some stage in the future.

  4. Barb Mullinix

    How did this area ever escape being mined for this pure dolomite?

  5. Ed McDowell

    Great image and write-up. Congratulations to Jim Allison!
    Ed McDowell

  6. Irma

    Everytime I open the pictures I try to guess if I know what flower it is and if I would happen to know it. Yes today was a hit! I first saw the Indian paint brushes on a trip to The Rockies and I have ever since coveted them but to no avail as they would not thrive here in Sweden

  7. Gabrielle

    Wow! EXCELLENT pic and write up. The links are superb. Thank you!

  8. Hilary Tyne

    We saw Castilleja unalaschensis in Alaska on the Chilkoot trail. It looks identical to c kraliana to my uneducated eye! Beautiful flower.

  9. Eric in SF

    Barb – the area *is* being mined. You have to pass a huge limestone factory on the way to the Glades.

  10. Eric in SF

    I encourage everyone to browse through all the photos I took that day at the Glades. There are some really nice overview shots of the glades themselves plus many more rare plants, including a Solanum species that was thought extinct!

  11. annie Morgan

    Took your advice and went to your flickr site – Farkleberries indeed – too funny. But such beautiful little plants and flowers, so nicely photographed. Lovely site.

  12. Quin

    thanks so much Eric – love those glades, your landscape shots and the flora of that neighborhood. also happy that it has been saved from mining.

  13. Tom D

    Hi guys. I’m a PhD student at UAB, and I’m working in the Bibb County Glades for my doctoral work. I’m not studying C. kraliana (yet?), but I’m working with another of the endemic plants, Dalea cahaba. The entire area is just remarkable. In a lot of places with rare flora, you have to really look for the rare plants. Not so in the Bibb County Glades. I remember the first time I visited, I was just bowled over by how incredibly prolific the endemic plants were. You really can’t walk through a glade without stepping on something that grows nowhere else on earth (although I certainly do my best).

  14. Earl Blackstock

    Eric thank you for your contributions to this site and Daniel what a wonderful,informative,well
    written write-up. Many thanks!

  15. elizabeth a airhart

    thank you eric another sensitive photo
    the web sites are great do not stop
    from clicking on to the links and just
    keep on going allisons web sites and pictures
    are among the best and with music
    thank you daniel for the species of the day
    bottom of the page
    and tis my faith, that every flower
    enjoys the air it breathes wordsworth

  16. Barb Mullinix

    Thanks, Eric – should I feel guilty every time I buy lime for my garden? It’s like a zero sum game–to grow one plant I have to kill others.

  17. Brian A. O'Brien

    Those glades are one of the most amazing botanically rich areas that I’ve ever visited. It’s fascinating to walk into one, in that the flora changes drastically over a distance of a few feet. Click here for my Flickr set of photos from the glades, including Castilleja kraliana.

  18. Eric in SF

    I guess I should point out that Castilleja are almost impossible subjects to grow in the garden. They are hemiparasites and live in harmony in a web of life with other plants around them. Never try to transplant one from the wild into your garden, it will die.
    (It goes without saying to never transplant ANYTHING from the wild into your garden, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t know that!)
    Barb – if you’ve got the space, you should consider microgardens. One small plot is treated with lime for plants that require it, other plots are tailored to the required soil conditions for other plants, etc.

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