Florida Herb and Cacti May Be Endangered


     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed protecting two Florida cacti and an herb under the Endangered Species Act, but plans to withold designation of critical habitat for the cacti due to poaching concerns, according to the agency proposal.
     The action comes as a result of a court settlement between the federal agency and environmental groups to speed listing for hundreds of plants and animals across the country, the Center for Biological Diversity noted in a press release.
     The Cape Sable thoroughwort, a short fuzzy plant with blue flowers, has disappeared from half the islands where it occurred in the Florida Keys, and is still threatened by loss of habitat from development and sea level rise, and competition from nonnative plants, the proposal stated. The agency plans to designate 8,565 acres of critical habitat for the perennial aster family herb, which would allow for reintroduction of the plant where it previously occurred.
     Florida semaphore cactus, a six foot tall tree-like flowering cactus that grows at sea level in rocky areas, faces serious threats from poaching by collectors, as well as development and sea-level rise. The cactus has also disappeared from half of its previously known range, and efforts to reintroduce it were plagued by crown rot fungus and damage from the Cactoblastis moth, the proposal stated. Additionally, this species has very limited genetic diversity, with all the known plants deriving from one to three genetic lines. All the plants “are likely derived clonally from a single parent plant,” the action noted. “All plants in the known populations produce only male flowers, and no female individuals have ever been located,” the action continued.
     The aboriginal prickly apple cactus, a sprawling plant that grows up to 20 feet tall, has disappeared from the northern part of its range and is threatened by poaching, habitat loss from development and sea level rise, and competition from nonnative species, the action stated. Noting that “there is currently a demand for the fragrant prickly-apple, another cactus already federally-listed as endangered, that closely resembles the aboriginal prickly-apple,” the agency emphasized in its press release that the “most significant threat to the two [proposed] cacti is poaching.”
     The USFWS opened a 60 day comment period on the proposed action and requests additional information for a final listing determination.

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