September 2018 News

Save Plants

CENTER FOR PLANT CONSERVATION

The Santa Cruz Island bushmallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus nesioticus) not only re-sprouted following the fire at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, but it’s growth was stimulated and the shrubs began to spread. Photo by Denise Knapp, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Save Plants

CENTER FOR PLANT CONSERVATION

September 2018 Newsletter

Fire can bring great destruction, as we know all too well. As I write this introduction to our newsletter there are dozens of fires burning throughout the American West. At its peak in late July, there were over 80 significant fires, many of which in California. This increased fire frequency is all too present in the sun-scorched hills in and around CPC’s National Office in Escondido, California. In the last two months alone there have been three wildfires that have threatened our offices at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, two of which prompted evacuations. In the best of situations, these fires were once seasonal in this part of the world. But with increased drought, higher temperatures and an abundance of fuel owing to many invasive weeds, fires occur here now almost year-round.

Despite the negatives, many ecosystems actually benefit from fire. Fire removes accumulated deadwood and leaf litter, increases available nutrients in the soil, and even induces many species to flower, fruit and/or release their seeds. In this way, fire is not the end of an ecosystem but rather a rebirth of it.

Balancing these two seemingly opposite forces of fire is the challenging job of many of our Participating Institutions. Plant conservationists work to Save Plants in the wake of climate change while utilizing fire to manage the ecosystems where these species occur. In this month’s issue of Save Plants, we explore a number of these efforts and detail how the damaging effects of fire can be managed while the life-giving opportunities it brings are harnessed to Save Plants. Read on to learn about the fascinating and essential role that fire plays in the lives of the plants we endeavor to save.

Built to Burn

North Carolina Botanical Garden

Contributed by Johnny Randall – Director of Conservation, North Carolina Botanical Garden, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Photos by Johnny Randall

Southeastern US forests were once described as so extensive and dense that a squirrel could travel from the coast to the mountains without ever touching the ground. But historical accounts from early explorers, and other convincing evidence, clearly show that this region was actually more like a savanna – dominated by vast open meadows with scattered trees – for at least the last twenty thousand years. It was primarily the regular occurrence of fire that shaped this landscape, and many others of the continental US: they are ecosystems built to burn.

The general perspective on wildland fires in the early 20th century was guided by the attitude of Smokey Bear, whose slogan, “Only you can prevent forest fires” led the national campaign to suppress all fires no matter where they occurred or how they started. Following Smokey – Bambi – the 1942 Disney film with its horrific forest conflagration scene, left no doubt on an entire generation that fire harmed nature.

But toward the later part of the 20th century ecologists, land managers, and foresters slowly gained traction with the message that fire was an essential element for forest health and for the thousands of sun-loving wildflowers of the prairies, savannas, chaparral, and other fire-prone natural areas. Some ecologists went so far as to say that no single human modification of the environment has had more pervasive and widespread negative consequences for the ecological integrity of North America than the suppression of fire. Even Smokey Bear’s mantra changed to, “Only you can prevent wildfires.” But the damage was done – forests and other wildlands, over many decades, accumulated tremendous amounts of fuel, the human population built homes within huge tinderboxes, and many of the sun-loving herbaceous flora was shaded-out and declined to the point of imperilment.

Several CPC Participating Institutions hold the germplasm and work to recover the imperiled sun-loving herbaceous plants that reside in fire-dependent ecosystems, and at least half of North Carolina Botanical Garden’s 46 National Collection species are in some way reliant on fire. Of these, there are a few that particularly stand out.

Sandhills lily (Lilium pyrophilum), whose Latin specific epithet means fire-loving, is an obvious first choice! This strikingly beautiful rare denizen of the stream-heads and moist seeps of the Sandhills ecosystem in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, is not itself dependent on fire, but the longleaf pine ecosystem within which it resides is. So on a landscape scale, Sandhills lily loves fire, although it’s happy to avoid direct contact.

The Sandhills are dominated by longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), which is emblematic of this ecosystem and thus considered a flagship species, and a suite of mostly herbaceous plants adapted over the millennia to a one- to three-year fire frequency. These adaptations to fire include deep rootstocks, fire-resistant bark, and sturdy seeds that require heat or smoke to germinate.

East of the Sandhills, the wet pine savannas of the North American Coastal Plain are graced with over 1,800 endemic plants, a fact that prompted its recognition by Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund as the world’s 36th Biodiversity Hotspot.

Pennys fire - controlled burn

PHOTOS: Above – Mason Farm fire. Background photo – Wet pine savanna. Photos by Johnny Randall, courtesy of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Wet pine savanna

Built to Burn

North Carolina Botanical Garden

Contributed content and photos by Johnny Randall – Director of Conservation, North Carolina Botanical Garden, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Southeastern US forests were once described as so extensive and dense that a squirrel could travel from the coast to the mountains without ever touching the ground. But historical accounts from early explorers, and other convincing evidence, clearly show that this region was actually more like a savanna – dominated by vast open meadows with scattered trees – for at least the last twenty thousand years. It was primarily the regular occurrence of fire that shaped this landscape, and many others of the continental US: they are ecosystems built to burn.

