Clitoria fragrans Small (Fabaceae) is a state-endangered and federally threatened perennial herb found only in Florida, where it is narrowly distributed along the Lake Wales Ridge in Central Florida in fire-adapted upland xeric habitats. Anthropogenic activities that pose threats to populations of C. fragrans include habitat loss and fire suppression. Like many species that inhabit fire-prone landscapes, C. fragrans rebounds quickly and flowers prolifically following fire. It is quite remarkable to see these beautiful purple flowers dotted amongst the charred black landscape.
Plants are small in stature (6-20 inches tall), with dark green to purplish erect stems and alternate bristle-tipped 3-leaflets (0.8-2 inches long). The flowers consist of a large purple banner petal and a keel adorned with two smaller winged petals. The small (1-2 inch long) fruits are constricted between the seeds giving the legumes a bumpy appearance. When the fruits ripen and dry, an internal mechanism twists the fruit open, ejecting the seeds from the parent plant. This seed dispersal mechanism is a shared trait of members in Fabaceae. It is an adaptation to disperse the seeds more widely than if they were just dispersed by gravity and serves to expand the population into new areas. Seeds of species of Clitoria also have another interesting feature: the seed coat is sticky. This feature may aid in dispersal, as it can easily make the seeds stick to animals, although its actual function remains a mystery.
Bok Tower Gardens plans to make a conservation seed collection of this species in 2021 as part of CPC’s inaugural season of the Florida Plant Rescue seed collections initiative.
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