Rare Care’s Botanical Explorations

Two Rare Care volunteers pressing plants at Two-Steppe Natural Area Preserve
Stacy Kinsell
Rare Care volunteers Susan Ballinger and Richard Fleenor pressing plants at Two-Steppe Natural Area Preserve

This spring, the Rare Plant Care and Conservation program (Rare Care) launched a new initiative in partnership with the Washington Natural Heritage Program to conduct botanical surveys of several Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Natural Area Preserves (NAP) and Natural Resource Conservation Areas (NRCA). Our goal is to expand our understanding of the botanical diversity of these preserves and the flora of Washington State. With so much land conversion in our state resulting in the loss of native ecosystems, these preserves become increasingly important to the conservation of native plants statewide.

Scilla-like onion in bloom with brigt pink flowers
Wendy Gibble
Scilla-like onion (Allium scilloides) at Two-Steppe Natural Area Preserve

Our first botanical survey of the season was in mid-April at the Two-Steppe NAP in Douglas County. Located on the slopes of a side canyon to Moses Coulee, this preserve protects a high-quality shrub-grassland ecosystem. Nine volunteers from Rare Care and the Wenatchee Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society joined staff from Rare Care, DNR, and the Heritage Program for the first of two surveys. While still early for many species, the group was rewarded with observations of six blooming desert-parsley species, including Lomatium canbyi, L. dissectum, L. farinosum, L. macrocarpum, L. simplex, and L. triternatum. We were also early enough to catch scilla-like onion (Allium scilloides) in bloom, an uncommon endemic plant found on thin, rocky soils from Douglas County south to Klickitat County. For this first Two-Steppe NAP survey we added approximately 20 species to the plant list.

In mid-May, we ventured out for a second survey at Two-Steppe along with seven volunteers and Heritage Program Botanist Walter Fertig. During this trip another 25 species were identified that had not been seen in April, 17 of those new to the growing plant list. Collections were made of species with uncertain identities on both surveys and we continue to work on identifying those. At present, the total number of new species from both surveys is at 37 and counting.

Later in the season and closer to home, three Rare Care volunteers and Walter Fertig hiked with us up to Granite Lakes at Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA in August. This recently established 10,000+ acres preserve helps conserve a forested landscape in between Mt Si NCRA and the Mt Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, creating a large habitat and wildlife corridor through the Cascade Mountains. Botanical surveys in this area have been limited and the working plant list was small. After a full day of hiking and botanizing, we were able to add a whopping 110+ new species to the list.

Group of botanists conducting botanical surveys at Two-Steppe Natural Areas Preserve
Wendy Gibble
Group of volunteers and staff who carried out botanical surveys at Two-Steppe Natural Area Preserve in mid-April.