Talk:Eriogonum truncatum

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Mount Diablo Buckwheat Rediscovered Propagation Attempts Underway

The list of extinct species just dropped by one.

On May 20th 2005, Seth Adams, Save Mount Diablo’s Director of Land Programs, and Scott Hein, an SMD Director and photographer, were asked to join a small group of biologists and reporters to assess and document the Mount Diablo Buckwheat, Eriogonum truncatum, a plant that hadn't been seen for sixty-nine years. Resembling a small pink powder puff version of the baby’s breath used in floral arrangements, the wildflower was found on land that was preserved by Save Mount Diablo.

“Save Mount Diablo is incredibly pleased and excited that the Mount Diablo buckwheat has been rediscovered on a property we had a hand in protecting,” said Malcolm Sproul, President of the Board of Directors of Save Mount Diablo and a Principal at LSA Associates. “The rediscovery is an example of why Save Mount Diablo is working so hard to preserve similar properties around the mountain. Rare species focus the public’s attention and preservation of these species also benefits a range of other wildlife that live in similar areas. The rediscovery shows that we can protect a unique species in the middle of a dense urban area and that the diversity of our natural resources can be protected despite intense development pressure.”

“The discovery of the Mount Diablo Buckwheat is monumental,” said Adams. “This pretty wildflower is our own ‘ivory-billed woodpecker’” he said, referring to the recent rediscovery of a bird found after 60 years during which it was considered extinct. “That the Mount Diablo Buckwheat was found on land that Save Mount Diablo protected and that it’s already being managed within Mt. Diablo State Park is icing on the cake.”

In most modern references—primarily environmental impact reports with lists of special status species—Eriogonum truncatum is listed as "presumed extinct". The last documented observation of this plant had been in 1936 by Dr. Mary Bowerman, one of SMD’s founders, and the author of The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Mount Diablo, California (originally published in 1944, and revised in 2002 with Barbara Ertter, Curator of Western North American Flora at U.C. Berkeley's Jepson Herbarium).

All but one of the historic records of the plant—there were just seven from 1862 to 1936—are from Mt. Diablo or the Antioch-Brentwood area; one record is from Solano County. SMD, the State Park, U.C. Berkeley’s Jepson Herbarium and the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), had made a concerted effort in recent years to find the wildflower, with no luck.

“We’ve been calling the Mount Diablo buckwheat the Holy Grail for botanists working in the East Bay, both for professionals and for dedicated volunteers—it’s been the number one priority that we’ve been trying to relocate,” said Ertter.

On May 10th, 2005, a small population of about 20 plants was rediscovered by University of California botanist Michael Park during a routine plant survey in a remote section of Mount Diablo State Park. Our job on May 20th was to assess the plant’s condition and threats to it, in order to stabilize and preserve the population and to develop a site specific management plan.

We announced the rediscovery to support ongoing research and conservation objectives—most of the plant’s historic locations are threatened by development—and because the annual wildflower was in bloom at the time. The location of the discovery is being kept secret—a good thing considering the media furor that ensued. After the May 24th publication of the initial exclusive story by Contra Costa Times reporter Mike Taugher (with photos by Times photographer, Cindi Christie), the news spread rapidly.

When the Associated Press picked up the story (and Scott’s photographs) the next day, the news went worldwide and in many languages, on television, radio, in print media, magazines, and online. Michael Park’s parents first heard about the story in a Korean language newspaper. It could be read or heard in Arabic on CNN-Middle East. Interviews with Seth and Barbara were broadcast on NPR and can still be heard online there. From a few hundred obscure web references on May 23, the story had spread to more than 15,000 web sites a few days later. Photo and interview requests are still coming in months later.

Background “California has about 6300 native vascular plant species, about 1/3 are endemic (found only) in the state,” said Ertter. “Mt. Diablo has 900 plant species of which a quarter are non-native, yet non-natives represent a vast majority of what you see in grassland areas. Twenty-nine plant species on Mt. Diablo are considered rare or endangered and twelve are endemic to the Mt. Diablo region, including the Mount Diablo buckwheat.”

