The Rare Plant Survey Committee was a response to a state CNPS rare plant treasure hunt. Originally, the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt was based on the notion that people could be recruited into CNPS by engaging them in looking for very rare plants, although it has since evolved dramatically.
In the San Diego chapter, we were concerned that amateurs could easily damage rare plants, so we created the rare plant survey group instead. Our idea was to volunteer to survey plants that were "falling through the cracks," where there was no recent data on them, there was no money for a professional botanist to do surveys for them, and there was concern that they might be disappearing.
Our first project in 2010 was a San Diego Thornmint survey, coordinated with USFWS. San Diego Thornmint (Acanthomintha ilicifolia) is an endangered species that was falling through the cracks. We recruited a large group of volunteers, received training, then fanned out across the county to previously known thornmint populations to count the plants. The data went to the committee chair (Frank Landis) who synthesized them into a report for the agencies.
In 2011 and 2012, the committee shifted its focus to coastal dune plants. Over the two years, we developed a survey methodology that is still being used at Silver Strand, and the data again went to the agencies. The volunteer work of 2011 and 2012 became the basis for a talk presented at the CNPS 2012 Conservation Conference in San Diego. The talk was based less on the data, and more on the advantages and issues of using minimally trained volunteers for plant surveys.
From 2013 to 2017, the committee shifted focus drastically to compiling a flora of Del Mar Mesa. Del Mar Mesa is part of Rancho Peñasquitos Preserve, and it is a unique area that contains the largest concentration of vernal pools left in the City of San Diego. These pools grow in old chamise and scrub oak chaparral, and the ravines leading off the mesa to Deer Creek on the north are covered by a "chaparral" dominated by 20'+ tall Nuttall's scrub oak (Quercus dumosa, a CNPS list 1B species). This appears to be the biggest stand of Nuttall's scrub oak left in existence, and some individuals near Deer Creek appear to be the largest of their kind. Overall, the area is unique in California, but as one might expect, there are four developments (two office centers, a shopping mall, and a mixed housing) going in all around it. The goal of writing the flora was to document the place and to encourage the City to protect it. Unfortunately, the drought severely interfered with collecting voucher specimens, as plants did not flower and , in 2015, often did not grow at all. With the rain in 2016 and 2017, the last specimens can be collected and the flora completed and published.
In 2017, the committee is shifting again, to focus on Nuttall's scrub oaks. The issue at hand is that the Jepson Manual claims that Nuttall's scrub oak only gets 3 to 4 meters tall. In three EIRs, this "fact" has been used by consultants to claim that any Nuttall's scrub oak over that height must be a hybrid that is undeserving of any protection. At this point, a formal scientific study will be needed to collect data on how tall Nuttall's scrub oak actually can grow, simply so that the species can be protected from development over its dwindling range. We will gather data with the goal of publishing the results and amending the description of Nuttall's scrub oak to more accurately reflect its range and size.
The Rare Plant Survey committee is an oddity. During most times, it consists of the chair. We have found, over time, that it is fairly easy to get 30-plus volunteers together for a particular survey, but there is little reason to keep the group meeting regularly when there is nothing to do. Accordingly, the committee swells and contracts depending on what it is working on. Thus, if you want to get involved, email email@example.com and you will get contacted when projects and surveys are underway.
In 2017, we will be identifying and measuring the heights of scrub oaks throughout coastal San Diego. If that sounds interesting, contact the committee and get involved. If you happen to know where some really tall scrub oaks are, the committee would also love to hear from you.
Finally, the committee does exist to do surveys on species that are falling through the cracks. If some species is fading away because no one is paying attention to it, please let us know. We'll be happy to put together a survey for it.
banner photo by Sabrina West for USFWS