The weathered peaks of the Southern Appalachians are home to a bewildering variety of plant life. This region is thought to have provided refuge for many different types of flora and fauna pushed south by repeated glaciation. High humidity and precipitation coupled with a variety of microclimates has allowed plants to flourish and evolve over the millennia. In fact, a handful of species are found nowhere else in the world. One of these montane endemics is none other than a species of Houstonia.
Some feel it best designated as a subspecies, Houstonia purpurea var. montana, whereas others feel that both morphological and reproductive distinctions deserve it a status as its own species, Houstonia montana. I prefer to refer to it as the Roan Mountain bluet. Either way, this unique little plant can be found growing among rocky summits and balds on only a handful of mountain tops between Tennessee and North Carolina.
This species requires disturbance to survive. Without the constantly shifting landscape characteristic of high altitude regions, this little plant would quickly be overtopped and outcompeted by more aggressive vegetation. This is not a lifestyle unique to this little bluet. Many of the worlds rare plant species require some level of disturbance to release them from competition with other more common plant species. Aside from competition, one of the largest threats to the continued survival is trampling by hikers. It is always important to watch where we hike. A little bit of attention can go a long way for our botanical neighbors.
Photo Credit: BlueRidgeKitties (http://bit.ly/1dJ7SkA)