North Florida Ecological Services Office
Southeast Region

Species Account/Biologue


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BRITTON'S BEARGRASS

Nolina brittoniana

Photo of Britton's Beargrass plant courtesy of Kevin Erwin.
Photo of Britton's Beargrass pods.  Photo courtesy of Shirley Denton.

Photo of Britton's Beargrass plant courtesy of Kevin Erwin.

Photo of Britton's Beargrass pods courtesy of Shirley Denton.

FAMILY:  Agavaceae (Agave family)

STATUS:  Endangered (Federal Register, April 27, 1993)

DESCRIPTION AND REPRODUCTION:  This clump-forming perennial grows from a short, thick, fleshy, bulblike rootstock.  The leaves are 1 to 2 meters (1 to 2 yards) long and 6 to 13 millimeters wide, forming a rosette.  The youngest leaves are upright, while the oldest lay nearly flat on the ground.  In April, the usually solitary flowering stem grows at least 2 meters (2 yards) high from the rosette.  The inflorescence is a panicle with about six branches.  When in bloom, these branches are covered with small white six-parted flowers (Kral 1983, Wunderlin et al. 1980).  Individual plants appear to usually have all male or all female flowers, although males have sometimes been observed to begin developing fruit (Evans et al. 1998).  This plant is not difficult to propagate because the plants bear abundant seeds which are easily germinated.  Several native plant nurseries are producing this species for sale.

RANGE AND POPULATION LEVEL:  The range of Nolina brittoniana is from the south end of Lake Wales Ridge in Highlands County north to Marion County and northern Lake County.  An isolated locality has been reported from Hernando County, north of Tampa.  On the Lake Wales Ridge, it occurs in both Highlands and Polk Counties in most of the tracts that are targeted for acquisition by the state or by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  It may still occur in western Orange County and in the northwest corner of Osceola County where specimens were collected in 1958 but remaining habitat is being rapidly destroyed.  In Lake County, it occurs in the remnants of high pine on hills west of Lake Apopka near Clermont.  It was recently discovered at a site in Ocala National Forest.

HABITAT:  Nolina brittoniana occurs in scrub, high pine, and even occasionally in hammocks (Christman 1988) and sandhill (Wunderlin et al. 1980).  This species is a generalist for xeric soils and therefore has relatively unfragmented distribution of presettlement habitat; however, maybe because of its wide range of population sizes and dioecious breeding system, there are discernable geographic patterns in genetic statistics (Evans et al. 1998).

REASONS FOR CURRENT STATUS:  Loss of habitat to agricultural and residential development is threatening this species.  Sand pine scrub in central Florida was limited in extent even before at least 85 percent of it was converted to citrus groves or residential developments.  This species appears to be locally abundant in intact vegetation.  Conservation land acquisition underway by the state of Florida and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should adequately conserve this species in Highlands and Polk Counties.  Current acquisition plans may not adequately protect it in outlying portions of its range (such as Lake County).

MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION:  Twelve of 22 known sites for Britton's beargrass on the Lake Wales Ridge (Highlands and Polk Counties) are currently under public ownership; land acquisition for many of the remaining sites is ongoing (Schultz et al. 1999).  Flowering is greatest during the first year post-fire (Menges et al. 1996), with dramatic reductions in flowering over subsequent years.  The flowering reduction results in decreased seed production and probably limits recruitment (Evans et al. 1998).

In biological preserves, Britton's beargrass probably requires less special management or demographic monitoring than some other endangered plants.  It is easily propagated from seed and is available in the nursery trade (Association of Florida Native Nurseries 1995).

REFERENCES:

Association of Florida Native Nurseries.  1995.  Plant and Service Directory, 1995-1996.  Landscape and nursery digest 29(8):58-111.  Betrock Information Systems, Hollywood, FL.

Christman, S.  1988.  Endemism and Florida's interior sand pine scrub.  Final project report submitted to FL Game and Fresh Water Fish Comm., Proj. GFC-84-101, FL Nongame Wildlife Program. Tallahassee, FL.

Evans, M..E.K., D.R. Gordon, and E.S. Menges.  1998.  Breeding system and pollination of Nolina brittoniana.  Chapter 3 in: Menges, E.S., R.W. Dolan, D.R. Gordon, M.E.K. Evans, and R. Yahr.  Demography, ecology, and preserve design for endemic plants of the Lake Wales Ridge, Florida.  Final report to The Nature Conservancy's Ecosystem Research Program.  April 1998. 

Kral, R.  1983.  A report on some rare, threatened, or endangered forest-related vascular plants of the South. USDA Forest Service Tech. Publ. R8-TP 2. 2 vols., 1305 pp.

Menges, E.S., D.R. Gordon, and R.W. Dolan.  1996.  Demography, breeding system, and genetics of Nolina brittoniana.  Report to Florida Statewide Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program.  Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Forestry; Tallahassee, Florida. 

Schultz, G.E., L.G. Chafin, and S.T. Krupenvitch.  1999.  Rare plant species and high quality natural communities of twenty-six CARL sites in the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem.  Final report of Florida Natural Areas Inventory for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  202 pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1993.  Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; endangered or threatened status for seven central Florida plants.  Federal Register 58(79):25746-25755.

Wunderlin, R.P., D. Richardson, and B. Hansen. 1980.  Status report on Nolina brittoniana. Final Report prepared for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jacksonville, FL. 31 pp.

For more information please contact:

Mike Jennings
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
7915 Baymeadows Way, Suite 200
Jacksonville, Florida 32256
904/731-3336
Click here to contact via email

Last Updated: 09/2009
Last Reviewed: 08/2005

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Last updated: May 1, 2013