Our Prairie People: Jason Singhurst

Published by Aspen Huebner on

Jason Singhurst discussing native Texas plants
Botanical Conservations with Jason Singhurst

In the fascinating realm of botanical exploration and conservation, Jason Singhurst emerges as a dedicated steward of Texas’s rich plant diversity. His journey into the world of botany blossomed during his academic pursuits at SFA State University, where an encounter with aquatic plants ignited a passion for understanding and safeguarding plant communities. Read along as we unravel the driving forces, obstacles, and captivating facets of Singhurst’s botanical pursuits, delving into the importance of safeguarding the distinctive and at-risk flora that thrives in the heart of Texas.


“So many of our rare and declining plant communities are under threats (such as urban sprawl, land conversion, invasive plants, etc.). My goal is to conserve as many of these special habitats during my career, and giving future generations a chance to appreciate and enjoy the wonderful plant and animal diversity of Texas.”


Can you share a bit about your journey into the field of botany and the plant community? What sparked your interest in this area?

While majoring in Agriculture at SFA State University in Nacogdoches, I minored in biology where I took courses in Plant Taxonomy, Plant Morphology, Plant Ecology, and Aquatic Vascular Plants. During the aquatic vascular plants course, my professor Dr. Elray Nixon introduced us to over 200 aquatic plants. On the field trips we visited many different plant communities that included bald cypress swamps, pitcher plant bogs, baygalls (forested bogs), flatwood ponds, and different bottomland hardwood forests. This class really opened my eyes to distinct plant communities. As a graduate student, I spent the summer of 1992 collecting 400 plant species in the Flint Hills and Chautauqua Hills of southeast Kansas where my family has resided since the 1880’s. That summer sparked my interest in learning about so many different plant species, making herbarium collections, and initiating my thirst to learn about the amazing plant diversity of flora in North America.

As a Botanist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, you emphasize conserving rare and declining plant communities. What drives your passion for the conservation of these specific ecosystems?

My drive for conserving rare and declining plant communities is sparked by the rare and endemic (plants found nowhere else but Texas) plants that are only known to occur in many of these plant communities. I feel obligated to follow my agency pledge to conserve the plants and wildlife of Texas for future generations. So, I try to do my best to work with many land trusts across Texas to conserve these rare communities through land acquisition and conservation easements. So many of our rare and declining plant communities are under threats (such as urban sprawl, land conversion, invasive plants, etc.). My goal is to conserve as many of these special habitats during my career, and giving future generations a chance to appreciate and enjoy the wonderful plant and animal diversity of Texas.

Asclepias Texana (Texas Milkweed). Photographed by Jason Singhurst
Texas has a rich and diverse flora. What are some of the unique characteristics or species that particularly fascinate you within the Texas plant kingdom?

Carnivorous plants have always fascinated me. In eastern Texas, wetland plant communities such as pitcher plant bogs and longleaf pine savannas contain numerous carnivorous plants. Their passive and active trapping mechanisms make them some of the most advanced plants on the planet. They need enzymes from the invertebrates they digest to aid in their vegetative and reproductive plant growth.

Tallgrass prairies seem to be a specific focus of your documentation efforts. Why are these prairies significant, and what challenges do they face in terms of conservation?

Like many conservation biologists before me, the decline of the extensive grasslands of the Great Plains is very concerning. In Texas, we are blessed with tallgrass prairie habitats in 95 counties. There are more than 20 different tallgrass prairie types in Texas and the majority of them are rare and declining. In the Coastal Prairie Region of Texas approximately 4% of this prairie ecosystem remains, and it contains over 1100 plant species of which 60 plus are Texas endemics (not globally found outside of this region). In the Blackland Prairie Ecoregion of Texas approximately 1% of this prairie region remains and it contains close to 800 plant species. These tallgrass prairies contain a large percentage of our Texas flora and fauna (grassland birds, high invertebrate diversity, etc.). They face huge challenges that include overgrazing of native pastures; high land values; and invasion of non-native grasses, trees and brush.

Jason Singhurst discussing native Texas plants
Jason Singhurst, Tim Siegmund and Will Newman on Quebe Prairie in Washington County. Photographed by Meg Inglis
What is the significance of conserving rare, endemic, and peripheral flora in Texas, and how does their conservation contribute to the overall health of ecosystems?