The general perspective on wildland fires in the early 20th century was guided by the attitude of Smokey Bear, whose slogan, “Only you can prevent forest fires” led the national campaign to suppress all fires no matter where they occurred or how they started. Following Smokey – Bambi – the 1942 Disney film with its horrific forest conflagration scene, left no doubt on an entire generation that fire harmed nature.

But toward the later part of the 20th century ecologists, land managers, and foresters slowly gained traction with the message that fire was an essential element for forest health and for the thousands of sun-loving wildflowers of the prairies, savannas, chaparral, and other fire-prone natural areas. Some ecologists went so far as to say that no single human modification of the environment has had more pervasive and widespread negative consequences for the ecological integrity of North America than the suppression of fire. Even Smokey Bear’s mantra changed to, “Only you can prevent wildfires.” But the damage was done – forests and other wildlands, over many decades, accumulated tremendous amounts of fuel, the human population built homes within huge tinderboxes, and many of the sun-loving herbaceous flora was shaded-out and declined to the point of imperilment.

Several CPC Participating Institutions hold the germplasm and work to recover the imperiled sun-loving herbaceous plants that reside in fire-dependent ecosystems, and at least half of North Carolina Botanical Garden’s 46 National Collection species are in some way reliant on fire. Of these, there are a few that particularly stand out.

Sandhills lily (Lilium pyrophilum), whose Latin specific epithet means fire-loving, is an obvious first choice! This strikingly beautiful rare denizen of the stream-heads and moist seeps of the Sandhills ecosystem in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, (Sandhills lily) is not itself dependent on fire, but the longleaf pine ecosystem within which it resides is. So on a landscape scale, Sandhills lily loves fire, although it’s happy to avoid direct contact.

The Sandhills are dominated by longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), which is emblematic of this ecosystem and thus considered a flagship species, and a suite of mostly herbaceous plants adapted over the millennia to a one- to three-year fire frequency. These adaptations to fire include deep rootstocks, fire-resistant bark, and sturdy seeds that require heat or smoke to germinate.

East of the Sandhills, the wet pine savannas of the North American Coastal Plain are graced with over 1,800 endemic plants, a fact that prompted its recognition by Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund as the world’s 36th Biodiversity Hotspot.

PHOTO: Mason Farm fire. Photo by Johnny Randall, courtesy of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

One of these endemics, Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), occurs only within a 50-mile inland radius of Wilmington, NC. Frequent controlled burning, and the occasional wildfire, ensures that shrubs don’t overtop and shade-out Venus flytrap and its many associates, including numerous other carnivorous plant species.

It’s interesting to note that dozens of imperiled plants, including Sandhills lily and Venus flytrap, ironically found salvation in the bombing ranges of Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune military bases in NC. This truly “friendly fire” kept these sites burning through the decades of fire suppression! Other military bases around the country also boast hordes of rare plants because of their bombing ranges and development restrictions, but that’s another story…

PHOTO: Venus flytrap from the ashes. Photo by Johnny Randall, courtesy of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Closer to home, and without the aid of bombs, the North Carolina Botanical Garden uses fire to help protect over 1,000 acres of nature preserves in the Piedmont Savanna. One of these is the Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve, adjacent to the state’s Plant Conservation Program preserves – all of which contain a treasure trove of rare and fire-dependent plants. The flagship species in these preserves is smooth coneflower (Echinacea laevigata), which, like much of the Piedmont savanna flora, was relegated to roadsides and rights-of-way through the decades of fire suppression.

About 20 years ago, NC Botanical Garden and Plant Conservation Program formed controlled burn crews who individually and together began resurrecting these fire-dependent species. Through careful fire management and select reintroduction, smooth coneflower and other rare plant populations are now thriving.

Beyond helping to revive rare plants, reintroducing fire has other benefits. Controlled burning maintains the overall “grassy” habitats necessary for regionally-declining ground-nesting birds such as bobwhite quail, whip-poor-wills, and meadow larks. Fire also reduces many plant pests, such as weevils that eat seeds. And wildlife and humans alike enjoy the significant decline of ticks where fire regularly occurs!

Yet it is sometimes difficult to recognize the importance of fire to natural ecosystems with the continuing incidence of megafires torching thousands of homes. In the best of all possible worlds, we would have thoughtful controlled burning for increasing ecosystem health, and humans would choose not to inhabit ecosystems built to burn. North Carolina Botanical Garden and its burn crew is working towards that ideal, providing burns where they can and educating the public on the importance of fire.

Pennys burn crew

PHOTOS: Above -North Carolina Botanic Garden’s burn crew was initially formed 20 years ago to bring fire back to ecosystems struggling with the impacts of fire suppression. Background – Penny’s Bend post burn. Photos by Johnny Randall, courtesy of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Sandhills lily

Sandhills Lily (Lilium pyrophilum). Photo by Johnny Randall, courtesy of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Smooth coneflower (echinacea laevigata) site. Photo by Johnny Randall, courtesy of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

smooth coneflower

Smooth coneflower (echinacea laevigata). Photo by Johnny Randall, courtesy of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Venus flytrap from ashes-NCBG

One of these endemics, Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), occurs only within a 50-mile inland radius of Wilmington, NC. Frequent controlled burning, and the occasional wildfire, ensures that shrubs don’t overtop and shade-out Venus flytrap and its many associates, including numerous other carnivorous plant species.

