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Nowhere in America is there a greater variety of native plant communities, native plant species, or rare and endemic native plants than in the forests of the Southeast. However, this exceptional bounty of diversity is under increasing stress from habitat conversion, alterations in community composition, and exotic pest and disease species. Human activities have impacted native plant communities since the first aboriginals settled in the region, and humans are likely to remain a formative part of the southern landscape for the foreseeable future.
The human use of native plants and their communities mirror contemporary societal needs. At the beginning of the 21st century the forested plant communities of the South are producing more than ever. Although the vast majority of the region’s plant communities have been altered to a greater or lesser extent, an increasingly important societal need is the conservation of natural areas and the restoration of public lands. Rare vascular plant species are not evenly distributed throughout the South. Peaks of rare species diversity occur in the Southern Appalachians, the Florida Panhandle, and the Lake Wales Ridge region of Florida. Secondary peaks of rare species diversity are located in Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains and on the Cumberland Plateau.
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