Amphianthus pusillus - Torr.
Little Amphianthus
Other English Common Names: Poolsprite
Other Common Names: little amphianthus
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Amphianthus pusillus Torr. (TSN 33463)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.138613
Element Code: PDSCR02010
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Figwort Family
Image 10383

© Alabama Natural Heritage Program

 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Scrophulariales Scrophulariaceae Amphianthus
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Amphianthus pusillus
Taxonomic Comments: A monotypic genus of uncertain placement within the family. Highly distinct, no close relatives.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G2
Global Status Last Reviewed: 01Jan1996
Global Status Last Changed: 18Nov1985
Rounded Global Status: G2 - Imperiled
Reasons: Restricted to granite outcrops of the southeastern Piedmont (mostly in Georgia). The habitat is limited and fragile; there is a high degree of threat from trash and debris dumping into depressions in the outcrops, off-road vehicle traffic, and quarrying. Comprehensive surveys have been conducted throughout this species' range and, as of 1994, only 57 extant populations were known. Locally, the plants may occur in high densities.
Nation: United States
National Status: N2

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (S1), Georgia (S2), South Carolina (S1)

Other Statuses

U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): LT: Listed threatened (05Feb1988)
Comments on USESA: Amphianthus pusillus was proposed threatened on February 19, 1987 and determined threatened on February 5, 1988.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Lead Region: R4 - Southeast

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Granite outcrop areas of Piedmont Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Number of Occurrences: 21 - 80
Number of Occurrences Comments: About thirty-one known populations- twenty-six in Georgia, three in South Carolina, two? in Alabama.

Population Size Comments: Exists in large numbers, in high densities; Georgia- 1980, 46 pools had ~200 plants/pool; Heggie's Rock-1985, ~7800 plants.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: The most severe threat to Amphianthus is the destruction of its habitat by quarrying. Quarrying companies own 17.4% of the outcrops investigated for Amphianthus in Georgia (Garris 1980). The use of outcrops for storage facilities or dumping of trash effectively destroys the habitat as well. Potentially serious disturbance can result from vehicular traffic, often motorbikes, through the pools. These crush the plants, loosen the soil, and probably hasten erosion of the pool rims. Grazing is a minor threat if only the consumption of the plants is considered; however, a concentration of grazing animals using the pools for water would trample Amphianthus, as well as add nutrients to the water, favoring the growth of more competitive aquatics and hasten the filling in of the pool by organic material. Overuse of the outcrops for recreation can be a threat, particularly if fires are built in the pools, or they are filled with trash. Human trampling is a relatively minor concern, as most would avoid Amphianthus habitat. Light traffic through the dry pools by humans (as well as native animals) may actually disperse the seed to other pools. Natural succession is too slow a process to be a threat, particularly since areas where new habitat is being slowly created exists on many outcrops. Accellerated succession due to siltation from upslope or addition of nutrients from runoff or animal overuse could be a problem.

Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Reproduction dependent on exacting combinations of weather conditions. May be easily displaced.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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Global Range: Granite outcrop areas of Piedmont Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, GA, SC

