|A Rare Plant Tresature Hunt group travels out to Castle Peaks. Photo: Kim Clark
It is largely a citizen-science program with the goal of getting volunteers out in the field to experience
California wild places and assist in rare
plant surveys. These surveys largely target rare plant populations that haven’t
been revisited in more than 20 years in order to evaluate the current status of
Many people may be under the impression that the desert is nothing rocks, lizards and an occasional spiny plant—an open wasteland to be crossed to get to
Las Vegas or .
But Lake Havasu California deserts hold more than 35
percent of the flora of California
and have some of the areas of highest diversity for the state. There are many
botanically unexplored mountain ranges and valleys out there. In 2012 alone, there
were five plant species found in California
deserts new to science described by RSABG scientists and researchers.
The Rare Plant Treasure Hunt program largely focuses on the
California deserts often
associated with the development of renewable energy projects. There are
currently thousands of acres proposed for possible development, of which a
great deal has had little botanical exploration.
It is the goal of the RPTH program to get volunteers out to these places to experience them first hand and to educate others on
flora and the importance of its conservation.
|Coryphantha alversonni in the Big Marias Mountains. Photo: Kim Clark.
The spring field season in 2012 was one of the driest years on record for the
deserts; most areas got only 0.01 millimeters of rain or absolutely no rain at
all. Watching the doppler in the winter of 2011-12 was often like watching a
blank screen as there was so little weather action. Watching the weather
stations and dopplers frequently helps plant scientists predict which areas may
have germination or bloom. But even in dry years, the desert rarely disappoints
and almost every area visited had at least one rare plant population if not
The summer field season seemed to the opposite as some parts of the
deserts received the most summer rain they have received in more than a decade.
The eastern Mojave in particular had an amazing summer bloom and RSABG/RPTH
participants were able to document around 100 rare plant populations on just a
A total of 24 trips were made in 2012. These trips ranged from day trips to three-day excursions into very remote places. We started in March at below sea level around the Salton Sea, topped out on
California’s highest peak on Mount San Gorgonio at 11,500 feet in
July, and then headed back down to the lower elevations following the summer
monsoonal storms in September. We documented around 300 rare plant populations.
Many of these were newly documented. We trekked into the Panamint Mountains and
found the type locality of the Panamint daisy (Enceliopsis covillei), which is
the plant that has always adorned, and will continue to adorn, the CNPS logo;
this population had not been revisited since Frederick Coville made the first
collection of this plant in 1891 on the Death Valley expedition. The new
species was later named for him. We found the first population of Abrams spurge
(Chamaesyce abramsiana) in Imperial County in 100 years; all historic populations from are likely extirpated due to
development and agriculture. We documented many range extensions of rare
plants, locating populations where they had never been found before. We
provided information that aided in the evaluation of plant species for the CNPS
inventory, including information about its abundance (or lack thereof!) in Imperial County California and about
threats to historic occurrences of a given species. We had many wonderful treks
into some amazing places and spent many nights under star filled skies. All in
all, it was a very successful and productive year.
If you would like to learn more about the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt program please visit the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Website.