rare plants

Rare Plants of Imperial County

Rare Plants of Imperial County

By Fred Roberts, CNPS-SD Rare Plant Botanist

As a member of the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, you would be totally forgiven if you never realized that the chapter actually includes Imperial County. This is fairly obvious on state maps showing chapter boundaries. However, the inclusion of Imperial County in our chapter is otherwise relatively obscure. Imperial County doesn’t often come up at meetings. You will generally not find Imperial County mentioned in our chapter newsletter. On the website, I noted Imperial County mentioned on the Mission Statement page but nowhere else. You seldom hear people refer to our chapter as the “San Diego and Imperial Counties chapter of CNPS”. There is some effort to improve on this in 2019.

This isn’t really a surprise. There are no major institutions like the San Diego Natural History Museum in Imperial County. SDSU has only a satellite campus near Calexico. I am not even sure how many chapter members actually have addresses there. Most of us see it from the I-8 and then it might seem to be just hot, barren desert and hundreds of thousands of acres of agriculture. And, of course, there is the Salton Sea and Colorado River.

That desert can be a very interesting place, at least in the cooler parts of the year and whenever rain falls (which it sometimes doesn’t). There are the rugged and poorly explored Chocolate Mountains, much of which is not open to the public, dominating the east along with the Palo Verde and Cargo Muchacho Mountains. The Algodones Dunes, the largest dune system in North America, runs a southeast diagonal from the Salton Sea down into Sonora. West of the Imperial Valley is dominated by the Western Mesa and Yuha Desert, which gives way to the eastern fringes of the Peninsular Ranges at the Fish Creek, Coyote, and Jacumba Mountains. The county borders Mexico, leaving the possibility of Baja California plants, not yet known in the United States, being found here.

Chapter Council, Conservation & Rare Plant Surveys

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

If you’ve been to a chapter general meeting in, well, the last few years, you’ve probably heard me make a lame joke about wearing many hats in CNPSSD. Here I’ve got news for most of the hats. Rather than just writing about conservation, I’m going to write about all of them, to save some newsletter column space.

Chapter Council: State News

As not enough of you know, our parent society, CNPS, has a bicameral governance structure. On one hand,we’ve got the standard state board of directorsnecessary for any non-profit. On the other, because we have 35 chapters ranging from the redwoods of the North Coast to the chaparral of Baja California, we also have the Chapter Council, where representatives of each chapter get together to talk and hash out policy forthe organization. I’m San Diego’s representative to the Chapter Council.

So, here’s news from the Chapter Council.

Rare and Endangered

Questions and Answers with Frank Landis, CNPS-SD Conservation Chair & Fred Roberts, CNPS-SD Rare Plant Botanist

How did you take an interest in rare and endangered California plant species?

FRANK: That’s a hard question, because I’ve been an environmentalist for a long time. For me, it has become a philosophical issue. I follow James Carse’s notion in Finite and Infinite Games.  We all know what finite games are, because we play them, they end, and you find out who won.  Indeed, you can only determine who won by ending the game.  An infinite game never ends, so you have to play it for different reasons. Carse believes there is only one infinite game, and that the reason to play the infinite game of life is to keep the game going with as many players as possible.  

That’s the game I play. Unlike Carse, I believe that most of the players in the infinite game of life on Earth aren’t human, but that we should work to keep them in the game. That’s why I work to protect rare and endangered plant species, as well as common and uncommon ones.

FRED: That was a while back. I believe I first took a strong interest in rare, endangered, and sensitive plants in the mid 1980s while working in the herbarium at the Museum of Systematic Biology at UC, Irvine, mostly in association with my flora of Orange County project. Roxanne Bittman, working with the Nature Conservancy contacted me about conducting a status review of Laguna Beach Dudleya (Dudleya stolonifera). TNC was pleased with the result and asked me to conduct status reviews of several other rare species. Roxanne Bittman later was hired by the California Department Fish and Game (now Fish and Wildlife) within the California Natural Diversity Data Base program and we have remained in contact to this day. I was hooked on analysis and reviewing rare species. I was volunteered to be the rare plant chair of the Orange Co. CNPS chapter a couple years previously, but it was not until the dudleya review that I began to really take interest in the CNPS position. 