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
AL Chambers (01017), Randolph (01111), Tallapoosa (01123)
GA Butts (13035), Columbia (13073), DeKalb (13089), Douglas (13097), Greene (13133), Gwinnett (13135), Hancock (13141), Harris (13145), Heard (13149), Henry (13151), Jackson (13157), Meriwether (13199), Newton (13217)*, Oglethorpe (13221)*, Pike (13231), Putnam (13237), Rockdale (13247), Walton (13297), Warren (13301)
SC Lancaster (45057), Saluda (45081)*, York (45091)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
03 Lynches (03040202)+, Upper Catawba (03050101)+, Saluda (03050109)+*, Broad (03060104)+*, Middle Savannah (03060106)+, Upper Ogeechee (03060201)+, Upper Oconee (03070101)+, Lower Oconee (03070102)+, Upper Ocmulgee (03070103)+, Middle Chattahoochee-Lake Harding (03130002)+, Middle Chattahoochee-Walter F. George Reservoir (03130003)+, Upper Flint (03130005)+, Middle Tallapoosa (03150109)+, Lower Tallapoosa (03150110)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A diminutive aquatic annual with both floating and submerged leaves. The floating leaves are 4-8 mm long and are attached to the submerged plant base by thread-like stems. Flowers are tiny, white to pale purple, and are produced among the floating and the submerged leaves. This is an ephemeral species - it completes its entire life cycle in as little as 3-4 weeks in the spring.
General Description: Small, delicate, shallow and fibrous rooted aquatic or sub-aquatic annual. The stem is short and compressed and produces a rosette of small, lance-shaped submerged leaves at its summit. The inflorescence consists of flowers found among the submerged leaves and those held above the water surface on delicate, lax peduncles by a pair of ovate, 4-8 mm long bracts. The flowers are white, 3-4 mm long, irregular and five lobed. The fruit is a 2-3 mm long capsule, those of the floating flowers reflexed back under the water surface. Flowering usually in March and April, occassionally earlier or later, fruiting usually in April and May. (adapted from Garris 1980, Kral 1983, Lunsford 1939.
Technical Description: Diminutive, glabrous, aquatic annual, stems 1-5 (-10) cm long, branched only from the caudex, each lax stem held up by a pair of floating leaves. Basal, submersed, rosette leaves sessile, lanceolate, 5 mm long or a little more; filiform stems with a pair of opposite, ovate or oval leaves terminally, these 4-8 mm long, 3-5 mm wide, abruptly narrowed to short, subpetiolar bases, rounded apically. Flowers axillary to both types of leaves. Flower stalks 0.5-2 mm long, bractlets none. Calyx united only at base, unequally 5-lobed, lobes about 1 mm long, rounded apically, the larger one obovate, others oblongish. Corolla of emersed (essentially floating) flowers white, 3-4 mm long, tube funnelform to narrowly campanulate, much longer than the 5, short, broad, emarginate, slightly spreading lobes; basal, submersed flowers not opening. Stamens 2, not exserted. Capsule broader than long, notched basally and apically, the somewhat flattened sides broadly rounded, loculicidal. Seeds oblong-subobpyramidal, about 1 mm long, dark brown, alveolate-reticulate. (from Godfrey and Wooten 1981)
Diagnostic Characteristics: Amphianthus, a monotypic genus, is very distinct and without any close relatives. The 3-4 mm long corollas are the smallest of any southeastern Scrophulariaceae. In addition, the strongly dimorphic submersed and floating leaves, and the presence of both submersed and floating flowers are unique in the family. The flowers are most like those of Gratiola or Bacopa, but the leaves and inflorescence type are very different. A few other aquatics, such as Callitriche heterophylla, have dimorphic leaves, but their arrangement is very different from Amphianthus. In summary, there seems to be no plant with which Amphianthus can be confused by anyone with a basic grasp of its appearance, and technical characters are not necessary for field identification (adapted from Kral 1983).
Duration: ANNUAL
Reproduction Comments: The germination of Amphianthus pusillus seems to be dependent only on the presence of light and of sufficient standing water or soil saturation in its habitat. The amount or duration of water in the pools necessary to induce germination has never been studied. The observations of Lunsford (1939) indicate that germination occurred only four days after the pools filled in November, and germination after heavy summer rains occurred as early as June. Her experiments concerning dormancy were inconclusive; however, it seems likely that there is a short (March-June) period between the first seed dispersal and the drying of the pools in mid-to late spring where germination has not been observed. This could be due to an afterripening period of the seeds, the need for the seeds to dry completely before inbibing water and germinating, or the need for exposure to the high (30-35 degrees C) temperatures of late spring to break dormancy. The seeds can remain viable in the soil for several years until favorable conditions for germination occur (Pennell 1935, Lunsford 1939).

The plants grow slowly through the winter months, typically developing one pair of bracts in December, these floating by January with another pair developing at this time. Flower buds form early and are clearly visible by early February. With the increasing warmth of February and early March, growth is greatly accelerated. Flowering begins in mid-to late February and generally peaks in mid-March. During this period, if sufficient water and sunshine are present, the plants continue to produce more flowers, both submersed and floating. The plants continue to grow as long as the soil remains moist. By mid-April in most years, the increased temperatures have increased evaporation to the point where most pools are experiencing dry periods between heavy rains. At this time, the plants are totally exposed, the usually cleistogamous basal flowers open, and the process of fruit maturation continues, with all stages from flower buds to already dehiscent capsules present on the same plant. In the pools holding water for the longest periods, the plants become relatively large, with 10-15 or more flowers or fruits. Eventually, these dry up also, and by late May or June, all the seeds have been shed, the plants have dessicated and are disintegrating, and there is little if any sign that Amphianthus ever existed (Lunsford 1939, McVaugh and Pyron 1937, Garris 1980, personal observations).

