Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Golden Crest (Lophiola aurea) - Coastal Plain Endemic with strange "disjunct" distribution

Lophiola aurea, Brunswick Co, North Carolina
June 3, 2015

Golden-Crest (Lophiola aurea) is endangered in North Carolina where it is known from only a handful of sites in the extreme southeastern coastal plain. The species is entirely absent from adjacent states of South Carolina and Virginia but populations reappear both further north and south, The nearest populations to the south occur in south-central Georgia, a disjunction of approximately 440 miles!  From there, Lophiola's known distribution (based on USDA PLANTS database) skips over another approximately 140 miles before re-appearing in the panhandle of Florida (where it seems to be most widespread), and adjacent Alabama and southern Mississippi. Interestingly, another widely disjunct population has been reported in western Louisiana. To the north, the species re-appears in New Jersey and a few points beyond including Nova Scotia!  These northern populations may be the most unexpected.  To quote G.E. Nichols (Rhodora 1919), "Lophiola aurea in Nova Scotia. Surely there must be a mistake".  But no mistake...it occurs there along with a number of other disjunct populations of typically southeastern US coastal plain species.

Lophiola aurea population in Brunswick Co, NC
(dark shadow on left is dense woods)

Back in North Carolina, the small population shown here (left) was holding on at the very edge of a power-line clearing. Maintenance activities and off-road vehicles had torn up much of the adjacent ground while the surrounding woods appeared to be too dense and overgrown (unburned) to support the plant.

Last summer I observed Lophiola in all its glory in an open pine savanna in north Florida. It's almost embarrassing how much time I spent watching small bees visit the tiny (~ 10mm wide) flowers. Since I did, I'll include a few images here:
Lophiola aurea pollinator, south of Tallahassee Florida
July 5, 2014

I'd be interested to know what species this little bee is, and whether or not it occurs throughout Lophiola's highly fragmented range.


  1. Hi Rob, what gorgeous photos! I've only seen Lophiola in flower in Florida. Laura Fogo forwarded your comment wanting to know the bee. Here's what I wrote to her: "It would be impossible to know for sure. If it’s kind of brown, then it’s likely Lasioglossum or Halictus (one of a million sweat bees that look very similar), but if it’s dark greenish/blueish, it could be Ceratina (a small carpenter bee). What beautiful shots. I need to remember to look at his blog. It’s really wonderful. I can forward to Sam Droege to ask if he’s heard of any Lophiola specialists, but they recently published an article on specialists for VNPS http://vnps.org/plants-for-specialist-bees/ and it’s not mentioned (though suppose Lophiola may not even be found in VA)." The abdomen in the first photo looks lightish brown while the last photo it looks darker.
    Wish I could figure out how to get your posts without having to remember to check...Wonderful! Thanks, Nancy

  2. Rob, I saw this plant for the first time last year after many years of going to the coast. It was along Hwy 130 north of Shallotte. I reported it to the Heritage program & sent in a photo - https://www.flickr.com/photos/ncorchid/7330669660/in/photolist-caMAGd
    David McAdoo