It’s interesting to note that dozens of imperiled plants, including Sandhills lily and Venus flytrap, ironically found salvation in the bombing ranges of Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune military bases in NC. This truly “friendly fire” kept these sites burning through the decades of fire suppression! Other military bases around the country also boast hordes of rare plants because of their bombing ranges and development restrictions, but that’s another story…

Closer to home, and without the aid of bombs, the North Carolina Botanical Garden uses fire to help protect over 1,000 acres of nature preserves in the Piedmont Savanna. One of these is the Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve, adjacent to the state’s Plant Conservation Program preserves – all of which contain a treasure trove of rare and fire-dependent plants. The flagship species in these preserves is smooth coneflower (Echinacea laevigata), which, like much of the Piedmont savanna flora, was relegated to roadsides and rights-of-way through the decades of fire suppression.

About 20 years ago, NC Botanical Garden and Plant Conservation Program formed controlled burn crews who individually and together began resurrecting these fire-dependent species. Through careful fire management and select reintroduction, smooth coneflower and other rare plant populations are now thriving.

Beyond helping to revive rare plants, reintroducing fire has other benefits. Controlled burning maintains the overall “grassy” habitats necessary for regionally-declining ground-nesting birds such as bobwhite quail, whip-poor-wills, and meadow larks. Fire also reduces many plant pests, such as weevils that eat seeds. And wildlife and humans alike enjoy the significant decline of ticks where fire regularly occurs!

Yet it is sometimes difficult to recognize the importance of fire to natural ecosystems with the continuing incidence of megafires torching thousands of homes. In the best of all possible worlds, we would have thoughtful controlled burning for increasing ecosystem health, and humans would choose not to inhabit ecosystems built to burn. North Carolina Botanical Garden and its burn crew is working towards that ideal, providing burns where they can and educating the public on the importance of fire.

Pennys burn crew

PHOTO: North Carolina Botanic Garden’s burn crew was initially formed 20 years ago to bring fire back to ecosystems struggling with the impacts of fire suppression.

Adapting to the Recurring Threat of Wildfire

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Based on an interview with Denise Knapp, Ph.D.

Photos contributed by: Denise Knapp, John Wardlaw, Tricia Wardlaw, Elizabeth Collins, Andrew Wyatt, and the Long Beach Fire Department; all courtesy of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

On the night of May 7, 2009, the Jesusita Fire swept through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG). The fire burned through many areas of the garden, including the rare plant section, and wiped out displays, a bridge, and a historic building. But it did not get the rare island barberry (Berberis pinnata ssp. insularis) seedlings growing in the nursery.

Maintained as part of the CPC National Collection, island barberry is a species that was originally found on three of the California Channel Islands and is now limited to just one. At the time of the fire there were thought to be only five individuals remaining in the wild. Knowing that every individual of the species was precious, Heather Federlein, Plant Propagation Manager at SBBG, packed all the island barberry pots into her car before being evacuated from the garden. There was no formal evacuation plan, no checklist of things to do or take, Heather simply saw a need and acted.

In the end, the Jesusita fire burned 8,733 acres, destroyed 80 homes, and forced 35,000 people to be evacuated. But the fire’s legacy wasn’t all destruction. After the fire, the garden began to recover. Some of the species in the garden even seemed to thrive afterwards, which is not surprising given the many fire-adapted ecosystems in California. Santa Cruz Island bushmallow (Malacothmnus fasiculatus var. nesioticus), another National Collection species, not only resprouted post-fire but expanded – spreading by underground roots. This reaction clued SBBG’s conservation scientists as to how this species – and others similar to it, like Lompoc yerba santa (Eriodictyon capitatum) – might respond to fire in the wild. As a result, they have conducted surveys to collect pre-fire data should the wild populations be impacted by a fire.

It wasn’t just the garden’s plants that recovered. The burned bridge was rebuilt, a new conservation center was built on the site of the historic building, and the garden began to formalize its fire preparedness plans. The Pritzlaff Conservation Center is soon to be a LEED® certified, sustainable building that houses research and administrative staff, classroom and art exhibition spaces, and research labs, as well as the garden’s seed bank and herbarium collections. The building was constructed free of wood and the collections are kept underground in the basement, lending additional protection from wildfires. And wildfire plans are now available where each employee can reference them from anywhere online.

PHOTO: Background – View of Jesusita Fire from Santa Barbara Botanic Garden meadow. The Jesusita Fire began quite close to the Garden, burning many areas of the Garden the next night. Photo by Andrew Wyatt, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Direct destruction by fire is not the only threat that wildfires pose. Fires often result in a loss of power and evacuation of the staff who tend to everything. Though the seed bank freezers in the Pritzlaff Conservation Center have back-up batteries powered by solar panels, even this is not foolproof. Heather Schneider, Rare Plant Biologist, has installed an alarm system that sends a text to staff when the temperature drops. She is also working towards putting together a plan for quickly and safely transporting the seed, without thawing or damage from condensation, to freezers in a location not likely to be impacted by the same wildfire event.

Just this past December, the Thomas Fire roared through Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, burning over 280,000 acres to become the largest fire in state history (until just this last month, when the Mendocino Complex Fire surpassed it). The Garden was in the evacuation zone and staff were kept off-site for two weeks. And though they had formal wildfire plans and backup power, there was still plenty to worry about.

