Olivia Grace Schmidt

Scientist. Photographer. Filmmaker.

The Endangered Plants of Big Bend National Park

In August of 2016, the Fowler Lab took a journey across Texas - from the Edwards Plateau to the Chihuahuan Desert. Our final destination was Big Bend National Park, the gem of West Texas. Our goal: to find four rare species of plant and characterize their habitat. This wasn't as easy as it might sound. Washed out roads, difficult terrain, and desert monsoons all awaited us. Luckily National Park Botanist Joe Sirotnak and Sul Ross State University Professor Martin Terry helped up find the species we were looking for, which were: Coryphantha ramillosa (bunched cory cactus), Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensis (Chisos Mountain hedgehog cactus), Echinomastus mariposensis (Lloyd's mariposa cactus), and Festuca ligulata (Guadalupe fescue). I am currently working on a conservation project at UT Austin to better understand the habitat characteristics and threats to these species. Hopefully this work will be of use to National Parks botanists for future endangered species management in the park.

For more work from the Fowler Lab, click here
Click images for gallery view. 
Coryphantha ramillosa (bunched cory cactus) in bloom in the rugged limestone cliffs in the southeast region of the park. 
Rooney's Place overlooking the Rio Grande River and Mexico. This is the borderlands.  
Labmate Ashley Green in Coryphantha ramillosa habitat, August 2016. 
The remnant spines of a dead cactus. 
Professor Martin Terry of Sul Ross State University accompanied us on our journey. He is a master at cactus identification. 
Bones of a rodent in scat. 
Cholla skeleton in all its glory. 
Dr. Norma Fowler (my advisor), Dr. Martin Terry, and Ashley Green plan the route to find the rare Lloyd's mariposa cactus. 
Coryphantha macromeris, a relative of the rare Coryphantha ramillosa, looks very similar to its cousin as it prepares to bloom. 
Fellow graduate student, Carolyn Whiting, looking out over the desert gravel bajadas near Chilicotal Mountain. 
Dr. Norma Fowler, Dr. Martin Terry, and National Parks Botanist Joe Sirotnak discuss the habitat preferences of the Chisos Mountain hedgehog cactus. They commonly use nurse plants as shade from the scorching sun during development.  
Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensis (Chisos Mountain hedgehog cactus) standing tall. 
Casa Grande at twilight from the Rio Grande Basin. 
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