By CNPS Board Member Vince Scheidt
How do you know when something is really extinct? And is extinction always forever?
CNPS has embarked on an exciting new project to help answer those questions for California’s native plants. With this, we hope to not only stem the tide of plant extinctions, but to possibly reverse it! Sound like some sort of science fiction? Not exactly.
The CNPS De-extinction Project is a science-based effort to re-evaluate the 22 species currently ranked as “1A” (Plants Presumed Extirpated in California and either Rare or Extinct Elsewhere) by first attempting to rediscover them in the field. If not seen in the field, the next step would be to revisit botanical gardens where a species may persist, and the last involves visiting herbariums where viable seeds may remain as part of historic vouchers. In the latter scenario, scientists could possibly revive an extinct species through seed captured sometimes more than a century ago!
In other cases across the world, species thought to be extinct have been rediscovered in recent years. This fact gives us hope that some of the 22 native plant species thought to be extinct in California will be found again.