While working remotely for two weeks, Denise Knapp, Director of Conservation and Research, couldn’t help but be concerned for the data at the Conservation Center. Even with much of the garden’s data and records digitized, the server itself was located on the garden grounds and thus subject to fire risk – and not all of the data were accessible remotely. Since then, SBBG’s IT team has been working to back-up the server off-site.

Wildfires will be a recurring issue that impact not only SBBG, but many other gardens, institutions, and citizens. SBBG has learned a lot from its experiences with fire, and is better prepared than ever to deal with such an emergency. Ultimately, as Denise Knapp points out, it’s the passion and dedication of her co-workers, people like Heather Federlein and Heather Schneider whose concern for the collections in their care leads them to plan and act with the plants in mind, that will protect the Garden’s most valuable resources. It is amazing plant-lovers like them who help the garden adapt and who will conserve the garden’s priority collections in times of crisis in the future.

Jesusita Fire from SBBG Meadow

Adapting to the Recurring Threat of Wildfire

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Based on an interview with Denise Knapp, Ph.D.
Photos by: Denise Knapp, John Wardlaw, Tricia Wardlaw, Elizabeth Collins, Andrew Wyatt, and the Long Beach Fire Department

On the night of May 7, 2009, the Jesusita Fire swept through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG). The fire burned through many areas of the garden, including the rare plant section, and wiped out displays, a bridge, and a historic building. But it did not get the rare island barberry (Berberis pinnata ssp. insularis) seedlings growing in the nursery.

Maintained as part of the CPC National Collection, island barberry is a species that was originally found on three of the California Channel Islands and is now limited to just one. At the time of the fire there were thought to be only five individuals remaining in the wild. Knowing that every individual of the species was precious, Heather Federlein, Plant Propagation Manager at SBBG, packed all the island barberry pots into her car before being evacuated from the garden. There was no formal evacuation plan, no checklist of things to do or take, Heather simply saw a need and acted.

In the end, the Jesusita fire burned 8,733 acres, destroyed 80 homes, and forced 35,000 people to be evacuated. But the fire’s legacy wasn’t all destruction. After the fire, the garden began to recover. Some of the species in the garden even seemed to thrive afterwards, which is not surprising given the many fire-adapted ecosystems in California. Santa Cruz Island bushmallow (Malacothmnus fasiculatus var. nesioticus), another National Collection species, not only resprouted post-fire but expanded – spreading by underground roots. This reaction clued SBBG’s conservation scientists as to how this species – and others similar to it, like Lompoc yerba santa (Eriodictyon capitatum) – might respond to fire in the wild. As a result, they have conducted surveys to collect pre-fire data should the wild populations be impacted by a fire.

It wasn’t just the garden’s plants that recovered. The burned bridge was rebuilt, a new conservation center was built on the site of the historic building, and the garden began to formalize its fire preparedness plans. The Pritzlaff Conservation Center is soon to be a LEED® certified, sustainable building that houses research and administrative staff, classroom and art exhibition spaces, and research labs, as well as the garden’s seed bank and herbarium collections. The building was constructed free of wood and the collections are kept underground in the basement, lending additional protection from wildfires. And wildfire plans are now available where each employee can reference them from anywhere online.

Direct destruction by fire is not the only threat that wildfires pose. Fires often result in a loss of power and evacuation of the staff who tend to everything. Though the seed bank freezers in the Pritzlaff Conservation Center have back-up batteries powered by solar panels, even this is not foolproof. Heather Schneider, Rare Plant Biologist, has installed an alarm system that sends a text to staff when the temperature drops. She is also working towards putting together a plan for quickly and safely transporting the seed, without thawing or damage from condensation, to freezers in a location not likely to be impacted by the same wildfire event.

Just this past December, the Thomas Fire roared through Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, burning over 280,000 acres to become the largest fire in state history (until just this last month, when the Mendocino Complex Fire surpassed it). The Garden was in the evacuation zone and staff were kept off-site for two weeks. And though they had formal wildfire plans and backup power, there was still plenty to worry about.

While working remotely for two weeks, Denise Knapp, Director of Conservation and Research, couldn’t help but be concerned for the data at the Conservation Center. Even with much of the garden’s data and records digitized, the server itself was located on the garden grounds and thus subject to fire risk – and not all of the data were accessible remotely. Since then, SBBG’s IT team has been working to back-up the server off-site.

Wildfires will be a recurring issue that impact not only SBBG, but many other gardens, institutions, and citizens. SBBG has learned a lot from its experiences with fire, and is better prepared than ever to deal with such an emergency. Ultimately, as Denise Knapp points out, it’s the passion and dedication of her co-workers, people like Heather Federlein and Heather Schneider whose concern for the collections in their care leads them to plan and act with the plants in mind, that will protect the Garden’s most valuable resources. It is amazing plant-lovers like them who help the garden adapt and who will conserve the garden’s priority collections in times of crisis in the future.