When you conserve rare, endemic, and peripheral flora in Texas you are most often conserving highly intact plant communities with high plant diversity. For example, when the Native Prairies Association of Texas conserves prairies such as the 50-acre Lawther Deer Park Prairie in Harris County, which contains rare and endemic plants such as Texas windmill grass and snowy orchids, they are also conserving over 340 additional plants of this highly intact and botanical diverse preserve.

when the Native Prairie Association of Texas conserves prairies such as the 50-acre Lawther Deer Park Prairie in Harris County, which contains rare and endemic plants such as Texas windmill grass and snowy orchids they are also conserving over 340 additional plants of this highly intact and botanical diverse preserve.

Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya) in bloom on our Lawther — Deer Park Prairie
Photographed by Sean Fitzgerald
What are some of the challenges you face in your work, especially in the context of conservation efforts in Texas?

The biggest challenge I face in the context of conservation efforts in Texas is lack of funding. There are so many amazing Texans with multi-generational farms and ranches, and recent new landowners who are highly open to placing conservation easements on their lands. However, there are not enough dollars for conservation through state or federal funds or philanthropy to meet the opportunities that arise annually. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension data from 2012 – 2017 shows that Texas lost an average of 657 acres per day to development. However, a recent landowner survey showed that close to 80% of landowners are open to participating in a permanent land protection program. That is approximately 240,000 acres of development per year. Lynn County, Texas is 580,000 acres in size. So, every 2.5 years an area the size of Lynn County will be developed. How can we even counterbalance conservation against development. Are conservation organizations in Texas conserving a minimum of 240,000 acres a year (????) and at what scale annually do we need to conserve Texas to pace ahead of development?

How have technological advancements influenced your work in recent years, and what role do you see technology playing in the future of plant ecology and conservation?

Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Science software used for mapping of rare and declining habitats are amazing technological advancements that have influenced and played a huge role in my conservation work. With the use of ArcGIS and Leica Geosystems Software I am able to much more easily identify rare habitats, map their spatial extent, and find which properties we would like to explore. We could see if these rare habitats are ecologically intact, and assess their quality and conditions through field surveys. iNaturalist has also been an extremely useful mapping tool and the iNaturalist Rare Plants of Texas Project we initiated several years ago has led to many new rare plant location and supporting rare habitat discoveries in Texas.

Jason Singhurst discussing native Texas plants
Do you have a favorite plant species in Texas, and if so, what makes it particularly special to you?

Canyonland rattlesnake root (Prenanthes carrii) is my favorite plant in Texas. Canyonland rattlesnake root is in the sunflower family, and I had an opportunity to assist with publishing it new to science. This extremely narrow-ranged perennial wildflower (only known from Bandera, Kendall, Kerr and Real counties) is restricted to steep, shaded canyons dominated by bigtooth maple in the Southwestern Edwards Plateau region of Central Texas. Canyonland rattlesnake root is always found near spring-fed stream heads. In the spring, it puts up baseball cap-sized sagittiform (arrow leaf shaped leaves) in the maple leaf litter. In larger colony populations (200 plants or more) canyonland rattlesnake root only reproduces about 4% of a population with bolting flowering stalks (2-3 feet in height). They flower from late August to early November with showy, creamy-colored disk flowers that point down in a rattlesnake-like striking position hence the common name rattlesnake root.

NPAT has made efforts to restore Black Tailed Prairie Dog habitats at the Maddin Prairie in Mitchell County. This article mentions that current black-tailed prairie dog populations were concentrated on the Great Plains Shortgrass Prairies ecosystem. Could you discuss the significance of this concentration and any implications for conservation efforts?

Black-tailed prairie dog colonies historically occurred in in 96 counties in Texas and currently only persist in 73 counties. The southern Rolling Plains counties such as Mitchell County are on the periphery of their range. Efforts to maintain prairie dogs throughout their historical range is important to maintain genetically diverse populations. Efforts such as restoring black-tailed prairie dog habitats at the Maddin Prairie will hopefully help in aiding with establishing range expansion and resistance to unfortunate bubonic plague that frequently impacts prairie dog colonies.


Estimating Black-Tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys Ludovicianus) distribution in Texas

The vascular flora and plant communities of Lawther – Deer Park Prairie

Castilleja Halophila (Orobanchaceae): A new species from the Texas Coastal Bend

Jason is a co-author of
Rare Plants of Texas
A Field Guide
By Jackie M. Poole, William R. Carr, Dana M. Price and Jason R. Singhurst

Pre-Order Here


Interview by Aspen Huebner

Categories: Our MembersStatewide