At Hard Labor Creek State Park (Georgia), 11 August 2009 Rasslin' a giant saguaro at Saguaro National Park (Arizona), 17 March 2006

Welcome to the Bibb County, Alabama pages of
Jim Allison, botanist

All photographs on these pages taken by James R. Allison in Bibb County, Alabama (except as noted) and © 2011. All rights reserved.

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Hi! I'm a botanist (a biologist specializing in plant life) living in Georgia. But these particular pages are about the plant life of a single county in the middle of the neighboring state of Alabama.Nevius' stonecrop (Sedum nevii)

The first time I set foot in Bibb County, Alabama was in August of 1989. I went there on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to look for a rare native perennial, Nevius' stonecrop (Sedum nevii).  This plant of shallow soil accumulations on rocky Arabis georgiana (Georgia rockcress), Elmore County, Alabama. bluffs along major streams in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee was at the time an official  candidate to receive legal protection under the national Endangered Species Act (ESA). To assess whether a species should be listed under the ESA, it is important to find out how the species is faring and to determine what threats might  jeopardize its continued existence.

By hiking from roads it proved fairly easy to find this Sedum  at the few places in Bibb County from which it had been reported previously. Upon visiting one of these localesóLimestone Park, on the Little Cahaba RiveróI found that it was the site of an outfitter for canoe trips on the Cahaba River. It occurred to me that canoe travel would be an ideal way to search for new populations of a plant that is usually found along streams. Not quite two months later, I returned to Bibb County with a friend whoOn the Little Cahaba River: Tim Stevens at left, Jim Allison at right. Photo by Jim Rodgers. shared my longtime interest in plants of rock outcrops and who was an aficionado of cacti and succulents (such as Sedum nevii). In two days of canoeing we found Sedum nevii at several new locations along the Little Cahaba River, Six Mile Creek, and the Cahaba River. Indeed, it is probably only the number of Bibb County populations of Nevius' stonecrop that has kept it off the Endangered Species List.

In 1992 I received a contract from the USFWS to assess the status in Alabama of another candidate for listing under the ESA, Georgia rockcress (Arabis georgiana). Once again, this was a plant already known from Bibb County, from the vicinity of a couple of bridge crossings of the Cahaba River. Thinking that another canoe trip might turn up more populations of Georgia rockcress, as it had a few years earlier for Nevius' stonecrop, I invited three friends (Tim Stevens, of Montgomery, and Jim and Debi Rodgers, now of Senoia, Georgia) to join me for some canoeing on the Cahaba and Little Cahaba Rivers. We chose Memorial Day weekend, since Click on this thumbnail to read a Southern Living article from 1999 even if the rockcress proved elusive, we  would be assured the memorable experience of passing through several river stretches filled bank-to-bank with spectacular flowering colonies of Cahaba lilies  (Hymenocallis coronaria, image at right, below). This plant of river shoals has inspired an annual Cahaba Lily Festival in the  Bibb County town of West Blocton.
Cahaba Lilies (Hymenocallis coronaria) in the Cahaba River.
As it turned out, we found several new populations of Georgia rockcress, plus some odd and unfamiliar plants. A couple of the plants collected that weekend turned out to be new to Alabama, and some others resisted all attempts to  identify them, at least as known species. Over the course of repeated return visits, many of them with Tim Stevens (in the front of the canoe in the image at right, above, taken by Jim Rogers), it  became clear that Bibb County contained an amazing assemblage of rare plants.  Chief  among these were eight plants that had never been named and described, and seven that had never been found before in Alabama, including a wildflower that had not been seen anywhere in more than a century-and-a half. We also found a lichen that had never been recorded from closer than Arkansas (but lichens are not plants). Click on the thumbnail at left to read a short write-up by Jennifer Greer that appeared in Southern Living in 1999.

I formally described and named the new plants in 2001, in Castanea, the peer-reviewed journal of the  Southern Appalachian Botanical Society. The SABS awarded the article the 2002 Richard and Minnie Windler Award for the systematics paper judged the best of the preceding year published in Castanea. My website includes an online edition of the Castanea article, with a good many color images that could not be included in the original for reasons of cost and  space. The original is available in PDF form by clicking here (34 megs, so a broadband connection is advised).

Since then the area with the greatest concentration of rare plants has been acquired by the Nature Conservancy of Alabama, assuring its protection for the benefit and enjoyment of generations yet unborn. 

This phenomenal area, the Kathy Stiles Freeland Bibb County Glades Preserve, has been the subject of several magazine articles. Among the more recent ones was by Bill Garland, in the April 2008 issue of Outdoor Alabama, in which the discovery of the Bibb County Glades was called the botanical discovery of the [twentieth] century! Well, I can hardly claim objectivity with regard to such a claim, and I suppose the same can be said for many an Alabamian. If you need convincing (or if you don't), check out this lavishly photo-illustrated story by clicking on the image of the magazine cover below at left (which, a bit ironically, shows a flower head of Georgia aster).

One year later the Bibb County Glades were the subject of an article titled "The Magic Rock Garden," in the April 2009 issue of Natural History by Robert J. Mohlenbrock.  To read it (without the illustrations) click here or click on the image of the cover, below right, to see my [low-quality] scan of it.

Another celebration of this magical place is traveling our roads and highways every day in many places simultaneously! At the 2006 Cahaba Lily Festival, U-Haul International, Inc. premiered the Alabama edition of its rental vans celebrating America's wonders, "Venture Across America." The graphic that was placed on over 600 of the company's large vans is shown below, at center.Click on this thumbnail to see my scan of the April 2009 article from Natural History magazine about the Bibb County Glades.Click on this thumbnail to read the article (PDF, 770kb) from Outdoor Alabama, April 2008

Click to enlarge this image of U-Haul's Alabama "Venture Across America" graphic.

 

Here are links to my other Bibb County Glade pages. The first is a non-technical discussion of rare plants of Bibb County, especially the discoveries that began with the fateful canoe expedition of Memorial Day weekend, 1992. The original version first appeared several years ago in a botanical newsletter called Panga

Click to read this non-technical article.

The second link is to a special web version, with many additional color images, of the scientific paper in which the Bibb County ecosystem richest in rare plants was first discussed in detail, and in which I formally described the new plants:

The third link is to some material supplementary to that paper:

Click to read this supplementary material to a technical paper in a botanical journal.

 

Page last updated: January 20, 2011