Lunsford (1939) reports that Amphianthus can germinate and grow to maturity after heavy summer rains. In contrast to its slow winter development, the plant has been observed to germinate and grow to maturity, with open flowers, in 17 days. It seems quite probable that this rapid growth is a direct result of the increased summer temperatures. Since the capsules are reflexed at maturity, the seeds of floating flowers are shed into the water of the pool, and those of the basal flowers and capsules which are totally exposed at maturation are shed onto the soil surface. There seem to be no specific mechanisms for seed dispersal. Overflow of the pools during heavy rains could carry soil and seeds down runoff channels to lower areas of the outcrop (Lunsford 1939). However, this method is unlikely to bring seeds to other pools, since these usually are on flatter areas of the outcrop and are rarely intersected by drainage channels. Another possible method of seed dispersal is through animal use of the pools, where seeds may adhere to their feet and be transferred to other areas of the outcrop or other outcrops. Lunsford (1939) suggested turkey vultures and killdeers as two birds observed frequently on outcrops; Garris (1980) added mourning doves and wild turkeys. I have seen tracks of wild turkey, deer, and other small mammals in drying pools containing mature Amphianthus, and passive animal dispersal seems likely. The irregular appearance of the plant in many pools indicates that Amphianthus accumulates a seed bank in the soil, and therefore, reproduction is not necessary every year in order to maintain individual colonies.

Palustrine Habitat(s): TEMPORARY POOL
Habitat Comments: Amphianthus pusillus is totally confined to vernal pools on granite outcrops of the southeastern Piedmont. About 90% of the known populations are in Georgia, with the others occurring in Alabama and South Carolina. Rather consistently, the optimal habitat of Amphianthus has been described as a shallow, flat-bottomed pool almost invariably surrounded by a rock rim several centimeters in height (Garris 1980). These pools tend to be best developed in flatter outcrop areas, such as the flattened crests of dome-shaped outcrops or the extensive flat to gently rolling outcrops (Lester 1938 in Lunsford 1939, Garris 1980). These pools begin as solution pits of nearly circular outline, specifically as the result of localized solution created by weakly acidic waters and the abrasive action of wind-blown particles of quartz which are derived from the solution of the rock (Lester 1938 in Lunsford 1939). The accumulation of a thin layer of soil in the deeper areas of the pools tends to retard further deepening, and the pools become proportionally broader as solution, frost action, and abrasion continue at the edges. Eventually these circular pools coalesce into larger, irregularly shaped pools, or their rim is broken as they grow beyond the flat surface where they began. In a survey of Amphianthus populations in Georgia, only 77% of the pools containing plants complied with this "typical" description (Garris 1980). Most of these were lacking a complete rim, whereas others were in seepage areas, ecotonal zones, or were artificially created pools. Water depths in the pools at the time of flowering range from 0-10 cm. In the pools which hold less water, or hold water for shorter periods after a rain, deeper soil is required for Amphianthus growth than in pools which hold water of a greater depth or for a longer period. On April 18, 1985 at Heggie's Rock, Columbia Co., Georgia, Amphianthus was found in 3 pools having from 2-6 cm of water over 1-2 cm of soil, and in 7 pools having no standing water but with 4.5-7 cm of soil. All of these pools had obviously held water a few weeks earlier; however, the moisture-holding capacity of the deeper silty soils allowed Amphianthus to flourish beyond the date when the pools dried to or below the soil surface (Bridges, personal observation). The three pools containing both standing water and Amphianthus growth at this date were all fed by seepage from the adjacent woodland. Dry pools with soil less than 4.5 cm deep, and more ephemeral pools containing water from a recent rain did not support Amphianthus. The "precipitation/habitat compensation point," the breadth of habitat conditions which Amphianthus can tolerate under a given local rainfall/evaporation regime in a given year, seems rather constant and probably quantifiable with further study. This close relation between the number and types of pools supporting Amphianthus and its abundance and vigor, and the local weather conditions of the given season is essential to understanding and interpreting any changes in population levels of the species. Garris (1980) found Amphianthus in 22 pools at Heggie's Rock, after a precedent late spring, and an extremely wet and mild winter had created optimal conditions for the species. The fact that Amphianthus occupied only 10 pools at Heggie's Rock in 1985 does not, in my opinion, constitute a decline in population, as the cold and drier winter, and very dry early spring probably resulted in the lack of establishment of the species in many pools which it would occupy under better growing conditions.

