|Gentner mission-bells, Gentner's fritillary, Gentner's frittilary, Gentner's mission-bells|
|Edward Guerrant, Ph.D.|
The following Participating Institutions are custodians for this species in the CPC National Collection:
Rae Selling Berry Seed Bank & Plant Conservation Programs
The conservation of Fritillaria gentneri is fully sponsored.
Edward Guerrant, Ph.D. contributed to this Plant Profile.
For a short but glorious time each spring, the solitary, almost sculptural waxy-blue stems, with their clusters of dagger-like leaves, of Gentner's fritillary are festooned with striking purplish-red bell-like flowers, themselves decorated with a loose checkerboard streaking of yellow spots. The species is known from around 60 localities, all in southwest Oregon, diffusely scattered over an area of almost 3,000 square miles. This apparently large number of 'populations' paints a misleading picture of how seriously endangered Fritillaria gentneri really is. As of 2001, there were apparently fewer than 600 flowering plants in all, with many populations consisting of a single individual. Balanced precariously on the knife-edge of extinction, it is caught in the swirling crosscurrents of a diverse array of serious threats, both natural and, for want of a better term, conceptual.
Beginning with the more slippery latter category of conceptual threats, F. gentneri has run aground on two classic conundrums, 'What is a species' and, 'What is a population' That it is both rare and endangered has been known for decades, but questions of whether or not it is a 'good' species, and therefore potentially an entity worthy of protection under the Endangered Species Act, sidetracked for many years serious consideration for listing. Granted, its appearance is intermediate between two more common fritillaria species, the drab, chocolate-flowered F. affinis (=F. lanceolata) and the almost garish orangish-scarlet flowered F. recurva. Furthermore, one or both of these two species are sometimes found growing alongside or even intermingled within Gentner's fritillaria 'populations'. The problem was not so much whether it is of hybrid origin per se, because a great many 'good' species are of hybrid origin. Rather, the problem was whether or not it is a single historical entity that arose once, or whether each instance is the result of independent and recurring hybridization events. That it appears only very rarely to produce fertile seed poses its own set of problems, both biological and administrative. Although the results of a genetic study could not absolutely rule out the possibility of multiple origins, they, along with other morphological evidence strongly support the notion that it is a 'good' species (Guerrant 1992).
Once that hurdle could safely be left behind, the problem of what constitutes a population remains. Debates over the definition of a population bear some resemblance to medieval battles over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. That is, we are not likely to arrive at an answer that satisfies everybody, and those holding different opinions often do so with admirable if not always productive tenacity. For example, consider just one criterion, that of actual or potential gene flow, which some value very highly as a defining characteristic of a biological population. How can it be applied to a species that rarely if ever exchanges any genes at all, and seems to reproduce by non-sexual vegetative spread most or all of the time Add to that, the extremely diffuse distribution across the landscape, many populations consist of single, isolated individuals, you can get a flavor for some of the conceptual threats to this species.
There is light visible at the end of a long tunnel in the form of an excellent draft Recovery Plan (Gisler and Meinke 2001) working its way through the system. The population problem was solved in a pragmatic way by dividing the entire known range into a regular longitude-latitude grid with 0.1 minute of arc intervals. Each cell, or macroplot, of the grid covers an area of roughly 6.3 acres (2.56 hectares). Of the 53 macroplots ever known to have had plants, only 45 remained extant at the time of listing (USFWS 1999), containing a grand total of fewer than 600 flowering individuals. The proposed criteria downlisting from endangered to threatened status call for 10 secure populations, each with 500 flowing individuals and a demographically appropriate complement of smaller plants be established. These populations are also to be made secure from all the threats that led to the species becoming listed in the first place, which brings us back to the panoply of natural threats, or at least threats in the natural world, facing the species. It exists at the interfaces between lots of ecological factors. Gentner's fritillary is considered a mid-successional species of grasslands and chaparral habitats at or near the edges of dry, relatively open mixed broadleaf-evergreen woodlands. Like so many early to mid-successional species that inhabit fire prone areas that have been subject to aggressive fire suppression activities for decades, Gentner's fritillary is besieged by encroaching trees and shrubs transforming its habitat. It is also threatened by outright habitat loss associated with rapidly expanding agricultural and residential development as well as competition from non-native weeds.
