CPC Plant Profile: Malheur Wire-lettuce
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Plant Profile

Malheur Wire-lettuce (Stephanomeria malheurensis)

The aptly named "wire lettuce" has thin stems and few leaves. Photo Credit: Linda McMahan
Description
  • Global Rank: G1 - Critically Imperiled
  • Legal Status: Federally Endangered
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • State: OR
  • Nature Serve ID: 139252
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 02/25/1988

The Malheur wirelettuce is face to face with its extinction. After its discovery in 1966, Stephanomeria malheurensis battled drought in the 1970's, a major fire in 1972 followed by invasion of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), and heavy rain and flooding from 1981 to 1985. Only one population of Malheur wirelettuce has ever been known. It was listed as federally endangered in 1982 and the bulk of the population was last seen in the wild in 1984. From 1985 to 1987 no plants appeared and scientists determined that it had been driven to extinction. During the last 15 years, a mere handful of apparently wild plants have been seen at its original site within the eastern Oregon sagebrush steppe. An experimental reintroduction was initiated in the summer of 1987, using seeds saved by Dr. Leslie Gottlieb of the University of California at Davis. This groundbreaking project was the first in the Pacific Northwest to attempt to introduce a plant back into its native habitat (Armstrong 1987). 1000 wirelettuce seedlings were grown at The Berry Botanic Garden in Portland, Oregon. They were planted at the original site in four different plots, each dominated by a particular native plant or introduced species (rabbitbrush, sagebrush, wild rye and cheatgrass). Researchers removed cheatgrass yearly from half of each plot. Numbers of plants have since been monitored annually. Numbers of plants have fluctuated greatly between years (see Guerrant 1996; Guerrant and Pavlik 1997), but as of 2001 some plants were still present. Malheur wirelettuce might not be sufficiently adapted to survive for the long run, despite the best reintroduction efforts. This plant appears to have recently evolved from the widespread species Stephanomeria exigua ssp. coronaria, with which it is found growing in close proximity. Malheur wirelettuce appears to be maladapted in several respects, leading Dr. Gottlieb to suspect that the genetic changes leading to speciation were random chance events rather than adaptive changes (Gottlieb 1973). He hypothesized that without new genetic material entering the gene pool through mutation or hybridization, the probability that this taxon will persist is low.

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Updates
Center for Plant Conservation
  • 12/03/2021
  • Reintroduction

Known only from a single population, the inbreeding annual, Stephanomeria malheurensis, was discovered in 1972 by Dr. L. Gottlieb (who collected and stored seed), listed as endangered in 1982, and thought to be extinct in the wild by 1985. In 1987, a first attempt (described in another database entry) to reintroduce the species at its native site (Narrows) was initiated using seeds supplied by Dr. L. Gottlieb, and grown out by the Berry Botanic Garden for the Bureau of Land Management. The reintroduced population fluctuated wildly in size between years, and appeared not to have survived beyond 2003.
A second reintroduction attempt was initiated with outplantings in 2007 and 2008, both at its original location, but also at another apparently suitable location about 10 miles distant (Dunes). This project is being led by the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Native Plant Conservation Program staff in partnership with the Berry Botanic Garden (2007) and the Bureau of Land Management (both years). It is a complex project that is organized around a series of explicit hypotheses to be tested, and in which procedures are being modified in light of results. Questions examined include: the effect propagule type (transplants superior to seeds); different locations (Native site better than other); different seed sources (ODA seedlings outperformed BBG’s in the field, but off site seed production rates were the opposite); potting mix (Supersoil possibly superior to sand); protection from mammalian herbivores (fencing versus fencing, not significant). Response variables were survival and reproductive output. In addition, survival and reproduction were evaluated against other measures including transplant size at planting, and various aspects of the microsites at which plants were placed.

Center for Plant Conservation
  • 12/03/2021
  • Reintroduction

A second attempt by Berry Botanic Garden: this entry focused on prop type test of seeds vs plants.


Center for Plant Conservation
  • 12/03/2021
  • Reintroduction

Known only a single locality, Malheur wirelettuce (Stephanomeria malheurensis. Asteraceae) is an obligately inbreeding herbaceous annual plant. Discovered in 1972 it was thought to be extinct in the wild by 1985. Dr. L. Gottlieb who found and described the species had presciently collected and stored seed, which he provided to the Berry Botanic Garden for reintroduction, bulking up, and long term storage.
An initial reintroduction attempt was begun in 1987, when the Berry Botanic Garden provided 1,000 seedlings to the Bureau of Land Management, which they planted at the original site from which the species had been known. The project was designed as a formal scientific experiment involving five treatments. Four separate areas were established, each enclosed within a rodent-proof fence that extended both above and below ground. Three of the four plots were square (5 meters on a side) were dominated by a different native plant common to the site (Artemisia tridentata, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, or Elymus cinerus, ALL with Bromus tectorum completely removed). The fourth was 5 x 10 meters was dominated by the invasive Bromus tectorum, of which half was manually weeded to 50 percent cover, and the other left undisturbed varied between 50 and 100 percent cover. Rabbits decimated all the plants in the Artemisia plot, which had to be re-planted in 1989, with 80 seedlings.
Population size varied so widely over time, the data are here condensed to the total number of reproductive plants in each year between 1987 and 2006: 1987, 1000 transplants; 1988, 31 plants; 1989, 939 plants (80 transplants); number of plants from 1990 - 2006 respectively, 0, 387, 105, 280, 36, 413, 24, 0, 52, 0, 113, 28, 17, 5, 0, 0, 0. Even though the population of reproductive adults was zero in three non-seuential years (1990, 1997 and 1999) the species was again considered extinct in the wild as of 2004 (zero plants seen in 2004, 2005, and 2006). In 2007 a second reintroduction attempt, led by the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Native Plant Conservation Program staff was initiated.

