Rare pygmy saxifrage found

October 30th, 2015 by Jennifer Youngman, Program Coordinator

Each new monitoring season, Washington Rare Plant Care and Conservation is delighted by a few unexpected discoveries. This year, these finds include a single pygmy saxifrage (Saxifraga hyperborea) high up near a rocky mountain summit.

pygmy saxifrage, image by Brenda Cunningham

When the species was documented at the site in 1979, “an occasional lone plant” was noted. From 2010 to 2013, Rare Care volunteers searched diligently in an effort to relocate the occurrence. But after three unsuccessful attempts, Rare Care removed it from the monitoring list in order to focus on other rare plant occurrences. So how did our volunteers happen to find it this year?

They were looking for something else!

A US Forest Service botanist asked Rare Care to monitor Tisch’s saxifrage (Saxifraga tischii) at the same site. Two volunteers who had searched the summit previously for S. hyperborea accepted the S. tischii assignment; they were already familiar with the area. They found five Tisch’s saxifrage plants and set to work recording data, including physical site characteristics, associated species and phenology. And then there it was, a stone’s throw away – one pygmy saxifrage – fairly safe from threats, just tricky to find in a rocky habitat riddled with crevices and overhangs. A double reward for their monitoring trip.

sagebrush mariposal-lily, image by Sarah Walker

Also this year, rare plant monitoring volunteers found new sites of the endangered sagebrush mariposa-lily (Calochortus macrocarpus var. maculosus), the threatened Washington polemonium (Polemonium pectinatum) and the sensitive common bluecup (Githopsis specularioides). Wenatchee larkspur (Delphinium viridescens) wasn’t spotted where it had been previously documented, but it was found nearby in two new sites – a result of searching a wider area and holding the image of the species in mind while approaching and departing the site.

And one of The Mountaineers instructors who provides navigation training to Rare Care volunteers each year asked if he could assist in monitoring! He teamed up with a Rare Care volunteer to search some steep slopes on Orcas Island, and together they counted 51 arctic aster (Eurybia merita) that had not been found during a previous search in 2012.

arctic aster, image by Richard Ramsden

Article adapted from Rare Plant Press, Fall/Winter 2015, Vol X No 2. Other articles in the issue include “Showy stickseed exploits environments with low competition” and “Surveys for gray crptantha yield positive results.”

US Forest Service honors Rare Care for monitoring rare species

June 27th, 2015 by Jennifer Youngman, Program Coordinator

Trifolium thompsonii (image by Julia Bent)The US Forest Service recognized Washington Rare Plant Care and Conservation – including hundreds of trained volunteers from all parts of the state who, in the past 14 years, have participated in the rare plant monitoring citizen science project – by awarding Rare Care its Regional Volunteer Award for Citizen Stewardship & Partnerships.

When Lauri Malmquist, district botanist with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, nominated Rare Care, she wrote, “As staffing and funding to the Botany/Ecology Program on the Okanogan-Wenatchee NF continue to decline, [Rare Care’s] rare plant monitoring program has played a vital role in continuing the monitoring necessary to provide critically needed information on the status of Washington State’s rare plant species. . . . Many rare plant populations have not been visited in a decade or more due to diminishing Federal funding and capacity. The scarcity of updated information on these plants puts them at risk of extirpation as a result of development, invasive species competition and other threats. All USFS Forests in Washington State have benefitted from this volunteer effort. . .”

Toward the end of each year, Rare Care consults with federal, state and other public land managers across the state to develop a list of the most urgent monitoring priorities for the coming year. Then each volunteer chooses an assignment and sets off at the proper season in search of one of Washington’s 3,500 rare plant populations. Finally, Rare Care compiles their data, maps and sketches and distributes them to the appropriate land managers and the Washington Natural Heritage Program (WNHP). Land managers use the data in making land use decisions. The WNHP maintains the state’s rare plant database and determines the status of each species.

Gentiana glauca (image by Brenda Cunningham) & Iliamna longisepala (image by Gail Roberts)This year, Rare Care volunteers are searching in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest for the threatened Thompson’s clover (Trifolium thompsonii) and the sensitive obscure paintbrush (Castilleja cryptantha), longsepal globemallow (Iliamna longisepala) and Seely’s silene (Silene seelyi), among other species. To prepare for their field visits, they pore over previous reports, maps and other documentation. But there’s a catch. The documentation comes in many degrees of specificity! Plus, things change over the years. Roads are decommissioned. Trails are rerouted. Invasive species crowd out native species. Native vegetation grows into tangles of underbrush. Logging operations and fires change the face of the landscape.

Last year in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, with only vague location information to go on and crossing snowfields and camping along the way, three volunteers relocated a two-square-meter population of glaucous gentian (Gentiana glauca) that hadn’t been documented since 1966. Two years ago, two volunteers traipsed through underbrush in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest to find a single Wenatchee larkspur (Delphinium viridescens) remaining at a site that had grown into a young forest since the population was previously observed.

Rare Care is delighted to receive this US Forest Service Award in recognition of these dedicated volunteers and their substantial achievements.

Delphinium viridescens (image by Betty Swift) and Silene seelyi (image by Rod Gilbert)

One weekend, two dozen rare plant surveys

November 3rd, 2011 by Jennifer Youngman, Program Coordinator

by Wendy Gibble [edited for the web; see complete article on page 3 of the Rare Plant Press]

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.  

Barrett's beardtongue, photo by Janka Hobbs

Barrett's beardtongue closeup, photo by Betty Swift

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.

Keying rare plants on a steep slope, photo by Julie Bresnan

Gooseberry-leaved alumroot, photo by Julie Bresnan

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.

Diffuse stickseed, photo by Julie Bresnan

Identifying rare plants in a cool June, photo by Bev Linde

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.