Jesusita Fire SBBG Meadow

View of Jesusita Fire from SBBG Meadow – 3:15, day one. The Jesusita Fire began quite close to the Garden, burning many areas of the Garden the next night. Photo by Andrew Wyatt, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Jesusita Fire in the Garden, taken by a firefighter during the firestorm at SBBG

Jesusita Fire in the Garden, taken by a firefighter during the firestorm at SBBG.
Photo by Long Beach Fire Dept., courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

SBBG after Jesusita Fire

SBBG after Jesusita Fire. Jesusita Fire aftermath at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, 2009. Though the fire burned down Mission Canyon and large swaths of the Garden, the core areas and most buildings were saved by the firefighters. Photo by John Wardlaw, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

post fire Porter trail

Much of the Porter Trail was reduced to ashes, with the natives there, mainly Ceanothus, pine, cypress and junipers, do not have the ability to re-sprout. However, many seeds in the area germinate only after a fire, allowing for a natural recovery. And just like in nature, that recovery offered changes to the system. Photo by Elizabeth Collins, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Tecate cypress felled by the Jesusita Fire

Tecate cypress felled by the Jesusita Fire. A rare tree, tecate cypress (Hesperocyparis forbesii), was killed and felled in the fire. In the wild, fire releases the seeds from the tree’s cones, allowing regeneration. Photo by Elizabeth Collins, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Top of Porter Trail, view to Santa Ynez Mountains, SBBG 2 years after the Jesusita Fire

Top of Porter Trail, view to Santa Ynez Mountains, SBBG 2 years after the Jesusita Fire. Much of the Porter Trail was reduced to ashes, with the natives there, mainly Ceanothus, pine, cypress and junipers, do not have the ability to re-sprout. However, many seeds in the area germinate only after a fire, allowing for a natural recovery. And just like in nature, that recovery offered changes to the system. Photo by Tricia Wardlaw, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

SBBG after Jesusita Fire. One year after the fire, the California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera), scorched as the fire passed through the Desert Section of the Garden, had green crowns topping their blackened trunks. Photo by John Wardlaw, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Island barberry seedlings

Island barberry (Berberis pinnata insularis) seedlings housed in SBBG’s nursery were saved from the threat of the Jesusita Fire in 2009 by dedicated Plant Propagation Manager, Heather Federlein. Photo by Denise Knapp, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Santa Cruz Island bushmallow - Santa Barbara Botanic

Santa Cruz Island bushmallow(Malacothamnus fasciculatus nesioticus) thrived at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden following the 2009 Jesusita Fire. Photo by Denise Knapp, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Timing is Everything

University of California Botanical Garden

From an interview with Holly Forbes – Curator, UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley

Photos by Holly Forbes, Vanessa Handley and Clare Loughran

On July 11th this year, three staff from UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley pulled to the side of Highway 140 near Savage Trading Post, a historical marker west of Yosemite Valley. Holly Forbes (Curator), Vanessa Handley (Director of Collections and Research), and Clare Loughran (Assistant Curator) had been in the car for some four hours and were eager to get to work collecting seed from the rare Merced clarkia (Clarkia lingulata). Forest Service botanist Joanna Clines graciously provided permission and detailed information about the populations.

Just three days later, several firefighting rigs would pull into the same spot at Savage Trading Post as CalFire used the space to stage firefighting efforts for what became known as the Ferguson Fire. The fire erupted on the night of Friday, July 13th, and wasn’t fully contained by firefighters until over a month and 96,901 acres later. The effects of the fire necessitated the closure of Yosemite National Park from August 3 -14. Two firefighters lost their lives, 19 people were injured, and 10 structures were destroyed. The perimeter of the fire grew quickly well past the Trading Post and the clarkia, but it is still unknown if the only two populations of this species, both precariously located on the margins of Highway 140, were impacted by the flames or firefighting efforts.

The team had great timing, and not just in terms of the fire. They arrived to collect when seed was ripe and ready, with only a few of the plants having already dispersed their seed. While in bloom from May to June, the clarkia’s bright pink petals make it stand out. However, they are decidedly less dramatic when seed-laden; dried out annuals are difficult to discern from its parental species, Mariposa clarkia (Clarkia biloba), which also occurs in the area (a rare example of sympatric speciation!). So, six weeks earlier, UCBG staff had been joined by three US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) staff from the Sacramento office to flag 170 individual plants in each of the two populations, making sure that even in their undramatic state they could be found. Between flagging and collection times, Dr. Alison Colwell, Assistant Rare Plant Botanist for the California Native Plant Society, checked in on the populations from time to time to see how the seed was maturing. She let the UCBG team know when the time for collection had come.

PHOTO: Ferguson fire rages over the top of a ridge near El Portal. Photo from the US Forest Service.

Timing is Everything

University of California Botanical Garden

From an interview with Holly Forbes – Curator, UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Photos by Vanessa Handley and Clare Loughran, courtesy of the University of CA Botanic Garden

On July 11th this year, three staff from UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley pulled to the side of Highway 140 near Savage Trading Post, a historical marker west of Yosemite Valley. Holly Forbes (Curator), Vanessa Handley (Director of Collections and Research), and Clare Loughran (Assistant Curator) had been in the car for some four hours and were eager to get to work collecting seed from the rare Merced clarkia (Clarkia lingulata). Forest Service botanist Joanna Klines graciously provided permission and detailed information about the populations.