  • 10/09/2020
  • Seed Collection

An experimental reintroduction was initiated in the summer of 1987, using seeds saved by Dr. Leslie Gottlieb of the University of California at Davis.

  • 10/09/2020
  • Reintroduction

1000 wirelettuce seedlings were grown at The Berry Botanic Garden in Portland, Oregon. They were planted at the original site in four different plots, each dominated by a particular native plant or introduced species (rabbitbrush, sagebrush, wild rye and cheatgrass). The only known site, which is on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, has been fenced off and declared a Scientific Study Area (Meinke 1982). Experimental reintroduction at original site (Burns District BLM and Berry Botanic Garden).

  • 10/09/2020
  • Propagation Research

1000 wirelettuce seedlings were grown at The Berry Botanic Garden in Portland, Oregon. They were planted at the original site in four different plots, each dominated by a particular native plant or introduced species (rabbitbrush, sagebrush, wild rye and cheatgrass).

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Known only from a single site in southeastern Oregon where it was first discovered in 1966. The species' habitat was invaded shortly thereafter by cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) an aggressive, non-native plant which eventually replaced much of the native vegetation, including every known Stephanomeria malheurensis plant, by 1985. However, because the species was of scientific interest, viable seed had been stored off-site, making the difference between extinction and survival for the species. Transplants and recovery efforts are ongoing at the original site and since 2007 at a second nearby location. A self-sustaining population has yet to be established. Potential threats include zeolite mining claims, cattle grazing, herbivory, and competition from exotic plant species.

Edward Guerrant, Ph.D.
  • 01/01/2010

Competition from introduced species, including cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). A fire in 1972 allowed the invasion of cheatgrass, which suppressed population numbers of the wirelettuce. The small population is susceptible to extirpation by random events

Edward Guerrant, Ph.D.
  • 01/01/2010

As of 2001: 1 population. Population size typically ranges from 50 to 500 individuals in a given year, although some years there are few or no individuals growing (Raven 2001).

Edward Guerrant, Ph.D.
  • 01/01/2010

The only known site, which is on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, has been fenced off and declared a Scientific Study Area (Meinke 1982). Experimental reintroduction at original site (Burns District BLM and Berry Botanic Garden). The recovery plan was finalized and implemented in 1991. The management goal is downlisting by 2003 (Parenti 1991).

Edward Guerrant, Ph.D.
  • 01/01/2010

Status of remaining individuals at the original site should be monitored each year (Taylor 1997). Cheatgrass should be removed from the site, if possible (Raven 2001). Continue to restrict mining activities (Meinke 1982). Establish additional plants/populations (Parenti 1991; Raven 2001). Perform in situ soil seed bank survivorship studies to determine the number of years that seeds can survive in the soil.

Edward Guerrant, Ph.D.
  • 01/01/2010

Continue banking seeds for future use. Determine the number of years that seeds can be stored using standard storage methods.

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Photos
Nomenclature
Taxon Stephanomeria malheurensis
Authority Gottlieb
Family Asteraceae
CPC Number 4128
ITIS 196298
USDA STMA5
Common Names Malheur wire-lettuce | Malheur wire lettuce | Malheur wirelettuce
Associated Scientific Names Stephanomeria malheurensis
Distribution OROR: Basin & Range (Harney Co.)
State Rank
State State Rank
Oregon S1
Habitat

Tops of broad hills above surrounding flats (Meinke 1982). Soil derived from volcanic tuff layered with thin crusts of limestone (Meinke 1982). Associated species include Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, Elymus cinereus, Bromus tectorum, and Salsola kali (Meinke 1982).

Ecological Relationships

Based on more than a decade of field data, it appears that Malheur wirelettuce plants prefer cooler and wetter years. More plants emerged after relatively cool, wet springs and during wetter growing seasons (Raven 2001). Malheur wirelettuce does not compete well with other plants.The seeds of Stephanomeria malheurensis do not require a chilling period, so it is possible for seeds to germinate in the fall after a late summer or early fall rain. However, harsh winter conditions kill the inappropriately timed seedlings (Parenti 1991). The seeds of the parent plant, Stephanomeria exigua ssp. coronaria, require storage in the freezer for at least six weeks for germination to occur (Gottlieb 1973). Seeds of Stephanomeria malheurensis are about twice the size of seeds from Stephanomeria exigua ssp. coronaria (Gottlieb 1977).

Pollinators
Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Reintroduction
Lead Institution State Reintroduction Type Year of First Outplanting
Berry Botanic Garden Oregon Reintroduction 2007
Oregon Department of Agriculture Oregon Reintroduction 2007

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