In addition to the buckwheat, these endemics include: Brewer's Phacelia, Chaparral Harebell, Contra Costa Manzanita, Jepson’s Coyote Thistle, Mt. Diablo Bird’s Beak, Mt. Diablo Fairy Lantern, Mt. Diablo Jewel Flower, Mt. Diablo Manzanita, Mt. Diablo Phacelia, Mt. Diablo Sunflower, and Rock Sanicle.

The Mount Diablo buckwheat (Eriogonom truncatum) is an annual herb, 10-70 cm in height (the plants found range from 3-8” in height), with white to rose colored flowers from mid-April to May (although records show April to December, with May most common). It was historically found in chaparral, valley grassland, and northern coastal scrub habitats, in sandy soil and grassland slopes. It is thought that competition by introduced non-native plants is responsible for its rarity. In recent years its historic habitat has been threatened by development pressure.

Eriogonom truncatum was first recorded on May 29, 1862 by William H. Brewer, a member of Josiah Whitney’s California Geological Survey from 1860-1867. Brewer’s chronicle of the survey, Up and Down California, is an important work of early California history. What is less well known is that his biological collections during the survey include many of the first discoveries of California species. He collected the Mount Diablo buckwheat at Marsh’s Ranch near Mt. Diablo—nearly 4000 acres of the Marsh Ranch have recently been preserved in the new Cowell Ranch State Park. Over the next 78 years the Mount Diablo buckwheat was found just a handful of times, for a total of seven historic records.

The Rediscovery Michael Park, 35, is a wiry and energetic botanist based in Berkeley and who grew up in Los Angeles. A first year graduate student at U.C. Berkeley, he is continuing a survey on a portion of Mount Diablo that was begun as part of his senior's thesis. 5’10” and 145 pounds, he is known for forgetting to eat while carrying out field work, and for hiking long distances to reach his study area, where he has made over ninety field visits.

Says Park: “As I arrived at the location where I park my car to leave for the survey route, my cell phone rang. It was Dr. Bruce Baldwin, the curator of the Jepson Herbarium, who is also my major professor and a great advisor. We talked about work I was to complete… we ended up having a brief discussion of the… search for the Mount Diablo buckwheat. I told him that I felt the plant was still present, but that I'd never be the one to find it. He replied that, ‘It’s just a matter of being at the right place at the right time.’ He encouraged me further with news of another recently rediscovered plant found in the Channel Islands, Dissanthelium californicum or “Catalina grass” which had last been seen in 1912. Prophetic words; I found the buckwheat that day!”

“On May tenth I was walking excruciatingly slowly in order to maximize the species count. The route finding involved a slight detour from the usual survey route, to more thoroughly search promising areas that hadn't gotten enough attention… I was looking at a common plant which likes rock outcroppings and was wondering why it was growing on sand when I realized that I was surrounded by early blooming buckwheat. I decided I needed a closer look since I didn’t recognize it and then realized ‘this is something new’. Once I realized that it was the Mount Diablo buckwheat I was in shock so I pretended it wasn’t there and continued with my other work.”

“The plants are all in flower, approaching full bloom, and they’re very distinctive because the flower stalks branch upward in a wishbone pattern, with flowers at the bottom node and at each end of each wishbone. They’re between three and eight inches in height, highly branched. The large plants have several dozen flowers which are pinkish with a maroon center line on each petal. It’s a surprisingly dainty plant once you see it in the field, because it’s so celebrated in the botanical community that it had grown in my imagination. It’s only because I stopped and was moving very slowly that I even recognized that it was there,” said Park.

“It’s growing in a strip next to chaparral. At one point it was thought that chemicals from the chaparral plants might make it harder for grasses and annuals to colonize but now the theory is that brush rabbits create the zone, hiding from hawks and eagles in the brush then darting out to browse, creating a narrow strip along the edges of the chaparral where native species can persist.”

