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Flower Once Thought Extinct Will Come Off Endangered List

The Tennessee purple coneflower, a wild Echinacea plant, was first discovered in the late 1800s. But it was believed to be extinct before a botanist found a sample in the 1960s. i i

The Tennessee purple coneflower, a wild Echinacea plant, was first discovered in the late 1800s. But it was believed to be extinct before a botanist found a sample in the 1960s. J.S. Peterson/USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database hide caption

itoggle caption J.S. Peterson/USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
The Tennessee purple coneflower, a wild Echinacea plant, was first discovered in the late 1800s. But it was believed to be extinct before a botanist found a sample in the 1960s.

The Tennessee purple coneflower, a wild Echinacea plant, was first discovered in the late 1800s. But it was believed to be extinct before a botanist found a sample in the 1960s.

J.S. Peterson/USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Fifty years after it was brought back from extinction, a Southern flower has taken another step toward survival, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to take it off its Threatened and Endangered Species list.

The Tennessee purple coneflower is only the fifth plant ever to be removed from the list owing to a recovery. The move, announced Wednesday, will become official on Sept. 2.

First discovered in the 1800s, the purple coneflower grows only in the cedar glades of Middle Tennessee. And for decades, it had been believed to be extinct, until botanist Elsie Quarterman found a specimen in the late 1960s.

Officials had planned to hold a delisting ceremony for the flower, and to have the now 100-year-old Quarterman attend.

From Nashville Public Radio, Rae Ellen Bichell reports:

Geoff Call, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Tennessee, says it's taken 30 years to get the bright purple flower with a spiky dark center back on its feet.

"We seldom have the opportunity to de-list species and to really point to recovery work as the reason for doing so."

To save the plant, conservationists used fire and even goats to kill competing species.

Removing the flower from the list of endangered and threatened species was first proposed last August. At the time, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release noted, "When first listed in 1979, the coneflower was found only in small populations in Davidson, Rutherford, and Wilson counties, each considered a unique population."

But now those "colonies" have been expanded, and the flower can stand on its own, officials say. The wildlife service plans to monitor the flower for five years, to ensure it doesn't suffer a setback.

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