First described in 1898, the Ocmulgee skullcap is a rare herbaceous perennial plant found only in the Savannah River (Georgia and South Carolina) and Ocmulgee River (Georgia) watersheds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned to list the species in April 2010 and issued a 90-day finding that the petitioned action may be warranted in September 2011. The species is currently under review for possible listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
This member of the mint family averages 16-32 inches in height with square, 4-sided stems. The upper stem has two types of hairs – pointed, upwardly curved hairs and longer, straight, knob-tipped hairs. Leaves are up to 3 inches long with rounded teeth and soft hairy lower surfaces. Flowers are blue-violet and slightly fragrant, and grow to be ¾-1 inch long with a hood-like upper lip and down-curved lower lip. The fruit consists of four tiny nutlets or seeds, enclosed in a small green cup or calyx.
Several species of skullcap occur in Ocmulgee skullcap habitat, but only Ocmulgee skullcap has both the pointed hairs and knob-tipped hairs on the upper stem. Surveys conducted prior to 2018 identified Ocmulgee skullcap from five different watersheds – the Flint, Ocmulgee, Oconee, Ogeechee, and Savannah River watersheds in Georgia and South Carolina. Surveys conducted in those watersheds in 2018 found that the Flint, Ogeechee, and Oconee watersheds, as well as the southern reaches of the Savannah and Ocmulgee watersheds, were occupied by Mellichamp’s skullcap (Scutellaria mellichampii), not Ocmulgee skullcap. A new taxonomic key has been developed to aide in distinguishing between the two species and to help in avoiding future mis-identifications.
Known from widely separated localities, Ocmulgee skullcap can be found in calcium-rich soils along waterways in moist hardwood forests, usually along stream terraces, slopes, and bluffs with north to north-east facing aspects. These forests contain outcroppings of limestone or marl and are diverse with plant life. Ocmulgee skullcap is frequently found in areas containing red buckeye, Eastern redbud, white oak, basswood, American holly, and relict trillium. Several occurrences actually co-occur with relict trillium, a plant species that was listed as endangered in 1988.
Native to eastern Georgia and adjacent South Carolina, it is presumed that this plant was once much more common. There are now scattered pockets of surviving populations.
Following the 2018 surveys and using the new taxonomic key for identification, 27 occurrences (constituting 16 distinct populations) have been confirmed across two watersheds in Georgia and South Carolina – the Savannah and Ocmulgee River watersheds. Those occurrences include the following counties in Georgia: Bibb, Bleckley, Burke, Columbia, Houston, Jones, Monroe, Pulaski, Richmond, and Twiggs; and the following counties in South Carolina: Aiken, Barnwell, and Edgefield.
Destruction of habitat by logging and clearing is one of the greater conservation challenges, especially housing developments along river bluffs in the species’ habitat. The plant is also not very tolerate of competition from exotic plants like Chinese privet, autumn olive, thorny olive, Japanese stiltgrass, and Japanese honeysuckle. Deer browse has also been documented at several locations, especially in areas where deer populations are not managed or controlled. Poor seed set has also been noted, indicating a possible problem with pollinators. Work with a closely related species of skullcap has documented low visitation rates by pollinators.
If Ocmulgee skullcap is listed under the ESA, a recovery plan will be developed for the species.
Partnerships, research and projects
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How you can help
The species can benefit from programs to preserve and enhance wetlands. Prevent clearcutting and development on river bluffs and stream terraces in Ocmulgee skullcap habitat. Eradicating exotic plant competition (Chinese privet, autumn olive, thorny olive, Japanese stiltgrass, and Japanese honeysuckle) and controlling deer populations in/around Ocmulgee skullcap habitat is recommended. Management for the species on currently protected lands is also recommended.
Subject matter experts
- David Caldwell, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 706-544-6253, firstname.lastname@example.org
Designated critical habitat
If the species is listed under the ESA, critical habitat may be proposed for the species.
Federal Register notices
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