CPC Plant Profile: Sandplain Gerardia
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Plant Profile

Sandplain Gerardia (Agalinis acuta)

The delicate, bright pink blossoms of this herbaceous annual last for only a day. Photo Credit: Bruce Sorrie
Description
  • Global Rank: N/A
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Orobanchaceae
  • State: CT, MA, MD, NY, RI
  • Nature Serve ID: 140310
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 03/05/1993

The delicate, bright pink blossoms of Agalinis acuta grace the sandplain grasslands of the northeastern United States in late summer. Found on dry, low-nutrient soils, this plant appears to depend upon disturbance (including fire) to persist. Only around a dozen populations remain of some fifty that were once found from Massachusetts to Maryland. Habitat destruction, succession to woody stands, trampling, and herbivory have led to the decline of this species. Research and Management Summary: This species, as well as a number of closely related species, has been relatively well studied. Management plans that are thought to be beneficial to the species are in place for some populations, and monitoring is occurring in some locations. Plant Description: Agalinis acuta is a slender, yellow-green herbaceous annual, growing with few branches up to 20 - 40 cm (7.8 - 15.6 in) tall. The narrow, linear leaves (2.5 cm [1 in] long) are arrayed oppositely along the stem. The pink-purple, tubular flowers are stalked on long pedicels in a terminal raceme, and each lasts only one day. Each blossom has shallowly-notched petals with two white lines coming together into a white throat marked with purple spots. Tiny, light brown, textured seeds are released from oval fruits in the fall.

Participating Institutions
Updates
  • 08/26/2020
  • Demographic Research

David Maddox of The Nature Conservancy (dmaddox@tnc.org) has conducted demographic studies, a soil scarification experiment, and a mapping of Agalinis acuta relative to potential host plants at its single site in Maryland.

  • 08/14/2020
  • Reintroduction

The Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program is focusing on a management plant of prescribed burns, mowing before July 1, and soil scarification. Two new populations have been introduced, but long-term studies are needed to evaluate their viability (Dunwiddie et al. 1996). Five populations appear to be stable or growing. (See Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program 2001)

  • 08/14/2020
  • Reproductive Research

Maile Neel (Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts) and Paul Somers (Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Westborough, Massachusetts) have studied the establishment and maintenance of Agalinis acuta populations in Massachusetts (Neel and Somers 2000).

  • 08/14/2020
  • Propagation Research

The New England Wild Flower Society successfully germinated seeds of Agalinis acuta but obtained low survivorship of seedlings, even using the grass little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) as a host species, (Brumback 1989). Preliminary studies indicate that Agalinis acuta seeds do not remain viable in seed bank storage conditions. Germination of seedlings both in the wild and in ex situ conditions is very low

  • 08/14/2020
  • Reintroduction

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation completed a project with the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy to re-establish sandplain gerardia (Agalinis acuta) to Long Island. The efforts include replanting, ecosystem management techniques and long term monitoring. Project coordinator: Marilyn Jordan, Stewardship Ecologist, Long Island Chapter of the The Nature Conservancy.

  • 08/14/2020
  • Genetic Research

Dr. Judith M. Canne-Hilliker (Department of Botany, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada) elucidated the phylogeny of the genus Agalinis in the 1980's through studies of plant morphology and chromosome numbers (Canne 1983, Canne 1984, Canne-Hilliker 1991). Also see D'Arcy (1978). Recent studies by Dieringer (1999) on Agalinis skinneriana, another rare congener from Illinois, may be instructive. Also see Vickery and Vickery (1983) on Agalinis maritima.

  • 08/14/2020
  • Reintroduction

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation completed a project with the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy to re-establish sandplain gerardia (Agalinis acuta) to Long Island. The efforts include replanting, ecosystem management techniques and long term monitoring. Project coordinator: Marilyn Jordan, Stewardship Ecologist, Long Island Chapter of the The Nature Conservancy.

  • 08/14/2020
  • Demographic Research

Maile Neel (Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts) and Paul Somers (Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Westborough, Massachusetts) have studied the establishment and maintenance of Agalinis acuta populations in Massachusetts (Neel and Somers 2000).