Reactions “California Native Plant Society started doing an inventory of rare plants over thirty years ago, many of which need management, and that’s when botanists started looking for the Mount Diablo buckwheat. There’s a list of about thirty species presumed extinct in California that we’ve been giving special attention. Locally the buckwheat has been at the top of the list because it’s a full species not a variety and the habitats are there, yet we weren’t finding it. Whenever you’re dealing with annuals there could be seeds that last for years. If we went to this exact same spot last year it might not have been present,” said Ertter.

“There have been a few special efforts to find the plant but mostly a few individuals have been making a concerted effort,” said Ertter. “I’ve been looking for twenty years, so my first reaction was that I was delighted for Michael. He got the gold ring. I was so overwhelmed with the sudden logistics of what to do about it, that I failed to jump up and down and wave my hands in excitement. But that’s how I felt.”

“It was thought to be extinct but we all felt there was a likelihood that it still existed,” said Joanne Karbavaz, a State Park Resource Ecologist. “It’s in a rugged type of habitat that’s received a lot of protection so botanists didn’t assume that it was gone. It’s an annual and there are good and bad years. We didn’t know what year would be good. My first thought was hooray, this is something we’ve been looking for a long time and I was excited that it was found within the boundaries of Mt. Diablo State Park. It’s part of the tapestry of life, the biodiversity that State Parks is in the business of protecting. Then I thought, ‘how do we appropriately manage it?’”

“The native plants of California are some of the most exciting in the world, because so many of them are so local,” said Peter Raven, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and an internationally renowned botanist and conservationist. “Taken together, they form an intricate jigsaw puzzle of interlocking and separate distributions. Many of them are of recent origin geologically, and the Mount Diablo Buckwheat is clearly one of these. Like many other annuals in California, it presumably originated when the formation of cold currents offshore lead to the summer-dry climates, Mediterranean climates that are so characteristic of the State now, opening up new habitats and forming an incredible array of new species.”

“One of many species of buckwheat in California, the Mount Diablo Buckwheat has had its own history, and differs in its features, in its genes, and in its associations with other plants and animals in nature from every other kind of organism,” said Raven. “If it had really been lost, it would have been gone forever, and a unique part of our heritage vanished permanently. Now we have the chance to understand it, to enjoy it, and to know that we haven't done it in!”

Conservation & Next Steps In June several more site visits were made. The buckwheat plants were maturing quickly. Some were still flowering, a few were seeding, and seeds were collected off the ground below some plants. Seeds will be tested and stored at the Jepson Herbarium until next year’s growing season. Metal staples were placed next to each plant, in order to document the locations of the plants and to see if plants grow in the same area next year.

Trampling remains a possible threat, so two cages were installed around a number of the plants. One with a closed top, about 2 feet tall, secured with short rebar stakes (approx. 1.5 feet long), was placed around the largest individual plant. A taller (about 3 feet tall), open-top cage secured with longer rebar stakes (approx. 3.5 feet long) was installed around a cluster of a few plants. Chicken wire was used as caging material, and rebar stakes were hammered into the ground. The remaining plants were left uncaged.

“We have a chance to save the Mount Diablo buckwheat,” said Ertter. “We can’t allow this opportunity to slip through our fingers. Why did the buckwheat survive here? For one the site is preserved. The chaparral edge is also one of the few places where the balance has been against invasive non-native plants so that the species could survive… We’ll need to study what the factors are that allow it to persist, to develop a management strategy.”

In early 2006 seeds will be germinated at U.C. Berkeley and botanists will start surveying the Diablo site again. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Ertter, “it’s still hanging on by its fingernails. At least now we’ve got a lot of hope and some things to run with, a chance that we’ll be able to pull this plant back from the brink.”

Article submitted by Seth Adams, Director of LAnd Programs, Save Mount Diablo

michael park image[edit]

I have removed the image of Michael Park as it adds almost no value to the article, and the subject is not notable (rather than the "buckwheat" itself. If somebody would like to create an article about Mr. Park, and demonstrate its notability, I would imagine the image would be suitable for illustration. ... aa:talk 15:34, 16 July 2006 (UTC)