Plant Exploring: San Gabriel Mountains

Ecological cross-section of the San Gabriel Mountains.

In 1997, teaching 6th graders at the Los Angeles County Outdoor Science School, I first discovered the San Gabriel Mountains. The school, located in Wrightwood at an elevation of 6,000 feet, was (and still is) nestled in a mixed conifer forest with pines, firs, and oaks. Students from across the county came for a week and we spent everyday outside-tromping through the mountains, exploring hands-on, place-based concepts.

While my working title was teacher I was just as much a student, with local botanists, geologists, ecologists, and cultural historians serving as my mentors at night or on weekends. It was during this time I first developed an understanding of biogeography-how abiotic factors affect the distribution of flora and fauna. The San Gabriel Mountains rise to 10,000 feet above the Los Angeles Basin, stretching from western San Bernardino County to Santa Clarita along the I-5 corridor-serving as the recreational backyard for millions of Southern Californians.

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CNPS De-Extinction Project

By CNPS Board Member Vince Scheidt

How do you know when something is really extinct? And is extinction always forever?

Franciscan Manzanita relocation.

Relocating the Franciscan Manzanita, discovered after presumed extinction.

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.

Important Plant Areas – Promoting Plant Species and Communities on Maps for Conservation in California

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Fremont’s tidy tip-blow wife vernal pool alliance, a rare vegetation type found at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Gary Zahm.

Over the 2016-2017 winter, the Conservation, Rare Plant, and Vegetation programs have initiated an effort to map Important Plan Areas (IPA) throughout California. With its diversity and endemism, the flora of California is unlike any other in the world, and CNPS is being proactive to protect and preserve its natural beauty and resources. The IPA initiative will produce tools that will aid and support decisions for local, regional, and statewide conservation planning.

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Goldfields blooming in an Alkali habitat at Semitropic Ridge, Kern County. Photo by Jennifer Buck-Diaz.

The Rare Plant and Vegetation programs are gathering data available through past survey efforts and fine-scale vegetation maps – including GIS map data that are publicly available, and survey data that are currently being compiled in a statewide dataset by CNPS and California Department of Fish & Wildlife. We are consolidating this baseline botanical knowledge for California, and will present it through digital maps that highlight the locations of rare plant species and vegetation that have high priority for protection. However, in order to have a comprehensive map we need help from local experts and citizen scientists who know their local areas best.


Valley Oak Woodland at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, Stanislaus County. Photo by Gary Zahm.

California is such a large state and we have a lot of ground to cover. To start, we are focusing our efforts on regions where conservation planning is currently taking place, such as the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys. Our first pilot region is the southern San Joaquin Valley. Although much of this region has been urbanized or converted to agriculture, there are remaining natural areas that are unique or rare, including vernal pools and riparian and alkaline habitats. Identifying these areas is important so we can advocate for their preservation during conservation planning.

A map of the southern San Joaquin Valley, our pilot area for the Important Plant Area Initiative.

A map of the southern San Joaquin Valley, our pilot area for the Important Plant Area Initiative.

To gather additional knowledge for the southern San Joaquin Valley, we hosted an IPA workshop in Bakersfield this month. This workshop brought together a group of individuals to help contribute knowledge of rare and special plants and communities in that region. We will add the new knowledge gained during this workshop to the existing information we have to better define IPAs for the region. Next, we will then expand our efforts to other regions of California starting with the remaining areas of the Great Valley and ultimately reaching our goal of a map of IPAs for all of California.

The Important Plant Area initiative, funded in part by the Giles W. and Elise G. Mead Foundation and an anonymous donor, is fundamental to what CNPS has always done. We put together what we know about California’s flora, share the information with others, and protect places through science-based advocacy and our passion for plants and their natural habitats.

A New Endangered Species Candidate: Coast Yellow Leptosiphon

Coast yellow leptosiphon

Coast yellow leptosiphon. Photo courtesy of Aaron Schusteff.

On December 8, the California Fish and Game Commission approved the Coast yellow leptosiophon as an official Endangered Species Candidate.  Toni Corelli, a rare plant botanist and long-time CNPS supporter, successfully petitioned for the protection under the California Endangered Species Act.