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

As of 2005, about 22-23 occurrences were known to be extant, but only a few of these support large populations or have large areas of occupied habitat, or even suitably managed potential habitat. The stronghold of the species may once have been New York where populations today occurs on a small, degraded remnants of a grassland that once covered about 20,000 ha in central Long Island. Six extant sites occur in small grassland areas of Massachusetts, two of which occur in old cemeteries that have probably been mowed regularly for over 100 years. Massachusetts has been successful in expanding the four rediscovered sites through management and augmentation, and it has introduced the species successfully at two additional protected sites now treated as separate EO's. Maryland has two populations, the largest being located on a well protected and managed serpentine barren ecosystem. Connecticut and Rhode Island each have one remaining population which they are attempting to manage and augment with modest success thus far. The species is threatened by the on-going loss of its coastal grassland habitats due to development. The loss of grazing animals and the suppression of fires have allowed woody vegetation to claim many of its historical sites.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

As articulated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1988, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993, and Natureserve 2001: Habitat conversion of coastal sandplains for residential development Suppression of fire, grazing, and other disturbances, perm

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Less than fifteen populations of Agalinis acuta are known, including two recently established sites in Massachusetts (Natureserve 2001). The largest populations, in New York and Massachusetts, contain up to thousands of plants; all others are currently smaller. Therefore, the global population of Agalinis acuta is likely to be on the order of 10,000 plants. Because it is an annual, populations of Agalinis acuta vary widely in numbers from year to year.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Maile Neel (Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts) and Paul Somers (Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Westborough, Massachusetts) have studied the establishment and maintenance of Agalinis acuta populations in Massachusetts (Neel and Somers 2000). The New England Wild Flower Society successfully germinated seeds of Agalinis acuta but obtained low survivorship of seedlings, even using the grass little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) as a host species, (Brumback 1989). Preliminary studies indicate that Agalinis acuta seeds do not remain viable in seed bank storage conditions. Germination of seedlings both in the wild and in ex situ conditions is very low. Dr. Judith M. Canne-Hilliker (Department of Botany, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada) elucidated the phylogeny of the genus Agalinis in the 1980's through studies of plant morphology and chromosome numbers (Canne 1983, Canne 1984, Canne-Hilliker 1991). Also see D'Arcy (1978). Recent studies by Dieringer (1999) on Agalinis skinneriana, another rare congener from Illinois, may be instructive. Also see Vickery and Vickery (1983) on Agalinis maritima. David Maddox of The Nature Conservancy (dmaddox@tnc.org) has conducted demographic studies, a soil scarification experiment, and a mapping of Agalinis acuta relative to potential host plants at its single site in Maryland. Julie Lundgren, Biologist with The Nature Conservancy, has studied the autecology of Agalinis acuta (Lundgren 1983). DiGregorio and Wallner (1986) have examined the populations of Agalinis acuta in Massachusetts.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (Westborough, Massachusetts), assisted by volunteer task forces of the New England Plant Conservation Program of The New England Wild Flower Society (Framingham, Massachusetts) and other partners, regularly monitor populations of Agalinis acuta in New England. The population in Maryland is monitored annually by Daniel Boone, Ecologist, and Chris Ludwig, Botanist, both of the Maryland Heritage and Threatened/Endangered Species Project, Dept. of Natural Resources, C-3, Tawes State Office Bldg., Annapolis, MD 21401. The Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program is focusing on a management plant of prescribed burns, mowing before July 1, and soil scarification. Two new populations have been introduced, but long-term studies are needed to evaluate their viability (Dunwiddie et al. 1996). Five populations appear to be stable or growing. (See Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program 2001) Monitoring of Long Island populations has been conducted by Dr. Robert Zaremba, The Nature Conservancy, Boston, Massachusetts The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation completed a project with the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy to re-establish sandplain gerardia (Agalinis acuta) to Long Island. The efforts include replanting, ecosystem management techniques and long term monitoring. Project coordinator: Marilyn Jordan, Stewardship Ecologist, Long Island Chapter of the The Nature Conservancy.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Determine if Agalinis acuta depends upon hemi-parasitic relationships with other host plant species throughout its range Devise an optimized plan for controlled disturbance to maintain open habitat for Agalinis acuta at all sites where it occurs Compile demographic data from multiple populations to inform population viability analyses Study the effects of soil water availability on the survivorship and reproduction of Agalinis acuta Identify pollinators and herbivores on the plant throughout its range Study the genetic identity and relatedness to Agalinis tenuifolia, particularly in the Maryland population of Agalinis acuta

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Studies of long-term viability of seed banks of Agalinis acuta are needed.

