Conservation and botany student elevates his Auburn experience finding extinct plants and seeking Alabama’s ‘plant wonders’
In the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM), students can elevate their experience at Auburn University.
For Noah Yawn, he not only found a plant thought to be extinct, discovered a new location of a plant thought to be found only in one place, and also trekked through fast-moving water to see breathtaking, exotic lilies.
And that was in addition to working at the Donald E. Davis Arboretum while completing coursework for a double major in integrative biology and geology with an anticipated graduation date of May 2022.
“My good friend and mentor Alan Cressler and I rediscovered what was thought to be an extinct plant in Alabama, Berberis canadensis, the American Barberry,” Yawn explained. “The last time it was recorded was more than a half of a century ago, where it hadn’t been seen since despite extensive searching.”
“Cressler and I were thankful to locate another rare plant, only known to science for around a year, at a second population—this plant was the newly described Hexastylis finzelii, Finzel’s Wild Ginger. Upon its discovery, it was thought to be a single-site endemic; now, it is a two-site endemic! Hopefully more populations of this incredibly rare plant will be located in the near future since only approximately 1,000 plants represent this species,” Yawn said.
“Additionally, in November, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a large population of another rare (and charismatic) plant, Parnassia grandifolia, the Big Leaf Grass-of-Parnassus, a southeastern U.S. endemic that was only known at one site in central Alabama. This discovered population represents the second existing occurrence of the species in Alabama, found further south in the coastal plain! I’m hoping to publish these finds in a ‘New and Noteworthy AL Flora’ paper in collaboration with a few professional botanists in the near future.
Since Cahaba Lilies bloom in the spring, and many of the other plants were found blooming later in the year, Yawn traveled to Bibb County to see these rare and exquisite plants.
“Cahaba Lilies, Hymenocallis coronaria, also known as Shoals Spider Lilies are aquatic plants that require extremely specific habitats, needing rocky shoals within shallow, clean, fast-moving and oxygen rich water, to thrive. They are known from quite a few watersheds in our state, with some of the largest stands of them in Bibb County, at and near the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, near West Blocton, Alabama,” Yawn shared.
The refuge consists of 3,689 acres and was established in 2002.
“I might say they are truly one of Alabama’s ‘plant wonders of the world’, said Yawn. “They bloom roughly from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day, peaking around Memorial Day weekend, where large clusters of the lily send up dozens of large, white, fragrant, and spider-like flowers 3-feet above the shallow river shoals, opening in late afternoon and persisting for only a day each.”
Each May, the Cahaba Lily Festival showcases the beauty of these flowers.
“I am extremely proud of Noah’s accomplishments to date and glad to help connect him with the network of botanists and conservationists in Alabama and the southeastern U.S.,” COSAM’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Robert Boyd explained. “Noah has been able to elevate his student experience at Auburn University and make a lasting difference to the botanical world. I am excited to see where his future takes him and how he helps the field of conservation advance in future years.”