Just three days later, several firefighting rigs would pull into the same spot at Savage Trading Post as CalFire used the space to stage firefighting efforts for what became known as the Ferguson Fire. The fire erupted on the night of Friday, July 13th, and wasn’t fully contained by firefighters until over a month and 96,901 acres later. The effects of the fire necessitated the closure of Yosemite National Park from August 3 -14. Two firefighters lost their lives, 19 people were injured, and 10 structures were destroyed. The perimeter of the fire grew quickly well past the Trading Post and the clarkia, but it is still unknown if the only two populations of this species, both precariously located on the margins of Highway 140, were impacted by the flames or firefighting efforts.

The team had great timing, and not just in terms of the fire. They arrived to collect when seed was ripe and ready, with only a few of the plants having already dispersed their seed. While in bloom from May to June, the clarkia’s bright pink petals make it stand out. However, they are decidedly less dramatic when seed-laden; dried out annuals are difficult to discern from its parental species, Mariposa clarkia (Clarkia biloba), which also occurs in the area (a rare example of sympatric speciation!). So, six weeks earlier, UCBG staff had been joined by three US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) staff from the Sacramento office to flag 170 individual plants in each of the two populations, making sure that even in their undramatic state they could be found. Between flagging and collection times, Dr. Alison Colwell, Assistant Rare Plant Botanist for the California Native Plant Society, checked in on the populations from time to time to see how the seed was maturing. She let the UCBG team know when the time for collection had come.

Their previous preparations helped the UCBG make quick work of the two populations, collecting seed from 122 individuals of one and 164 of the other in just a few hours before the long drive back to Berkeley. Quick does not mean easy. The collection was hazardous, collecting on a rocky roadside where car debris from recent accidents and rockslides are a semi-regular occurrence. The steep, rocky habitat made it difficult to collect evenly across the population. But they got what they could, and plan to bulk the seed in their nursery soon.

The two populations are separated at this time by a massive rock slide that closed Highway 140 for weeks, and necessitated the building of a single lane road on the opposite side of the Merced River and the erection of two one-lane bridges to bypass the destroyed road.

When Holly initially heard about the fire, she immediately thought of the clarkia – the uncollected seed of many still waving in the air, attached to the dry remains of the annual plants. Though the population should weather the fire well, the opportunity to collect would have been lost had the team not collected when they did – the road was closed for weeks after the collection and seed would have dispersed. It’s strange to think of a fire raging through an area you had just been walking through, of fire trucks and a swarm of firefighters occupying the space you had just been. But, for Holly, it was also a relief to know they had already secured seeds of the Merced clarkia.

Merced clarkia is just one of six clarkia species getting help from UCBG with their current USFWS project (coordinated by Valary Bloom and Josh Hull, USFWS Sacramento Office). The USFWS is funding their effort to conserve and increase the seed of clarkia species that are, as yet, not on the federal endangered species list, but are declining. Merced clarkia is threatened by big catastrophic events like fire and landslides, as well as poor road-side management – having been hit hard by roadside herbicide treatment a couple of decades ago. Other species are also susceptible to similar random events and other threats. All the targeted clarkias are to be maintained in conservation seed collections, along maternal lines (per CPC’s standards), and bulked to ensure there is enough seed to use when needed.

Having seed ready when it’s needed is, after all, what it’s all about. The Ferguson Fire is a good reminder of the importance of making conservation collections as soon as you can to make sure seed is obtained. Timing a seed collection can be difficult in general, but you never know when your target population may become inaccessible or even destroyed by any number of possible events.

PHOTO: Ferguson fire rages over the top of a ridge near El Portal. Photo from the US Forest Service.

Merced clarkia seed collection. The rocky habitat may protect the rare Merced clarkia from the Ferguson Fire, though the habitat is also subjected to rock slides. Photo by Vanessa Handley, courtesy of the University of CA Botanic Garden.

Merced clarkia’s were marked with green flagging to make them easily identifiable when time came to collect seed. Merced clarkia is a recognized as endangered by the State of California. Photo by Clare Loughran, courtesy of the University of CA Botanic Garden.

Merced clarkia collection. UCBG curator, Holly Forbes, collects seed from the California state endangered Merced clarkia. Photo by Vanessa Handley, courtesy of the University of CA Botanic Garden.

seedpods Merced clarkia

The once brilliant blooms of Merced clarkia are nondescript as senesced annuals with seeds. Discerning the Merced clarkia from its relative, Mariposa clarkia, is difficult at this stage. Photo by Vanessa Handley, courtesy of the University of CA Botanic Garden.

Their previous preparations helped the UCBG make quick work of the two populations, collecting seed from 122 individuals of one and 164 of the other in just a few hours before the long drive back to Berkeley. Quick does not mean easy. The collection was hazardous, collecting on a rocky roadside where car debris from recent accidents and rockslides are a semi-regular occurrence. The steep, rocky habitat made it difficult to collect evenly across the population. But they got what they could, and plan to bulk the seed in their nursery soon.

The two populations are separated at this time by a massive rock slide that closed Highway 140 for weeks, and necessitated the building of a single lane road on the opposite side of the Merced River and the erection of two one-lane bridges to bypass the destroyed road.

