There Really is a Pyxie-moss!

Pyxie-moss (Pyxidanthera barbulata) is a diminutive coastal plain endemic found only in the eastern portions of the Carolinas, southeastern Virginia, and the pine barrens of New Jersey and adjacent Long Island. It is adapted to frequent fire and minimizes heat damage by forming dense mats that hug the relatively cool ground. It prefers open, sandy areas where organic litter is kept to a minimum by fire.

Pyxie moss in Isle of Wight County with a few sprigs of October flower - Polygonella polygama) um. Photo: Zach Bradford

Pyxie moss in Isle of Wight County with a few sprigs of October flower – Polygonella polygama)
Photo: Zach Bradford

Virginia has only two remaining pyxie-moss populations and they inhabit an extraordinarily rare natural community type, longleaf pine / scrub oak sandhill woodland, that is known only from southeast Virginia and adjacent North Carolina. Both populations occur in areas that appear dry at first glance but are actually quite moist just below the soil surface due to perched water tables. The soils at these sites are known as spodosols and are extremely acidic and lacking in nutrients.  See: https://www.soils.org/discover-soils/soil-basics/soil-types/spodosols).

City of Suffolk. Growing with state-rare creeping blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium). Photo: Zach Bradford

City of Suffolk. Growing with state-rare creeping blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium).
Photo: Zach Bradford

The historic extent of pyxie-moss in Virginia is hard to estimate because longleaf pine, the keystone species in the natural community it nearly exclusively inhabits in our area, has been nearly wiped out from Virginia thanks to 400 years of exploitation for naval stores (pitch, tar, and turpentine), and suppression of natural fires. Fortunately, Virginia’s remaining two pyxie-moss populations are managed as part of the Natural Heritage Program’s Natural Area Preserve System. They are given the fire they need and are responding positively.

Zach Bradford
Chesapeake Bay Region Steward
Virginia Natural Heritage Program
Virginia Dept. of Recreation and Conservation

{Editor’s Note: Zach has just started a series of “Wanted Posters” featuring plants that are  presumed extirpated in Virginia BUT have a chance of still being present, yet undetected. The posters detail  distribution and ecology of each species. The first poster showcases Appalachian adder’s-mouth (Malaxis bayardii), which is easily confused to the uneducated eye with green adder’s-mouth (Malaxis unifolia).  You can save the posters to your smartphones and tablets for easy reference in the field. Download the first one below and be on the lookout on our website for the next ones! Zach says he is happy to answers questions: zach.bradford@dcr.virginia.gov
Poster:  http://vnps.org/wp-content/uploads/…/01/Malaxis-bayardii.pdf }

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