Rare Golden Aster finds a home at unusual vineyard in East Manatee county

Rare golden aster finds a home at unusual vineyard Bunker Hill Vineyard working to save an endangered Florida plant

newsintern@bradenton.comJuly 1, 2013 

DUETTE -- Among the grape vines, barrels and bottles at Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery, visitors can see a rare find.

No, it's not the cherry tomato, mango, coconut or pineapple wines available in the tasting room.

It's the endangered Florida Golden Aster.

Larry and Lenora Woodham, the founders of Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery, planted 100 seeds of the Florida Golden Aster on June 20.

It is the first time the rare plant conservation program at Bok Tower Gardens has worked with private landowners to introduce the endangered plant onto their land.

It makes sense that the Woodhams, whose winery is at 8905 Bunker Hill Road, would be the first partners. Larry Woodham's family settled in the Bradenton area in the 1840s. A conservationist, Larry, 66, has been working in his business to preserve Florida's environment.

The Woodhams have a 10-year commitment with Bok Tower to help preserve the plant. U.S. Fish and Wildlife is also a partner in the program.

Juliet Rynear, rare plant specialist at Bok Tower, takes specific measures to track the native Floridian plant.

"Through our database we track every single plant to determine how we can store them in the long run," Rynear said.

According to Rynear, not every seed stores the same way so that's why careful examination of each plant has to be made.

Within a couple of hours, Rynear and other specialists will know how successful their introduction at Bunker Hill was.

"In the fall we monitor all the populations of plant species which we have introduced," Rynear said. "We measure the plant height and width and make note if it's reproductive."

Although planting theendangered flowers took an hour, setting up for theprocess took several months.

"Each plant has a metal tracking number that keeps track of every plant's life," Woodham said.

Florida Golden Asters were discovered by botanist Samuel Mills Tracy in 1901. The plant is indigenous to Florida in three counties: Hillsborough, Manatee and Hardee.

The Golden Aster has been disappearing as rampant development throughout the Tampa Bay region has taken over its habitat.

Larry and Lenora Woodham want to save this plant because they believe in every living organism's right for survival.

The Woodhams researched the kind of environment the endangered plant needed to survive before creating natural sites for growing the flowers.

"Florida Golden Asters have very specific needs," Woodham said.

The plants require an underlying sandy soil and the smallest disruption to its environment affects its chances for survival.

"In the old days whenever we developed lands it would be along the beaches -- or if it was inland somewhere we didn't really fully understand and appreciate some of the diversity nature had to offer," Woodham said. "And this plant was living in very harsh conditions to start with already."

A walk on the soft, yet sturdy pathway to the plants is like taking a walk down the beach.

"We built the pathway from all natural materials," Woodham said. "We layeredthe ground with shells,and then some sand, and put a layer of lime mortar on top."

Combinations of the natural materials created a pathway suitable for the plant as well as accessibility for visitors.

"When creating thepathway, we wanted tocreate it with materials that would allow people onwheelchairs and parents with strollers to access it, too," Woodham said.

Larry Woodham thinks everything they do at Bunker Hill they do "with an eye of sustainability."

"What makes this unique is that the plant has already been planted in several different private settings," Larry Woodham said.

"The problem with that picture though is that the public can't see it, but what we wanted to do is create an environment where the plant is showcased for everyone."

Rynear is pleased with Bok Tower's decision to make a commitment with the Woodhams.

"They really went the extra mile to make this happen," Rynear said.

Woodham said Bok Tower and U.S. Fish and Wildlife have been critical in making the project a success and that the partnership has been designed with an eye toward creating a way for the public to build a relationship with the endangered plant.

"It's not extraordinary what we have done because it's not about us," Larry Woodham said. "It's about the future generation getting to appreciate this plant."

The yellow blooms ofthe Golden Aster come out in November every year.

To access the uniqueplant, visit Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery by following the signs from State Road 62.

The winery is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. To reach Lenora and Larry Woodham, call 941-776-0418.

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