As grim as it seems, there is reason for hope. In part because it has a high public profile as a rare and appealing lily, numerous conservation measures by public agencies, private organizations and individuals have been initiated.
Distribution & Occurrence
Dry hillsides in open canopies of oak woodlands and chaparral shrub communities, mixed hardwood forests, coniferous forests and grasslands at elevations from 600 to 4,450 ft (180-1360m). Associated species often include Ceanothus cuneatus, Phacelia spp., Microseris spp. and Erythronium spp.
|As of 1999: Only 340 individuals found scattered in 45 known sites. 20 sites occur on private land. Sites are very small (often only 0.01 acre). 1 site contains 100 individuals, 4 sites have 11-24 individuals, and 40 sites have fewer than 10 (some only 1) (USFWS 1999). In 2001, the number of flowering individuals was estimated to be 590 (Gisler and Meinke 2001).|
Conservation, Ecology & Research
Fritillaria gentneri occurs in a variety of habitats. In the Douglas fir-white oak community, conifer encroachment due to fire suppression is a threat. It is important to note, however, that in some environments shrubs do not necessary pose a threat and these habitats should not be managed by fire. The oak woodland sites are nearly all under pressure from weedy grasses and in some locations, yellow star thistle. At these sites it is important to maintain the shrub and oak tree canopy in order to maintain the native herb/grass component. Shrubs do not seem to have a negative impact on these species and often protect F. gentneri and other species from deer browsing. Where F. gentneri grows in the midst of high, non-native grass cover they are often low in vigor. Overutilization of prescribed burning may cause habitat alteration and further jeopardize this species (letter from Richard Brock to Andrew Robinson)
Mature plants do not flower every year and it is unknown what kind of periodicity they exhibit (letter from Richard Brock to Andrew Robinson). Most seeds appear sterile, and the majority of reproduction is asexual through bulblets (USFWS 1999).
It has been questioned whether F. gentneri is a distinct species, or instead the first generation hybrid between F. recurva and F. affinis. In the Jacksonville, Oregon area, F. gentneri is only found within the range of these two species and is restricted to a fraction of the overlapping range (Rolle 1988). Further evidence of independent hybridization includes: little viable seed observed; small, compact populations; and that it is morphologically intermediate to its proposed parents (Guerrant 1992). Genetic investigations have not revealed whether F. gentneri originated from a single or multiple hybridization between F. recurva and F. affinis. However, there is much evidence that F. gentneri is indeed a good species: researchers have found viable seeds in nature, and artificial crosses of F. recurva and F. affinis do not produce offspring that resemble F. gentneri (Guerrant 1992). F. gentneri is presently considered to be a distinct species.
Wildlife grazing (USFWS 1999).
Small populations can be destroyed by chance events (USFWS 1999)
Habitat fragmentation may lead to low outcrossing rates and erode genetic diversity.
Habitat loss due to urban
Electrophoretic analysis of allozyme profiles of F. gentneri, F. affinis and F. recurva to genetically determine if F. gentneri is a "good" species. F. gentneri is not definitively of hybrid origin. There is genetic and phenotypic evidence suggesting that F. affinis is the parent species if F. gentneri did not derive through hybridization (Guerrant, 1992).
Investigation of seed production through breeding experiments (Steve Gisler, Oregon Department of Agriculture).
Determination of cultivation and re-introduction protocols for future recovery efforts (Steve Gisler, Oregon Department of Agriculture).
Listed s Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of Oregon
Draft recovery plan completed in 2001 (USFWS 2001).
Seed from three populations stored at The Berry Botanic Garden
Brush removal, raking or prescribed burning open up the canopy (USFWS 1999).
Genetic analysis of the maternally inherited chloroplast DNA.
Breeding system investigation
Seed development studies. Determine reasons for low viable seed production.
Further monitoring. Mature plants do not flower every.
Bulbs do produce numerous 'rice grain' bulblets (i.e. leaves on the shoot of the bulb) that might possibly be able to be collected, grown off site and used to augment existing populations (Gisler and Meinke 2001).
Determine optimum germination conditions. If little viable seed can be found, determine tissue culture (micropropagation) methods of producing plants.
Study effective reintroduction methods.
Meinke, R.J. 1982. Threatened and Endangered Vascular Plants of Oregon: An Illustrated Guide. Portland, Oregon: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Region 1. 326p.