Biotic associates of Amphianthus are generally few and of low coverage within the population habitat. Isoetes piedmontana is the most consistently associated species, with Callitriche heterophylla common in the deeper, more permanent pools and Diamorpha cymosa in the drier, shallower soil of pool margins. Other associated species include Arenaria uniflora, Polytrichum commune, Hypericum gentianoides, Panicum lithophilum, Andropogon scoparius, Cyperus granitophilus, Agrostis spp., Juncus spp., Fimbristylis spp., Senecio tomentosus, Eleocharis obtusa, Lindernia monticola, and algal growths (Garris 1980, Kral 1983).

Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary
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Stewardship Overview: Federally protected species (LT, 88-02-05). Critical habitat was not designated as it was believed that publication of critical habitat descriptions & maps would increase public interest and possibly lead to additional threats from collecting and vandalism. Two populations occur in designated nature preserves (TNC preserve- Heggie's Rock Preserve in Columbia County, GA; SC Wildlife & Marine Resources Dept. preserve- Forty-Acre Rock Preserve). The remaining populations are threatened by destruction and adverse modification of their habitat by quarrying, off-road vehicle traffic, fire building, littering, trampling by cattle and eutrophication of vernal pools by cattle droppings, and by local dumping. It is unknown if any management practices have been initiated at any sites, outside of the two designated nature preserves.
Restoration Potential: Recovery potential depends on the degree of habitat alteration which has occurred. If the pools are still intact, high potential for recovery exists. If the outcrop has been quarried and the pools are broken, or if they are polluted, heavily silted, filling in with other vegetation, or over-nutrified, recovery potential is poor to none. In the case where intact, seemingly suitable pools exist, the best method for recovery would probably be to transfer soil from a pool which had supported dense, mature Amphianthus that spring to the suitable pools. The best time for this is probably in the fall, perhaps late October, just before the pools begin to fill for winter. If weather conditions are right, results may be seen the next spring; and if reproduction occurs, the transplant has been a success. However, if conditions aren't perfect the first year, it is still possible that the seeds in the soil will germinate and grow in a subsequent year.
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: Although the actual area occupied by Amphianthus at any given site is very small, its exposure and vulnerability may necessitate a large buffer area. Areas should be included which are likely to provide pools for expansion of the population in good years and where pool formation is taking place. A good amount of the watershed above the population should be protected to prevent siltation or water diversion. This is particularly important when protecting pools fed by seepage along the outcrop from an upslope forest. Enough area should be included to minimize the possibility of incursion by domesticated animals. Vehicular access routes should be purchased and blocked. It might be necessary to protect additional buffer and water sources for native animals in an area where the unsuitability of adjacent areas for animals may possibly result in their overutilization of the outcrop pools. It seems that only 4 outcrops sustaining Amphianthus are at all protected (Heggie's Rock, Stone Mtn., Mt. Arabia, 40-acre rock), and other sites need to be preserved.
Monitoring Requirements: Long-term monitoring of Amphianthus populations would yield important information on population stability of the species. Monitoring could determine the relations of adverse weather conditions to population fluctations, for instance, whether the effects of a single bad year are felt only the next year, for many years, or have no lasting effect. The latter situation would be good evidence of the existence of a large soil seed bank, which would be a major factor in the survival of the species. Population monitoring could also help to determine the effects of animal use of the pools, both domestic and native, on population stability and creation or destruction of colonies.

Monitoring of Amphianthus requires the identification numbering and mapping of individual pools or colonies for relocation and monitoring of the same pools for several years. Estimates of abundance, density, and reproduction should be made in each pool at the peak fruiting period. Details will be contained in my contract report later in 1985 on Amphianthus monitoring at Heggie's Rock.

