This week, botanists and conservationists traveled from Syracuse, Nashville, and Sewanee to a sinkhole in the side of the Cumberland Plateau overlooking South Pittsburg to check on the lone population of Tennessee’s rarest plant, the hart’s-tongue fern. Declared endangered in 1998, the plant is known from only a few locations in North America, including this sinkhole, one in Alabama, scattered populations in New York, and one or more possible sites in Mexico. A 2014 trip to this sinkhole came up dry — not one plant was spotted. But this week, a whopping 15 plants were documented, most of them tiny “sporelings.” Three of the plants were large enough to be categorized “immature,” so official census records will show a population of three plants. Hart’s-tongue was discovered in this sinkhole in the 1880s by prospectors in search of coal deposits to feed South Pittsburg’s nascent iron industry. Although the bulk of that industry moved south to Birmingham, Alabama, Lodge Manufacturing was established in South Pittsburg, and today it is a thriving concern. Joseph Lodge, the company’s founder and great-grandfather of its current president, was interested in ferns. He corresponded with and hosted scientists from as far away as New York and Washington, DC, who came to visit the site. One of this week’s visiting scientists is trying to come up with an effective method for conservation of this vulnerable species. But for now, this one population is doing okay in its hideaway in Tennessee.
TN Hart’s-tongue Doing Okay!