Gravity's Rainbow

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What We Killed Thursday

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It’s been quite a few weeks since I’ve featured an extinct plant, but the series isn’t dead yet!  While I really enjoy researching and sharing what I find about extinct species, it does take more time than I had at the end of the semester.

Many of the plants I feature are extinct in the wild but have a few survivors in botanical gardens and such.  I have a couple reasons for preferring to feature plants that are only extinct in the wild rather than completely extinct.  One, I like to be able to show some sort of image of the plant – even if it’s just an herbarium specimen or a drawing – and it’s much easier to find pictures of plants that have even a few living specimens.  Showing an image of the plant makes it seem more real I think – it’s harder to ignore.  The second reason is that even if a plant is extinct in the wild, as long as we have a few living specimens, it may have a chance of rebounding if we keep propagating it, planting it, and restoring its habitat.

Encephalartos nubimontanus is a cycad species that is extinct in the wild.  It was native to the Limpopo province of South Africa where it grew on the Northern Drakensberg escarpment, often on cliff faces.

Northern Drakensberg escarpment

Northern Drakensberg escarpment

I’ve written before about cycads and I’ve probably mentioned that cycads are one of my favorite kinds of plants.  Encephalartos nubimontanus is a particularly beautiful species.

Encephalartos nubimontanus

Encephalartos nubimontanus

Nubimontanus means “black mountain,” perhaps named after the black cliff faces of the region.  By the 1980s, just one population of about 66 plants remained – by 2001 that number had declined to 8 and in 2003, none.  Many of these cycads were poached and I imagine that if you bought one today it would be the child or grandchild of one of those poached specimens.  The other important factor leading to the extinction of this species was debarking for medicinal use.  Cycads produce numerous powerful chemical compounds and are incredibly toxic.

South Africa is home to numerous cycad species and many of them are on the brink of extinction because of plant poaching.  Luckily, the South African government is working to protect their endangered cycad populations.

While the native plants and animals of the western US aren’t in as much danger from poachers, they are threatened by habitat destruction and climate change.  Under rules issued by the Bush Administration, the Bureau of Land Management may lease millions of acres of land in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming for commercial oil shale development.  Oil shale extraction, processing, and use are all very, very bad for the environment and mining laws in the West can let mining companies destroy the environment and not pay a dime. So write the BLM and tell them to set up some solar panels instead of digging up a dirty, inefficient fuel source.

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  1. Pingback: What We Killed Thursday | Gravity’s Rainbow

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