Two plants known to exist in parts of Monroe County have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The plants are the Cape Sable thoroughwort, and the Florida semaphore cactus, both hard to find in the Lower Keys.
"Neither of these plants is common to the area," said Kim Gabel, an environmental horticulturist with the Monroe County Extension Service in Key West. "Unless you're a real native plant buff, or go back into the hammocks, most people won't be aware that these plants are even out there."
The addition of the two plants to the endangered species list brings to 26 the total number of federally listed plant and animal species found in Monroe County. Other well-known endangered species here include the Key deer, Everglade snail kites, and sea turtles.
Beginning Nov. 25, it will be illegal "to take, damage, or destroy any such plants, from areas under federal jurisdiction or in knowing violation of any law or regulation of any state; or to possess, import, export or conduct interstate or international commerce without authorization," the service said in a recent press release. "The ESA also requires all federal agencies to ensure actions they authorize, fund, or undertake do not jeopardize the existence of listed species."
The decision was published in the Oct. 14 Federal Register.
The Cape Sable thoroughwort has historically been found in the mainland section of Monroe County, on both Upper and Lower Matacumbe keys, as well as Lignumvitae, Long and Big Munson keys. It's a flowering perennial herb which occurs in rockland hammocks, coastal hardwood hammocks, buttonwood forests, coastal rock barrens and coastal berms.
The Florida semaphore cactus is reported to grow on Swan Key, Little Torch Key and Key Largo, in hardwood hammocks near sea level and low elevation buttonwood forests in the transitional area between rockland hammocks and mangrove swamps.
"The ultimate goal of the ESA is the recovery of these plants, so that they no longer need the protective measures of the ESA," the Fish and Wildlife press release said. "The service will now develop a recovery plan for the ... species and work cooperatively with partners to conserve their habitats. [The] plants are currently at risk of extinction throughout all of their respective ranges due to the immediacy, severity, and scope of threats from habitat destruction and modification."
The Florida semaphore cactus is at an even greater risk than the thoroughwort, the service said, due to "overutilization, collection, poaching, and vandalism," and "also is affected by disease and predation by the nonnative cactus moth."
For information, go to www.fws.gov/southeast.