“Coast yellow leptosiphon is among the rarest of rare plants,” says CNPS Rare Plant Botanist Aaron Sims. “This endangered listing could be the only hope for its survival.”

Discovered in the early 20th century, along the San Mateo coast, the species has been reduced to a single population of fewer than 500 plants. Today, coastline erosion, invasive non-natives, and the prospect of a nearby housing development further threaten its survival. 

CNPS staffer Kate Cooper recently spoke with Corelli to learn more about this special plant and the steps she took to protect it: Continue reading

Livermore Tarplant

Livermore Tarplant

The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) successfully petitioned for endangered status for the rare Livermore tarplant (Deinandra bacigalupii), a species known to exist in only three locations within Alameda County.

Two years after Heath Bartosh, Rare Plant Committee Chairman of the East Bay Chapter of CNPS, petitioned the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to list this rare endemic species as endangered, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to grant the Livermore tarplant endangered status. The Commission praised the thoroughness and sound science that CNPS presented in the petition, and in two motions moved to add it to the list of plants declared to be endangered in California.

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Saving the Lassics Lupine

Saving the Lassics Lupine

Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei)

Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei)

Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing the Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei) up close knows that it is among the most attractive of all the California lupines. The striking white, pink and rose flowers—contrasting with its silvery-white foliage on the barren rock slopes where it occurs—is simply magnificent. Endemic to less than four acres on the upper slopes of the Lassics Mountains in eastern Humboldt County, it depends on sufficient snowpack and shelter from summer heat to survive. The Lassics Mountains are widely known for their exceptional botanical diversity and rare species associated with the ultramafic (high in magnesium and iron) soils.

The CNPS North Coast Chapter has been active in conservation efforts aimed at the lupine for more than 20 years, including several cost-share agreements with the U.S. Forest Service, and assistance in inventory, monitoring, and other tasks. Based on annual monitoring conducted since 2005, the population of mature Lassics lupine has declined from more than 600 in 2014 to roughly 130 in 2016. An estimated 580 seedlings germinated this year but, based on historical data, 95 percent of those are not likely to reproduce.

Extensive research by US Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service scientists has indicated a variety of factors responsible for this decline, including seed predation by small mammals due in part to and forest and chaparral encroachment into its open habitat. Since 2003, most of the physically accessible reproductive plants have been caged to prevent seed predation. A population viability analysis conducted in 2012 suggested the caging was critical to stabilizing the species in the short term.

Changing climate, however, poses a new threat to the species. Drought over the past five years, the virtual absence of winter snowpack, unusually high summer temperatures in 2014 and 2015, and the Lassic Fire of 2015 have pushed the Lassics lupine to the brink of extinction.


In habitat.

Virtually the entire distribution of the species is within the 7,000-acre Lassics Wilderness, managed by Six Rivers National Forest, which—in this area of the forest— is surrounded by either private or National Forest timberlands; this severely limits the feasibility of allowing lightning-caused fires to burn naturally. After decades of fire suppression, manual treatment followed by routine prescribed fire is needed to restore and maintain much of the Lassics lupine habitat. Unfortunately, that same habitat offers the species the best available refuge from climate extremes.
Although multiple policies allow and often mandate the Forest Service to take specific action to conserve this species, Six Rivers National Forest has not implemented habitat restoration nor aggressively pursued recovery actions. Over the past decade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CNPS have repeatedly asked the Forest Service to give priority to saving this species. These requests have been ignored, ostensibly due to conflicts with wilderness values and forest priorities or lack of funding. As a result, a petition to list the lupine as Federally Endangered was filed in January 2016. This would force the survival of the species to be considered in any actions taken by the Forest Service, and would require development of a formal recovery plan for the species.

To help spur the Forest Service into action, we petitioned for State listing in July. Not only could this lead to increased potential for funding from the State, but Federal guidance on management of wilderness areas recognizes an important role for state decisions affecting fish and wildlife resources in wilderness. As the trustee agency for fish and wildlife resources statewide, we believe the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a shared responsibility for saving the Lassics lupine.

-Dave Imper
CNPS North Coast Chapter

What can you do to help the Lassics Lupine?