Californian wildflowers are disappearing

This video from the USA is called California Poppies in the Antelope Valley.

From the University of California – Riverside in the USA:

California’s wildflowers are disappearing, new book by UCR ecologist cautions

Richard Minnich says policies and measures are needed to preserve state’s flower heritage

Richard Minnich is a professor of geography in the Department of Earth Sciences at UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – At least since the late 18th century, invasive plant species introduced by humans have devastated California’s botanical heritage by destroying native flora, resulting in bad pastures and posing a fire hazard, a new book by a UC Riverside ecologist explains.

“We need to recognize that California was not at all grasslands in the past,” said Richard Minnich, the author of California’s Fading Wildflowers, published this month by the University of California Press. “In the late eighteenth century, land all the way from San Francisco to San Diego was carpeted by wildflower pastures. Today these pastures have vanished, with brome grass taking their place.” …

From entries about California’s vegetation recorded by Franciscan missionaries and soldiers (1769-1776), Minnich determined that the landscape was covered with wildflower fields in the late 18th century, and that these pastures thrived especially well along the coast.

He reports in the book on how during the Gold Rush in the middle of the 19th century (1840 to 1880) non-Hispanic Europeans – American, French and British explorers –introduced European plants such as clovers, filerie, black mustard and wild oats that initiated the alteration of California’s landscape.

“These non-native plants invaded the state’s coastal areas,” said Minnich, a professor of geography in the Department of Earth Sciences. “But inland, the natives continued to thrive and wildflowers continued to grow.”

But then, from 1880 until the present, bromes, a new suite of invaders, took hold and spread rapidly in California, Minnich argues. “Newspaper articles and books from this period report that the bromes exploded throughout the state,” he said. “Unlike the plants the Franciscans introduced, these bromes spread into the interior of California and replaced the wildflowers there.”

His research for the book helped him determine that the bromes replaced the wildflowers in Los Angeles in the 1940s; in Riverside, Calif., in 1965; in southern San Joaquin Valley in the mid-1960s; and throughout the deserts of California in the 1970s and 1980s.

“California was a flower pasture once but in the past fifty years the flowers made their final collapse right in front of our eyes,” he said. “Today, the wildflower situation in the state is bad. You hardly see them, and, when you do, they appear in patches here and there, not as meadows that once characterized the state.”

According to Minnich, California wildflowers are also a “lost legacy.” He argues that wildflowers were appreciated by the generations of the late 19th century: they were the topic of books and were institutionalized in floral societies that sprung up in all the local towns and weekend flower parties.

“The New Year’s Rose Parade in Pasadena was the institutional outcome of the combined forces of southern California’s floral societies,” he said.

What Is an Altitudinal Vegetation Zone? Here.

ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2010) — The popular forage and turf grass called tall fescue covers a vast amount of land in the U.S. — an area that’s estimated to be larger than Virginia and Maryland combined — and a new study by ecologists at Rice University and Indiana University suggests there is more to fescue than meets the eye: here.

USA: After a 20-Year Mapping Effort, Hoping to Save Dozens of Native Plants: here.

Britain: Telegraph: Loss of wildflowers in countryside: here.

8 thoughts on “Californian wildflowers are disappearing

  1. Scientists take part in Carolina Vegetation Survey

    By Michael Abramowitz
    The Daily Reflector

    Sunday, July 20, 2008

    Climate and environmental changes over time can impact the growth patterns of vegetation in Pitt County, as in all areas of the state. But if the types of vegetation and their various classifications of growth patterns are not identified in some way now, understanding those changes can become quite challenging with the passage of time.

    That is just one of many potential benefits that a group of scientists and plant biologists see for the Carolina Vegetation Survey, being conducted this week at the Otter Creek Natural Area Research and Teaching Environment, located on N.C. 43 North in Falkland.
    Photos by Michael Abramowitz/The Daily Reflector
    A team of scientists prepares to lay out a permanent site to catalog and study changes in the natural communities within the Otter Creek Learning Area in Falkland. The team included, from left, Nick Adams of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tom Wentworth of North Carolina State University, David Knowles of East Carolina University and Ashley Tuggle of Franklin College in Switzerland.

