By Ethan Hatchett

In Georgia, over 650 species of plants are considered of “special concern” for conservation. Twenty-five of those are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and 130 are protected by state wildlife laws. Each species has its own difficulties, but most have a few problems in common. The biggest of these shared issues is habitat loss and fragmentation.

DNR biologist, Lisa Kruse examining the seed head of a Canby's dropwort. (Ethan Hatchett/DNR)

DNR biologist Lisa Kruse examines the seed head of a Canby’s dropwort. (Ethan Hatchett/DNR)

Canby’s dropwort (Tiedemannia canbyi)  is one such species.

This plant appears in four counties in southeast Georgia, inhabiting the increasingly rare pond-cypress wetlands. The species is also a host for the eastern black swallowtail. This butterfly’s caterpillars feed on plants from the Apiaceae or carrot family, in which the Canby’s dropwort shares a home with many familiar herbs such as fennel, parsley and cilantro.

Rare plants don’t receive the same attention as rare animals. And plants that aren’t eye-catching – such as Canby’s dropwort – receive even less attention from the public. Many of these specialized plant species are often in precarious condition and only thrive under the stewardship of a few dedicated individuals.

For Canby’s dropwort, most of its populations are on private property. DNR partners with these landowners to ensure the safety of the endangered plants.

Alan Woodward and his family own property in Dooly County that has one of the healthiest populations of Canby’s dropwort in Georgia. The plants were discovered there more than 40 years ago. Woodward describes his interest in safeguarding plants as an extension of his family tradition, adding, “It’s something I can’t imagine not doing, really.”

The Woodward property has been in the family for more than 100 years. Originally a farm, the shift towards wildlife conversation began with Alan’s father, James. The property was being managed for hunting and the wetlands protected long before DNR became aware of the endangered plant.

In working with DNR to preserve endangered Canby’s dropwort, Woodward has allowed seed collection and habitat restoration such as controlled burns and the targeted use of herbicides to open the tree canopy. As a result, not only has the Canby’s dropwort been maintained, the pond cypress wetland its found in has flourished.

Woodward knows that some landowners believe having rare species on their land can raise problems. “If an endangered or rare species is found on someone’s property, I think there is a misunderstanding that you are limited on how you can control your property,” he said. “That has not been the case (with us). We’ve gotten a lot of attention and help from agencies like DNR and there’s nothing heavy-handed about it.

Woodward’s advice to landowners who want to work with DNR to preserve wildlife habitat: “Listen, be realistic and have some goals. Sticking with it is key.”(Special to DNR)

“I’ve heard people say they don’t want a rare critter on their land because they won’t be able to do this and that or get run off from it, but I think that’s a misunderstanding.”

Woodward’s advice to other landowners who want to work with DNR to preserve wildlife habitats, rare or otherwise, is short and sweet. “Listen, be realistic and have some goals. Sticking with it is key.”

In Georgia, 93 percent of the landscape is privately owned. You don’t need to conserve an endangered plant to make a lasting difference to wildlife. Landowners across Georgia – in rural and urban areas – can use features of their properties for the benefit of plants and animals. Even small steps, such as changing mowing times or adding native species to a garden supporting wildlife, can help.

Through science-based conservation planning, landowners can more effectively reach their wildlife and natural resource goals, and make sure these resources are in good condition for future generations of Georgians. Professional technical assistance is provided free, and financial incentives for conservation practices may be available.

Learn more about these private lands opportunities, which are available in all eligible properties statewide.

More resources landowners will find helpful include:

Through the help of Alan Woodward and other landowners, the Canby’s dropwort survives in Georgia. That success underscores the larger truth that landowners are crucial for preserving many rare plants and animals in this state and elsewhere.

Ethan Hatchett is a communications assistant in DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section.

Top: Flowering Canby’s dropwort (Ethan Hatchett/DNR)