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Rare plant on verge of endangerment

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A bloom of a Navasota false foxglove. PHOTO BY SHEENA GIRNER | US FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICEA bloom of a Navasota false foxglove. PHOTO BY SHEENA GIRNER | US FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

By Chris Edwards
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TYLER COUNTY – Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a public comments period for a proposed rule to list the Navasota false foxglove as endangered. The plant, which stands up to three-feet-tall and blooms with purplish-pink blossoms, is known to exist in only three locations – one of which is in Tyler County, according to Michael Robinson, with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Wildflower lovers can rejoice that the Navasota false foxglove will get a recovery plan,” Robinson said in a news release. By protecting the plant as an endangered species, its habitat would be protected, and a recovery plan will be implemented.

Aside from one area of Tyler County, the plant (its scientific name Agalinis navasotensis) also grows in two spots in Grimes County, where its namesake city is located. A public notice filed last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes that approximately 1.9 acres in both counties fall within the boundaries of the proposed critical habitat designation.

“In addition, we announce the availability of a draft economic analysis of the proposed designation…[if finalized as proposed] it would add this species to the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants,” the notice read, citing the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, noted that the wildflower species is imperiled not only due to its limited distribution, but also from drought, as well as encroachment from trees that shade out the direct sunlight they require to thrive.

“Critical habitation designation identifies places important to the plant and prohibits use of federal funds for projects that would harm or destroy those habitats,” Robinson said.

In the news release, it was noted that road widening and development projects were also threats to the species, and that some of them are found on a road right-of-way under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

The plant was first identified in 1993, and it is similar to the Caddo false foxglove, but genetically different. The Caddo false foxglove, according to Robinson, is now presumed extinct. The Navasota false foxglove grows in shallow and sandy soils and requires annual rainfall and direct sunlight.

Comments from the public are open until August 14 and can be submitted electronically by using the Federal eRulemaking Portal, which can be accessed at https://www.regulations.gov.

On the site, in the “search” box, enter FWS-R2-ES-2022-0156, which is the docket number for the rulemaking pertaining to the plant.

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