When Holly initially heard about the fire, she immediately thought of the clarkia – the uncollected seed of many still waving in the air, attached to the dry remains of the annual plants. Though the population should weather the fire well, the opportunity to collect would have been lost had the team not collected when they did – the road was closed for weeks after the collection and seed would have dispersed. It’s strange to think of a fire raging through an area you had just been walking through, of fire trucks and a swarm of firefighters occupying the space you had just been. But, for Holly, it was also a relief to know they had already secured seeds of the Merced clarkia.

Merced clarkia is just one of six clarkia species getting help from UCBG with their current USFWS project (coordinated by Valary Bloom and Josh Hull, USFWS Sacramento Office). The USFWS is funding their effort to conserve and increase the seed of clarkia species that are, as yet, not on the federal endangered species list, but are declining. Merced clarkia is threatened by big catastrophic events like fire and landslides, as well as poor road-side management – having been hit hard by roadside herbicide treatment a couple of decades ago. Other species are also susceptible to similar random events and other threats. All the targeted clarkias are to be maintained in conservation seed collections, along maternal lines (per CPC’s standards), and bulked to ensure there is enough seed to use when needed.

Having seed ready when it’s needed is, after all, what it’s all about. The Ferguson Fire is a good reminder of the importance of making conservation collections as soon as you can to make sure seed is obtained. Timing a seed collection can be difficult in general, but you never know when your target population may become inaccessible or even destroyed by any number of possible events.

PHOTO: Even collection across the population is difficult in this habitat – and dangerous. Holly Forbes and Clare Loughran wore safety vests during collections to stand out on Highway 140 – the road in to Yosemite National Park. Photo by Vanessa Handley, courtesy of the University of CA Botanic Garden.

Announcements

CPC Awarded Three Year $491,630 2018 National Leadership Grant!

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) a 2018 National Leadership Grant for $491,630. This three-year grant will to support creating a real-time learning platform , where plant conservation experts can share best practices with practitioners via direct responses, pre-recorded multi-media content, and the updated guidelines, Center for Plant Conservation Best Practices in Support of Species Survival in the Wild. We believe the platform can connect today’s conservationists and train tomorrow’s professionals to save plants.

This award represents a great opportunity for CPC to showcase the brain trust of the network and it would not have been possible without the great support of Participating Institutions. Thank you to all the PIs who contributed letters of support to our proposal! The reviewers noticed!

“CPC presented a compelling case for societal and museum-specific needs to invest in an important resource for professionals, who are responsible for curating and conserving rare plant species—an irreplaceable resource—as well as mobilizing, strengthening, expanding, and equipping that community of professionals to be even more effective in their work.

CPC “made clear who will benefit from the project, including an absolutely impressive network of plant conservation organizations and specialists, as well as providing invaluable learning opportunities and access to experts for interested members of the public.”

“The Appendix of letters from current members of the CPC gave added weight to the justification. The CPC seems to be uniquely qualified and situated to organize and carry out the design and construction of this resource.”

“The strong letters of support from field professionals support the belief that this project can be accomplished as discussed. Mentoring of more novice professionals, including supporting attendance at the National Conferences also increases the chance of success.”

 “The key staff, consultants and advisors have the credentials, experience and track record to instill confidence in their ability to complete this project with good success. They have support from key partners, which will be critical for dissemination and achieving their intended outcomes related to use of the developed resources.”

“The applicants have clearly thought about the need and how this proposal can positively impact the future of plant communication among professionals. The group realizes the need to integrate different sources of media including videos to teach the next generation of specialists in plant studies.”

“Overall the proposal is well thought out, well- articulated and ultimately designed for success. It meets the IMLS goals and the results will be far reaching.”

“The applicants have done an excellent job of describing their intended results and how their project plan will get them there. Their intended results are reasonable and realistic and very clearly tie to the needs they’ve outlined and the project activities. The Ask a Plant Conservation Expert site will be a significant and incredibly useful tool available to virtually anyone seeking information, resources and community related to best practices in plant conservation. The plans for growing the community of users is reasonable and realistic. The applicants have laid out clear, specific and measurable/quantifiable objectives.”

News Update: from Johnny Randall, Director of Conservation, North Carolina Botanical Garden, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The North Carolina Botanical Garden (proper) weathered Hurricane Florence very well. The Garden received many inches of rain, but were spared the strong winds. Thus the lower-lying areas of Chapel Hill and the garden’s Mason Farm Biological Reserve were impacted by flooding and subsequent damage, yet with limited tree-falls. The image on the right shows the  Mason Farm Biological Reserve boardwalk as an example.

Nevertheless, the issues at the North Carolina Botanical Garden completely pale to those on the NC coastal plain and cities along rivers where water is still rising and flooding vast areas.

NCBG after Hurricane Florence

The Catherine H. Beattie Fellowship in Conservation Horticulture

2019 Award – Call for Applications

FOR GRADUATE STUDENTS

Purpose: To promote conservation of rare and endangered flora in the United States through the programs of the Center for Plant Conservation in partnership with the Garden Club of America.

Attend the 2018 Natural Areas Conference to access USFS Job Outreach event

This year’s theme is Building Resilience: The Future of Natural Areas. Environmental change is dramatically impacting the resilience of natural areas and their ability to rebound from disturbance while maintaining biologically important features, and continuing to provide fundamental support to human health. Regardless of region or type, the hope for natural areas rests on planned actions that promote resilient systems in the face of daunting environmental change.

