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Rattlesnake Ridge

Press Shop | 07.12.2018

The governor hiked right past it, and everyone else who was hiking Rattlesnake Ridge with him missed it, too, until the hawk-eyed botanist from Rogers who was bringing up the rear laid eyes on it. 

The six-inch wildflower stood four feet, at least, north of the trail, snuggled against the spindly trunk of a four-foot oak under the cover of a sapling sweet gum.

When Ellen Turner spotted the flower, you’d have thought she had discovered gold, and in the world of plant lovers, she had. A couple of the hikers rushed to the celebrity flower with their cell phones. Then Theo Witsell, Arkansas’s chief botanist, bent low for an up-close examination and confirmed Mrs. Turner’s find as a rarity in Arkansas.   

Mrs. Turner, a member of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, was there on the second day of May with Governor Asa Hutchinson and a gaggle of other nature lovers for the dedication of Rattlesnake Ridge, the state’s newest designated “natural area.” 

The afternoon began with remarks by Stacy Hurst, director of Department of Arkansas Heritage; Governor Hutchinson; Congressman French Hill, who admitted to trespassing on the land when he was a boy; Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas; Darrell Bowman, Director of Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission; and Lee Bodenhamer, whose family sold the land to the state for a fire-sale price in order to conserve it. 

Mr. Bodenhamer is a central Arkansas native who left the state for awhile to study, and then to teach, at Harvard.

Mr. Bodenhamer and his wife, Beverly, bought the land years ago as a retreat for their family. In the summer of 2017, Mr. Bodenhamer took Scott Simon on a tour of the property and mentioned that his family wanted to conserve it. As they took in the view from the top of the ridge, Scott knew someone should preserve the 373 acres of natural habitat.  

Scott spread the story to those who needed to hear it, which included Mrs. Hurst, who persuaded Governor Hutchinson that the state ought to participate in the conservation. Several partners agreed to pitch in, and now Arkansas has added its 73rd natural area to its collection, increasing the state’s inventory of conserved natural areas to more than 65,000 acres. 

Four of Arkansas’s six ecoregions converge in Central Arkansas, and Rattlesnake Ridge, smack-dab in the middle of it all in the words of Mr. Bowman, rises 920 feet above sea level.

The 13 acres of sandstone outcrop at the top of the ridge is a combination of flora and fauna, and geology and climate, that is similar to only a few other places in Arkansas.

There are several species at Rattlesnake Ridge that you can find in few other places. The place is named for one of its more famous reptilian residents, the western diamondback. This is as far east as you can find this rattler.  The Wright’s Cliffbrake, a fern that grows in the highest point of Rattlesnake Ridge, has been found in only one other spot in Arkansas. Otherwise, it is found only in the southwest areas of the United States.

But the flower that Mrs. Turner spotted was a real find. Streptanthus Maculatus subspecies Obtusifolius, which non-professionals call the Arkansas Twistflower or Arkansas cabbage, grows in a handful of Arkansas counties in the Ouachita Mountains and nowhere else in the world. The flower is considered “globally rare.”

Twistflower brings the total of the number of plant species known to grow at Rattlesnake Ridge to 481, and that excites Mr. Whitsell in ways that only plant people can understand. “To see those beautiful and rare, pink and purple flowers on that particular ridge was gratifying,” he says. “For this particular species to be the first one added to the plant list after the dedication ceremony – it doesn’t get much better than that! To be part of the team that will help protect them for my grandkids’ grandkids to find, even better.”

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