Endangered coneflower is centerpiece of SRS garden

The smooth purple coneflower, a federally endangered species, is part of a conservation garden at the MOX Plant.

One of South Carolina’s rarest plants has a permanent home in the shadow of one of the government’s largest nuclear facilities.

The smooth purple coneflower, a federally endangered species native to Savannah River Site, is part of a new conservation garden established at the mixed oxide fuel, or MOX Plant, which will dispose of plutonium by blending it into commercial reactor fuel.

The garden, developed by the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Lab­oratory, is at the entrance to the MOX project’s administration building. The coneflowers placed there were cultivated from seeds by ecology lab scientists.

The smooth purple coneflower is a species of open habitats. Southeastern prairies were a common sight in South Carolina when botanist William Bartram visited the area in the 1770s, but they gradually vanished, along with the coneflower, as the region developed. By the early 1990s, only 21 mostly declining populations of the species remained, including three at SRS.

Other SRS species in the garden include scaly blazing star, sky-blue lupine and beargrass. Stone elements were created from cobblestones collected near the MOX construction site. They were deposited by rivers more than 10 million years ago.

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