24 August 2016

Mapping Flora of Cherry County

Records of known occurrences for flora within Cherry county are being mapped by the University of Nebraska.

There are more than 1400 collecting localities within the county and the sites are being mapped by a student intern working especially with herbarium specimens at the University of Nebraska State Museum, said Thomas Labedz, collections manager. The intern is from Southeast Community College and completing their degree studies.

"Cherry County was chosen for several reasons," Labedz said in an email. "It has enough different anomalies to truly test how we are going to do this. It has one of the most diverse flora of any Nebraska county. It has habitat diversity among an overall habitat type that is largely homogeneous, which begs the question of whether collecting has been evenly distributed or centered on a few spots. It has a long history of collecting. It has federal, state and private properties with long histories."

Habitats include those present at wetland lakes, meadows and fens, expanses of grasslands, woodlands and the unique overlap of plant communities along the Niobrara Valley.

Known records will be evaluated to make sure they are from within Cherry county, and then geo-referenced to a locality using geographic information system software. Some of the place names "haven’t appeared on a map in about 100 years," Labedz said. Assistance on locations have been provided by staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Prominent emeritus professors such as David M. Sutherland, UNO and Robert Kaul of UNL are involved, with both having decades of experience with Nebraska floristics.

The Cherry county effort is an initial effort to represent how floral records can be mapped and made publicly available for online access.

Heritage associated with plants within Cherry county started more than a century ago. Plants were found, then kept in a suitable manner as a botanical specimen in a herbarium, including at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and Chadron State College.

Plant research occurred amidst the county in 1915 and during the 1930s. A multi-county survey was done at the Niobrara Valley Preserve when it was newly established more than 25 years ago. More recently, there have been floral studies done associated with evaluations of unique wetland fens in 1996 (i.e., Jumbo and Pullman valley fens, Big Creek Fen). Surveys occurred at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in 2006. In 2009, surveys by the staff associated with the Illinois Natural History Survey were done at Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, and at the privately-owned Vanderploeg Ranch, along the river south of Valentine.

Similar efforts to denote plant locations may hopefully occur for other Nebraska counties, depending on the availability of funding, Labedz said. Nearly all records of collected plants indicate the county, and often include a more specific mention of a particular locale.

The Cherry county project will hopefully be completed in late September, Labedz said.