13th Annual Rare Plant Monitoring Weekend

Each year the Rare Plant Care and Conservation Program (Rare Care) hosts a weekend to monitor rare and threatened plants of Washington State. Trained monitoring volunteers, Rare Care staff, and National Forest staff work together to collect data on rare plant populations. This year’s monitoring weekend was held in the Colville National Forest. Based at Frater Lake, we camped below the stars and woke to the chattering of red squirrels busy with their daily chores. Strong coffee and the smiles of familiar faces set our mornings off to a pleasant start as we reconnected with people we hadn’t seen since last summer. Some traveled the 360+ mile trek from Seattle and others weren’t too far from their own front doors, but all of us were content to tuck away in the forest for the weekend.

Overlooking the wetlands around Frater Lake at Colville National Forest
Wendy Gibble
Rare Care volunteer Barry Wendling monitoring rare wetland species at Frater Lake

This area was chosen for some of the same practical reasons we consider each year when planning: a high number of rare plant occurrences, a campground able to accommodate our group, and a variety of plant species to keep everyone’s interest. However, we were also drawn to the ancestral lands of the Kalispel Tribe for its varied habitats. Rare plant sites in this region can be found along lakeshores, nestled in wet meadows, or under the coniferous trees of dry forests. This diversity of habitats enticed us.

Crested shield-fern with associate plants in the Colville National Forest
Wendy Gibble
Crested shield-fern (Dryopteris cristata) and its associates

During the monitoring weekend 21 known rare plant sites were monitored. We relocated 16 of the 21 and found five new sites. Of the 26 reports completed, 14 were for ferns including the crested shield-fern (Dryopteris cristata), adder’s-tongue (Ophioglossum pusillum), and moonworts (Botrychium spp.). The bright, fleshy green tropophores and uncoiling sporophores of moonworts had many of us crawling at a tortoise-pace hoping to relocate populations that hadn’t been seen in seven or more years. Like Aesop’s famous tortoise, we were rewarded for our slow diligence with several moonwort finds including one new site. Our frolicking with ferns didn’t stop there. The crested shield-fern enamored many with its dimorphic fronds, and the succulent leaves of adder’s-tongue caught the attention of others. Suffice it to say, we all left with a greater fondness for ferns.

One stem of a tiny moonwort at Colville Nationa Forest
Stacy Kinsell
Stalked moonwort (Botrychium pedunculosum) growing in seasonally wet meadows of Colville National Forest

While the common goal of plant conservation may have been what brought us there, it was the people that kept us going. Following our community dinner on Saturday, Rare Care volunteers Carol Mack and John Stuart shared their knowledge of the area and its natural history. Long-time Colville National Forest botanist Amy Cabral told stories of her botanizing adventures, and we met many of the Forest Service staff. It’s this intersection of plants and people that makes the monitoring weekends a special experience each year. Thanks to all who participated!