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Smooth Coneflower in Less Danger

Since the endangered species act became law in 1973, 99% of all at-risk species are still with us, thanks to that conservation effort. Now one more plant, native to Virginia, is being ‘down listed’ and that’s a good thing.

The smooth coneflower has been on the endangered species list since 1992. There were just 21 populations across Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, the only places it grows

Tamara Strobel is a staff scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.   "It’s a sun-loving herb plant. A lot of people are familiar with, Echinacea Pupae, which is the purple Echinacea that people use for herbal supplements.. So, it is a close cousin to that."

But this one looks like a droopy version of that much more abundant species.

Strobel explains, "the regular Echinacea we're all more familiar with has purple leaves or purple petals that are flat and this one, the leaves are a light pink and they actually droop down. So it almost looks like un- watered, but it's not. You can tell by the leaves that it's healthy, but it grows up to about three feet tall and it has narrow drooping, light pink purplish petals. I's stems are smooth. It’s usually found in open areas, roadsides clear cuts, glades, and power line right of ways.”

And that’s a big reason they were, and still are, an endangered species, but a little less so. They’ve moved down on the endangered list, but the smooth cone flower is not out of the woods yet. Now there are 44, separate thriving populations, mostly on national land in our region. And that makes it easier to keep them thriving.

"It has made a huge recovery and there are now 44 separate thriving populations. Therefore, it's been down listed, which sounds like a negative thing, but it's actually a really positive thing. It is showing that the endangered species act works.

And that has helped recover a species that is truggling, heading toward extinction.

Now the smooth cone flower has been bumped down to a threatened species, which means there will still be protections for it to help ensure it continues to thrive.

Strobel says, because this plant relies on fire cycles to reduce competition, people can help the now, slightly less endangered coneflower, by supporting prescribed burns, encouraging meadow growth instead of excessive  mowing, and discouraging the use of commercial pesticides and weed killers.


Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.