More info
Full schedule
REGISTER

Get Involved! National Public Lands Day Seed Collection

Saturday, September 22nd at Pelican Point, NV from 10am-1pm hosted by Nevada Bureau of Land Management and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.

Volunteers will collect seed from native plants at Pelican Point on Pyramid Lake. Seeds collected from this event will be available for restoration projects on public lands and tribal lands. Refreshments will be provided. For questions, please contact, BLM Office at 775-885-6000 or get more info at their website.

 

PHOTO: Santa Cruz Island bushmallow has thrived at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden since the 2009 Jesusita Fire. Photo by Denise Knapp, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Employment Opportunities

US Botanic Garden Education Specialist (Urban Agriculture)

Deadline: 09/27/2018

Overview: This position is located in the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG), Public Programs Division. The incumbent serves as an Education Specialist (Urban Agriculture) with emphasis on urban agriculture and assists in educational programs that fulfill the USBG’s mission. The incumbent is responsible for developing partnerships and educational programs, conducting outreach and engagement and developing participation in the program area of urban agriculture.

See the full announcement.

OUTREACH: USDA Forest Service, Region 6

The Mt. Hood National Forest will soon be filling a Botanist (GS-0430-7/9) position. This outreach notification is being circulated to inform prospective applicants of this upcoming opportunity, as well as to help the Responsible Official gain insight into the potentially interested pool of candidates, and the best way to advertise this vacancy for the strongest candidate pool. This position may be considered for a non-competitive reassignment if there is qualified person in the same grade.

This position is located in Parkdale, Oregon at the Hood River Ranger District.

If you are interested in this exciting job opportunity, please contact Christina Mead by e-mail, at christinaamead@fs.fed.us

Field Ecologist with NEON

NEON is hiring a new Field Ecologist with a focus on our field and tower instrumentation. This position would primarily maintain and interpret the sensors on the ~110’ tower, in the soil plots, and the DFIR. Secondarily, the person will conduct with plant diversity, vegetation structure, mosquito, beetle, coarse downed wood, and other sampling. The position is based in Hilo, HI and the work will be conducted in Puu Makaala Natural Area Reserve.

More info.

Graduate Assistantship to Study the Effects of Invasive Annual Grasses on Native Species in the Mojave Desert

Deadline: Applications will be considered starting immediately and will continue until the position is filled. The preferred start date is November or December 2018 as a technician to assure sampling for the spring and summer of 2019. Student status may start when appropriate.

Overview: We seek a highly motivated graduate student to examine the interactions among native and invasive plant species in the Mojave Desert. Invasive annual species, including red brome (Bromus rubens), Mediteranean grass (Schismus barbatos), and Russian thistle (Salsola spp.) have become prevalent in the Mojave Desert. This has severe consequences for native wildlife habitat, including the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), as well as rare plant species (ex. white-margined penstemon – Penstemon albomarginatus). The Bureau of Land Management is interested in investigating the effects of rehabilitation treatments (herbicide, seeding, etc.) on native and rare plant species, as well as desert tortoise habitat. Research questions will focus on plant-plant, plant-soil, and plant-animal interactions. Research will be in conjunction with the Las Vegas office of the Bureau of Land Management.

Position: Graduate Assistantship

Location: Fieldwork will be located outside of Las Vegas, NV.

Compensation: The competitive stipend for the research assistantship is $19,200 per year for four years, which includes a tuition and fee waiver. PhD candidates are preferred although MS students may be considered.

Who may apply: Open to all.

Qualifications:

  • BS degree in biology, ecology, or related field
  • Field experience and coursework in plant and soil ecology
  • Desire to interact with land managers and help improve land management decisions
  • Previous research experience with good experimental and field skills
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Evidence of statistical knowledge, laboratory analytic skills, and ability to publish research results in refereed journals is highly desired.

Personal Qualifications: The candidate should be self-motivated, focused, and able to work independently and as part of a team. You should be capable of driving to remote sites on 4WD roads, hiking several kilometers, withstanding harsh field conditions, and willing to camp in primitive areas with no facilities.

Please email the following to Beth Newingham at beth.newingham@ars.usda.gov: (1) your resume or CV (including GRE scores and percentiles); (2) a letter of interest, including research interests, professional goals and prior experience, and (3) contact information for three references.

Further questions can be directed to Dr. Newingham at beth.newingham@ars.usda.gov. The student would be a UNR student although housed with the USDA Agricultural Research Service on campus. Information about the University of Nevada, Reno’s graduate programs in the Natural Resources and Environmental Science department. Information about the Newingham Lab.

PHOTO: Malacothamnus fasciculatus nesioticus. Photo by Denise Knapp, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

The Center for Plant Conservation Newsletter
Contributing editor/writer – Christa Horn.
Managing editor – Maureen Wilmot.
Design and development –  Forest Design LLC.

Thank you for helping us Save Plant species facing extinction by making your gift to CPC through our secure PayPal Portal!

If you would like to receive more news like this please sign up below

By | 2018-10-09T22:17:20+00:00 September 17th, 2018|news|0 Comments

Leave A Comment