The federally endangered hairy rattleweed (Baptisia arachnifera) is one of the rarest plants in Georgia, with global populations restricted to only two counties in the southeastern part of the state. Hairy rattleweed was listed as an endangered plant in 1978 due habitat alteration and destruction. Currently, up to 95% of hairy rattleweed's former habitat is converted into pine plantations. These pine plantations are on short rotations and have incompatible silviculture practices for hairy rattleweed. Development, incompatible silviculture practices, herbicide use and fire suppression, all continue to threaten this species.
Perfoliate wild indigo (Baptisia perfoliata) is the only species that has simple leaves similar to hairy rattleweed. However, this species has glabrous leaves and stems, meaning no hairs, and the leaves completely encircle the stem - hence the specific epithet perfoliata. All other Baptisia plants have compound leaves with three leaflets, or trifoliate.
Hairy rattleweed flowers from June through August. The flowers mature into fruit from August through September, and seed dispersal occurs from October through March. Hairy rattleweed is primarily bee pollinated similar to other plants in the pea family.
Hairy rattleweed reproduces sexually and asexually. The other common name for this species, tumbleweed, speak to hairy rattleweed’s seed dispersal technique where mature fruiting stems break off and get blown and distributed by the wind. Hairy rattleweed reproduces asexually by long rhizomatous roots. It can be propagated from root cuttings similar to other rhizomatous pants.
Hairy rattleweed occurs in fire-maintained longleaf pine-saw palmetto flatwoods on level, to gentle sloping, land with a sparse canopy and shrub layer, as well as herbaceous cover that consists mostly of wiregrass (Aristida stricta). Sometimes it occurs in open pine-wire grass communities that have occasional oak species, including turkey oak (Quercus laevis), live oak (Q. virginiana) and water oak (Q. nigra). Soils are sandy groundwater spodosols and are underlain by an organic hardpan. They are poorly drained with moisture levels ranging from near saturation in early spring to dry in late summer or fall. This type of habitat often occurs adjacent to, and grades into, pocosin or bay swamp habitats scrub-shrub wetlands toward the wetter end of the spectrum, and habitats typical of longleaf pine-turkey oak communities toward the drier end of the spectrum. The longleaf-slash pine flatwood communities where hairy rattleweed occurs are fire-adapted communities that need to be burned on a 2-to-3-year fire return interval. Most of hairy rattleweed’s habitat is no longer managed with fire. As most suitable hairy rattleweed habitat has been converted to densely crowed pine plantations, hairy rattleweed is restricted to the open conditions along roadsides and utility rights-of-way.
A dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract.
Hairy rattleweed is an herbaceous perennial covered in dense grayish-white hairs. Hairy rattleweed is easy to spot at 15 to 32 inches tall with stout erect to ascending stems. Also, the showy round silvery-grayish leaves that resemble eucalyptus leaves help it stand out amongst surrounding vegetation. Hairy rattleweed has attractive yellow flowers that appear from June to August. They have the classic pea shape-banner, wings and keel. The flowers arise from the stem at equal distances with the bottom flowers opening first, referred to as terminal raceme. Flowers mature into dehiscent seed pods with a long-curved tip from August into September.
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