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Photos
Nomenclature
Taxon Agalinis acuta
Authority Pennell
Family Orobanchaceae
CPC Number 36
ITIS 33009
USDA AGAC
Common Names sandplain agalinis | sandplain false foxglove | sandplain gerardia
Associated Scientific Names Agalinis acuta | Agalinis decemloba | Gerardia acuta
Distribution Agalinis acuta occurs in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland. The species is most frequent in New York, with six populations; but efforts in Massachusetts are leading to
State Rank
State State Rank
Connecticut S1
Massachusetts S1
Maryland S1
New York SNR
Rhode Island S1
Habitat

Agalinis acuta grows primarily in """"dry, sandy, short grass plains, roadsides, and openings in oak scrub"""" along the coastal plain from Massachusetts to Long Island, with a disjunct population in a serpentine barren in Maryland (Natureserve 2001). Soils are very dry, nutrient-poor, and generally acidic, and other vegetation is quite sparse and even stunted under these conditions. The species is described from cemeteries, middle-aged Pinus rigida- Quercus ilicifolia barrens, roadsides, a golf course bordered by a high-quality maritime grassland, a disturbed remnant of grazed coastal plain grassland, sandy moraines, and a Pinus-Quercus woodland on serpentine bedrock (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1988, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1989, Natureserve 2001). Disturbance, mowing, grazing, and fire, in combination with relatively sterile soils create a very sparse herbaceous layer conducive to the long-term persistence of Agalinis acuta. Associated plant species include: little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), field pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), early low blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), bushy rockrose (Helianthemum dumosum), birdfoot violet (Viola pedata), wild oat grass (Danthonia spicata), panic grasses (Panicum spp.), fescue (Festuca rubra), winter bent grass (Agrostis hyemale), Maryland golden aster (Chrysopsis mariana), colicroot (Aletris farinosa), linear-leaved goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia), toothed white-topped aster (Aster paternus), orange-grass (Hypericum gentianoides), spring ladies' tresses (Spiranthes vernalis), little ladies' tresses (Spiranthes tuberosa), milkworts (Polygala spp.), purple gerardia (Agalinis purpurea), pine-barren gerardia (Agalinis virgata), lichens (Cetraria and Cladonia spp.), and mosses (Polytrichum spp.) (Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program [MANHESP] 1995, Natureserve 2001).

Ecological Relationships

Agalinis acuta is a late-season bloomer, producing showy, pink flowers (each only lasting a day) in late August to late September. Its pollinators are bumblebees (Bombus spp.; W. E. Brumback, NEWFS, personal communication), but a generalist syrphid fly has also been observed on A. acuta in Massachusetts (Natureserve 2001). Pollen limitation does not appear to affect the plant, as many seeds are produced in studied populations (Lundgren 1984, Natureserve 2001). Seeds disperse close to the parent plant (some potentially carried off by small mammals); thus, seedling establishment is closely tied to the habitat quality of the maternal plant. Being an annual, Agalinis acuta may rely upon a seed bank to weather environmental change from year to year. However, its capacity to form long-lived seeds banks has yet to be confirmed (Brumback 1989). Seed germination in the wild tends to be very low (Brumback, personal communication). Treatment with a period of cold, moist stratification (mimicking overwintering conditions) enhances germination under ex situ conditions (Brumback 1989), and other Agalinis species show physiological seed dormancy (Baskin and Baskin 1998). Following germination, seedlings of Agalinis acuta show high mortality, leading to speculation that the plant (like others of its genus and family) is a hemi-parasite that requires a host plant in order to establish (Musselman and Mann 1977, Brumback 1989). This symbiotic relationship has yet to be documented in the field for Agalinis acuta. Herbivory on stems has been cited as a threat to the species; meadow voles and other mammals forage on the plant (USFWS 1988, Natureserve 2001). On the other hand, large grazers (cattle and horses), which once impeded the growth of competing woody vegetation, may have facilitated the growth of Agalinis acuta in the past (Maryland Department of Natural Resources 2001); the plant can rebranch from the stem following grazing and mowing provided such disturbance does not destroy the growing meristem. Disturbance in the form of grazing, mowing, and fire (Knox 1984) may thus directly or indirectly promote the survival of Agalinis acuta, if sufficient water is also present.

Pollinators
Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Bees
Sweat bees Agapostemon virescens Floral Visitor Link
Bumble bees Bombus impatiens Confirmed Pollinator Link
Sweat bees Lasioglossum Floral Visitor Link
Butterflies & Moths
Noctuid moths Schinia septentrionalis Floral Visitor Link
Flies
Syrphid flies Eupeodes americanus Floral Visitor Link
Syrphid flies Toxomerus marginatus Floral Visitor Link
Syrphid flies Toxomerus marginatus Floral Visitor Link

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