Twenty-five volunteers, agency partners and Rare Care staff gathered in Klickitat County in mid-June to monitor known populations of rare plants in the Klickitat Wildlife Area, Conboy National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas. We knew from the outset that our survey plans had to be adjusted. Late wet spring conditions caused as much as a one-month delay in the onset of flowering for many species. We were too early to catch the long-bearded sego lily (Calochortus longebarbatus var. longebarbatus) in bloom. But we caught the tail end of Baker’s linanthus (Leptosiphon bolanderi), a tiny spring annual that normally blooms in April and May. Our timing was perfect for finding Pulsifer’s monkey-flower (Mimulus pulsiferae), another tiny annual found in seasonally moist areas that seemed to have benefited from the spring moisture.
Klickitat County was an ideal location for Rare Care’s fifth annual monitoring weekend. It’s at the east end of the Columbia River Gorge, a region that hosts some of the state’s most diverse flora. The Gorge is one of the few places in the northwest where moist Pacific air meets dry Columbia Basin air near sea level, providing a corridor for migration and a refuge for relict populations from previous glacial and interglacial periods. The Columbia River system also provides a significant corridor for species movement from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountain ecoregion of British Columbia, through the Okanogan highlands, Columbia Basin shrub-steppe, and east Cascades, and out to the wetter ecoregion of the west Cascades. The convergence of these topographic features is likely a major factor in the high number of endemic species found in the vicinity.
Twenty-four surveys were completed over the three-day campout, including new populations of rare plants such as oblong bluecurls (Trichostema oblongum), western ladies-tresses (Spiranthes porrifolia) and common bluecup (Githopsis specularioides). Regional endemics such as Barrett’s penstemon (Penstemon barrettiae), gooseberry-leaved alumroot (Heuchera grossulariifolia var. tenuifolia), and Suksdorf’s lomatium (Lomatium suksdorfii) are locally common on the cliffs and steep slopes of the Klickitat River. We monitored several populations of each and documented several new sites while surveying for other rare plant populations. We also monitored blue-flowered diffuse stickseed (Hackelia diffusa var. diffusa) and the very rare Ames’ milk-vetch (Astragalus pulsiferae var. suksdorfii), found in Washington only from an area around Conboy National Wildlife Refuge.
Although we accomplished so much in the short three days we had, we wrapped up the monitoring weekend with the impression that there is still much ground to cover in the region. We look forward to more explorations in the basalt canyons and pine woodlands in the coming years.
Images from top left:
- Barrett’s penstemon, photo by Janka Hobbs
- Barrett’s penstemon, photo by Betty Swift
- Keying gooseberry-leaved alumroot on a steep slope, photo by Julie Bresnan
- Gooseberry-leaved alumroot, photo by Julie Bresnan
- Diffuse stickseed, photo by Julie Bresnan
- Monitoring rare plants in a cool June, photo by Bev Linde
You may view additional photos on Rare Care’s page on Facebook.