Sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) planted at Doug Rayner Wildlife Refuge:
A cooperative effort of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, Rhode Island Wild Plant Society and Barrington Land Conservancy Trust
November 30, 2020
Hope Leeson, Botanist for The Rhode Island Natural History Survey
Nockum Hill, in Barrington is a place of the Wampanoag people of Sowams (Barrington Preservation Society, 2018). In Algonquian, the word nockum refers to a sandy place, and a place that is visible from afar (Van Edwards, 2013). Geologically, Nockum Hill is a bluff created by glacial outwash deposits along the Kickemuit River. For the Wampanoag and generations of Rhode Island settler families, the soil of the bluff was agriculturally important (now operated as Four Town Farm). For the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) Nockum Hill is a south facing sandy bluff, only a 27-foot climb up from the brackish water of the upper Kickemuit. A perfect place for digging and laying eggs, and moreover a perfect place to incubate terrapin embryos and over-winter hatchlings before the new generation ventures into the water. Nockum Hill itself is now land protected by the Barrington Land Conservation Trust under the name of the Doug Rayner Wildlife Refuge. Although there are no historical records of the sundial Lunpine (Lupinus perennis) growing on Nockum Hill, the sandy soils and periodic disturbances of terrapin digging, present ideal conditions for the species.
In 1997 Charlie Brown, a wildlife biologist with Rhode Island’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and a Barrington resident, observed a population of sundial lupine growing on a sandy outwash bluff along the eastern shore of the Seekonk River in East Providence. The site was heavily used for recreation and the lupine population was becoming increasingly compromised (RINHS database). Brown determined to save the genetic line of the East Providence population, and collected seed from the remaining plants. Later he and his wife Ginger planted the seed in the sandy outwash soils of Nockum Hill. Several patches of the species continue to grow there as a result of Charlie and Ginger’s seed collection and sowing. Sundial lupine is considered a rare species in Rhode Island, listed as a Species of State Concern, and is a host plant to butterfly and moth larvae including the frosted elfin (Callophrys irus), a Rhode Island Species of Greatest Conservation Need (RI WAP, 2015), as well as being the only known host for larvae of the karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa ssp. samuelis). The karner blue is no longer present in Rhode Island, and is nearly extinct over much of its range (USFWS, 2019).
In 2019, in an effort to formalize relocation and support of rare plant species populations, the RINHS, RIWPS, and RIDEM discussed a cooperative program to propagate the seed of state listed rare plant species. The focus of the program is augmentation of existing rare plant populations (At Risk Plant Propagation Program – ARP3) in support of other rare organisms that depend on these plant species for food. Lupines were selected as a first project, with the goal of increasing the population at Nockum Hill. Seed was collected from the genetic lineage of the East Providence population from plants growing in sandy soil at Charlie Brown’s Barrington home, as well as from plants growing on Nockum Hill. Propagation was overseen by Linda McDaniel (RIWPS Seed Starters East), and in May of this year 24 plants were planted into two locations at Nockum Hill. In addition, two areas with existing plants were weeded and cleared of overhanging branches to allow more sunlight to reach the ground. As a result of vegetation and light management, the number of seedlings that germinated in the largest patch increased. In 2020, a total of 312 sundial lupine were counted; all offspring of the 1997 cohort of plants.
Lupines propagated by SSE were planted in two separate lupine patches. Survival of the planted individuals was 100% for the first three weeks, until terrapins and their predators began digging within the planted areas, and uprooted the small seedlings. At this point each area was surrounded by one-foot high fencing attached to 2-inch wooden stakes. The fencing successfully deterred terrapins, and no further digging occurred.
A second wave of losses occurred at the end of July, when despite weekly watering, several plants failed to survive above-ground. By the end of August, a total of eight of the 24 seedlings were visable within the two patches. It is hoped that the deep tap roots, which are characteristic of the species, have survived and that the individual plants will resprout in the spring of 2021.
To build on experiences gained in 2020, seed was again collected by Charlie Brown, and donated to the project. In August, LindaMcDaniel sowed a total of 324 seeds. Germination was good (about 90%) and despite some initial losses 257 have gone into dormancy. With any luck there will be 200 lupine seedlings to plant at Nockum Hill in the spring of 2021!
The 2020 ARP3 Lupine Project began in 2019 with seed collection and its’ subsequent propagation. In addition to these initial efforts, the project required the execution of many important logistical efforts, for which I am extremely grateful. Peter McCalmont oversaw the project on behalf of the Barrington Land Conservancy Trust (BLCT). Charlie Brown and Pete McCalmont trimmed overhanging branches above the largest of the 1997 patches, and weeded oak seedlings and other species to reduce competition at the ground layer. Pete lugged additional water to the site throughout the summer, and created the much-needed fencing to keep terrapins and their predators from digging in the planted areas. Mary Grover, who is both a RIWPS and a BLCT member, collected seed in 2019, monitored and watered the plants throughout the summer of 2020, and collected survival data on the planted individuals. Linda McDaniel was responsible for the propagation and care of the lupine seedlings at the RIWPS SSE greenhouse in Portsmouth, and was accompanied by a masked and physically distant Sherry Dzamba for transporting and planting the seedlings at Nockum Hill.
-Barrington Preservation Society. 2018. The Story of Nockum Hill.
-Burton Van Edwards. 2013. In a Place Called Nockum, presentation to the people of Barrington.
-Kim Mitchell and Carnes, C. 1996 (updated 2019). Wild Lupine and Karner Blue Butterflies. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service MidwestRegion. https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/kbb/lupine.html
-Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. 2015. Rhode Island Wildlife Action Plan. http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/fish-wildlife/wildlifehuntered/swap15.php