Monitoring Programs: Baseline data should now exist on all known Amphianthus populations which would permit a monitoring program to begin. Garris (1980) states that two sites in Georgia were to be selected for permanent marking and monitoring of each pool. It is unknown whether this program has been continued. The rough data from all the Georgia sites is probably detailed enough to permit relocation and monitoring. Amphianthus in South Carolina was inventoried by Doug Rayner in 1984, and in Alabama by Doreen Miller in 1985 (Bob Currie, pers. comm.). These studies should also be detailed enough to serve as baseline data for monitoring. Amphianthus pusillus at Heggie's Rock Preserve was inventoried by this author in 1985, with pools numbered and mapped for relocation in subsequent years, and detailed information on population sizes and structure gathered in each pool. Other key contacts for this program are Kathy Seaton and Bill Rose at TNC Southeast Regional Office.
Management Research Needs: The only management needs of the species at this point is to minimize exogenous disturbances to the populations and habitat. Biologically, it does not seem that active management is necessary for Amphianthus. Natural processes of succession, over thousands of years, will result in the species changing to other locations on the outcrops, persisting at most sites indefinitely. Natural tree death due to severe droughts seems to effectively prevent the growth of tree islands, and the eventual shading and decline of Amphianthus. Fires of small extent may also be part of the natural system, and burning may be necessary at some point on some sites to maintain sufficiently open outcrops.

Grazing by domestic animals should be eliminated, by fencing the outcrops with buffer if necessary. All vehicular access to the open outcrops should be eliminated by blocking roads and installing steps on paths to eliminate motorbike access. Recreational use of protected outcrops should be closely monitored and limited to small or well-supervised groups. Supervised ecological field trips are fine, and individual or small-group use where no destructive actions are taking place.

Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 18Nov1985
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Bridges, E., rev. Patrick/Allison/Maybury (1996)
Management Information Edition Date: 15Aug1986
Management Information Edition Author: EDWIN BRIDGES
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 04Jan1990
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): EDWIN BRIDGES

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Baker, W.B. 1956. Some interesting plants on the granite outcrops of Georgia. Ga. Mineral Newsletter 9(1): 10-19.

  • Garris, R.S. 1980. The endangered endemic, Amphianthus pusillus: a study of distribution and density. Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources, Protected Plants/Natural Areas Program. Unpublished report. 20 pp. + attachments.

  • Godfrey, R.K., and J.W. Wooten. 1981. Aquatic and wetland plants of southeastern United States: Dicotyledons. Univ. Georgia Press, Athens. 933 pp.

  • Harper, R. M. 1939. Granite outcrop vegetation in Alabama. Torreya 39:153-159.

  • Jones, S.B., Jr., and N.C. Coile. 1988. The distribution of the vascular flora of Georgia. Dept. Botany, Univ. Georgia, Athens. 230 pp.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Kral, R. 1983c. A report on some rare, threatened, or endangered forest-related vascular plants of the South. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service Technical Publication R8-TP2, Athens, GA. 1305 pp.

  • Lammers, W.T. 1958. A study of certain environmental and physiological factors influencing the adaptation of three granite outcrop endemics: Amphianthus pusillus Torr., Isoetes melanospora Engelm., and Diamorpha cymosa (Nutt.) Britton. Ph.D. Dissertation, Emory University, Atlanta. 85 pp.

  • Lunsford, D.E. 1939. Studies in the life cycle of Amphianthus pusillus Torr. M.S. thesis, Emory University, Atlanta. 88 p.

  • McCollum, J.L., and D.R. Ettman. 1987. Georgia's protected plants. Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, Social Circle, GA. 64 pp.

  • McVaugh, R. 1937. The rediscovery of Amphianthus pusillus Torr. in Rockdale County, Georgia. Castanea 2:58-60.

  • McVaugh, R., and J.H. Pyron. 1937. The distribution of Amphianthus in Georgia. Castanea 2: 104-105.

  • Patrick, T.S., J.R. Allison, and G.A. Krakow. 1995. Protected plants of Georgia: an information manual on plants designated by the State of Georgia as endangered, threatened, rare, or unusual. Georgia Dept. Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Georgia Natural Heritage Program, Social Circle, Georgia. 218 pp + appendices.

  • Pennell, F.W. 1935. The Scrophulariaceae of eastern temperate North America. Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Monograph 1. 650 pp.

  • Radford, A.E., H.E. Ahles, and C.R. Bell. 1968. Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Univ. North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC. 1183 pp.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1988. Endangered or threatened status for three granite outcrop plants. Federal Register 53(24): 3560-3565.

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