Rare pygmy saxifrage found

Each new monitoring season, Washington Rare Plant Care and Conservation is delighted by a few unexpected discoveries. This year, these finds include a single pygmy saxifrage (Saxifraga hyperborea) high up near a rocky mountain summit.

pygmy saxifrage, image by Brenda Cunningham

When the species was documented at the site in 1979, “an occasional lone plant” was noted. From 2010 to 2013, Rare Care volunteers searched diligently in an effort to relocate the occurrence. But after three unsuccessful attempts, Rare Care removed it from the monitoring list in order to focus on other rare plant occurrences. So how did our volunteers happen to find it this year?

They were looking for something else!

A US Forest Service botanist asked Rare Care to monitor Tisch’s saxifrage (Saxifraga tischii) at the same site. Two volunteers who had searched the summit previously for S. hyperborea accepted the S. tischii assignment; they were already familiar with the area. They found five Tisch’s saxifrage plants and set to work recording data, including physical site characteristics, associated species and phenology. And then there it was, a stone’s throw away – one pygmy saxifrage – fairly safe from threats, just tricky to find in a rocky habitat riddled with crevices and overhangs. A double reward for their monitoring trip.

sagebrush mariposal-lily, image by Sarah Walker

Also this year, rare plant monitoring volunteers found new sites of the endangered sagebrush mariposa-lily (Calochortus macrocarpus var. maculosus), the threatened Washington polemonium (Polemonium pectinatum) and the sensitive common bluecup (Githopsis specularioides). Wenatchee larkspur (Delphinium viridescens) wasn’t spotted where it had been previously documented, but it was found nearby in two new sites – a result of searching a wider area and holding the image of the species in mind while approaching and departing the site.

And one of The Mountaineers instructors who provides navigation training to Rare Care volunteers each year asked if he could assist in monitoring! He teamed up with a Rare Care volunteer to search some steep slopes on Orcas Island, and together they counted 51 arctic aster (Eurybia merita) that had not been found during a previous search in 2012.

arctic aster, image by Richard Ramsden

Article adapted from Rare Plant Press, Fall/Winter 2015, Vol X No 2. Other articles in the issue include “Showy stickseed exploits environments with low competition” and “Surveys for gray crptantha yield positive results.”