Rare Plant Hunting in a Dry Year

By Fred Roberts, Rare Plant Botanist 

You’ve probably noticed this. It is a dry year, a very dry year. According to the National Weather Service, the rainfall between October 1, 2017 and July 6, 2017 at Oceanside, my hometown, was 5.54 inches (141 mm), only about 55 percent of the yearly average of 9.90 inches (250 mm). Nearly three inches (75 mm) of that fell in a single day in January. Other places in Southern California saw even lower totals during the season. Alpine, for example has only seen 45 percent of normal rainfall. So yes, indeed, this is a dry year.

There are only two ways to deal with a year like this. Stay home and hope for better next year or look harder. Job necessity required I do the later for project surveying rare plants over the 8,600-acre Canyon and Canyon 2 burn. The two fires swept through the Anaheim Hills and northwestern Santa Ana Mountains last September.

Typically following fire, we see a spectacular bloom. Hillsides dressed in color: orange, magenta, blue, and white. Not so in 2018. The steep hillsides were largely open blackened earth with charred branches reaching for the sky. Color was scattered and patchy at best. At the north end of this, a place called Coal Canyon, we saw only rare shrubs and perennials. Rare annuals were largely absent. By mid-April conditions were so dry we thought our surveys would be over in a month.

A Look at Recent Additions to the CNPS Inventory

By Fred Roberts, Rare Plant Botanist

People join CNPS for many different reasons. Some members are there for the field trips, others for gardening advice, some are to learn more about California’s diverse flora. Others are there for rare plant science or conservation. If like me, you are in this last set, you probably know all about the online CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California (Inventory). The Inventory is the official widely recognized list of sensitive California plants along with some information on ecology and general information on distribution.

If you are an expert on San Diego plants, and have been in the game for a while, you will remember when the experts would meet on rare occasions in advance of a new printed edition of the Inventory. The room would be abuzz with rare plant gossip. These were the heady days when you almost couldn’t look anywhere without realizing some species worthy of conservation status had totally been overlooked.

Today, of course, the printed Inventory is a thing of the past and we have an online version. I do miss those rooms full of lively botanists exchanging data. However, there are advantages to the new system. A widerrange of botanists can participate. Updates can be done frequently, many times a year vs. once a decade. You can check out the Inventory right now from the comfort of your phone/iPad/computer. Just type www.cnps.org/cnps/rareplants/inventory into your browser. You can catch the latest news, read up on the history of the Inventory, the status review process, and the ranking system. And of course, you can search the online Inventory for your favorite rare plant.

Busy Spring: Del Mar Mesa Development 1 and Mission Trails Revamp

Busy Spring: Del Mar Mesa  Development 1 and Mission Trails Revamp

By Frank Landis, Chairperson Conservation Committee

Wow, what a busy winter. As I write this, I'm checking the news periodically to see whether the Oroville Dam fails, or whether the engineers keep the Sacramento Valley from trying to turn back into the "Inland Sea" it was before the 1920s. This is hopefully irrelevant, but I have my doubts, because I'm reading the EIR for Merge 56, the first development slated for the eastern edge of Del Mar Mesa. The problem isn't particularly a CNPS concern. Their design, as I feared, has Deer Creek routed through a basin and storm drain through a pile of fill, and because the channel at that point makes a "Z," the culvert turns at a sharp angle from the upstream and downstream flows. Atop that fill is the southward extension of Camino Del Sur. I've protested this design for years, because most of the watershed above Deer Creek is paved over by Rancho Peñasquitos. As a result, we don't really know how high that creek can flood. While we can make some guesses based on 100 year floods and so forth, I keep wondering how it will handle a tropical storm or hurricane, or even a big atmospheric river getting weepy. Presumably their system will clog and the water will start chewing through the fill holding up Camino Del Sur. If the road/dam breaches, all the crap goes down canyon, chewing up those Nuttall's scrub oaks I've been trying to protect for years. Nothing big like Oroville, but as with the Oroville Dam's problems, which were predicted by environmental groups in 2005 (and ignored), it's a fairly predictable disaster.