    The group included David Knowles, a biologist and instructor at East Carolina University, Tom Wentworth, professor of plant biology at North Carolina State University and one of the founding members of the survey, and several graduate and undergraduate level interns who volunteered to conduct an eight-day field survey of plants and vegetation at the reserve.

    The team’s goal, working with others doing the same statewide, is to install permanent plots in which a complete inventory of plant life and other natural features, including soils, can be made, Wentworth said Saturday at the site. They call the process a “pulse.”

    Knowles, Wentworth and the others hauled packs loaded with fiberglass tape, metal piping and other measurement instruments deep within the 70-acre reserve and established what Wentworth considered an ideal location to set up the plot.

    Each plot is about 1,000 square meters, about one-fourth the size of a football field, he said.

    “Once we remove all the tapes and flags, we can return to the plot in the future and survey it again to learn what changes have happened to these natural communities over time,” Wentworth said.

    The reasons for studying changes can be almost as varied as the types of vegetation themselves, because many factors affect the change of an environment, Wentworth said.

    “An ECU scientist might want to return to this plot after a hurricane, for instance, to study what changes occurred after that event,” Wentworth said.

    The details of the pulse that is being conducted by this team go far beyond any that have been gathered in the region, Wentworth said.

    “Five years or so from now, when we’ve done a thorough characterization of the natural communities in the region, we’ll be in an excellent position to write a book that describes them because we’ll have a consistent and thorough database of information to work with. That doesn’t exist in most regions of the state,” he said.

    Perhaps more important from a practical standpoint, Wentworth said, is the record being made of dwindling natural conditions that still exist while man-made changes occur all around them.

    “These natural communities represent the best examples of what’s left in our landscape, so they will be targets for people who want to restore damaged or degraded natural communities in the future,” he said.

    The team collaborates with the Ecosystem Enhancement Program of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to perform their plot surveys for that purpose.

    As the wide array of natural events, such as fires and hurricanes, and man-made events such as pine harvesting and housing development occur in and around the reserve, students and scientists in the future will return and observe the changes they cause.

    Team assistants Ashley Tuggle, an undergraduate from Dallas, Texas, studying at Franklin College in Switzerland and Nick Adams, a graduate student from Chapel Hill studying at UNC-CH, began the cataloging process in one plot while J.C. Poythress, also of Chapel Hill, Wade Wall, a North Carolina State University graduate student, and Jarvis Hudson, a retired volunteer from Fayetteville, set up a second plot at another location in the reserve.

    “I’m impressed by the number of species I’ve seen here already,” Tuggle said. “I’ve seen a lot of bottomland hardwood species in my work along the Roanoke River, but it’s nice to get into the uplands here and see all these species of oak. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many varieties.”

    Even a brief tour through the forest led by Knowles revealed the diverse landscape and natural features that make the reserve a scientifically valuable resource — and a simply rewarding experience for anyone with an appreciation for natural beauty.

    “People think Greenville’s all flat,” he said as he walked first down, then up again, along a trail that revealed many trees that Hurricane Floyd toppled in 1999. He stopped and pointed down a steep hillside that led to a marshy bottom.

    “This is a north-facing slope with a ridge line about 80 feet above sea level,” he said. “This is mountain laurel, a species found in more northern climates, but found here because of that north-facing slope.”

    A walk in the opposite direction for about a half-mile led to Otter Creek, a winding blackwater stream that has its entire watershed in the sandy coastal plain, resulting in its year-round tea color, Knowles said.

    “There’s a lot of different species of fish in here, and even otters,” he said.

    Back at the pulse site, Adams took a break from his cataloging to talk about the challenges and rewards of his work, professionally and personally.

    “We do this in the summer, so it gets hot and you work long days, but it’s fun, and you build a sense of camaraderie with your teammates,” he said.

    The team will collect any unknown species of plants and send them back to their headquarters in Chapel Hill for identification, along with soil samples to be studied.

    “Just entering the data into the database will be a lot of work for the people back there,” he said.

    The Carolina Vegetation Survey teams strive to get as many plots established throughout the state as possible so future biologists can study them and increase the available database and learn about the many types of natural communities that exist within North Carolina’s diverse ecological boundaries.

    There are now 6,000 such pulse sites established in the state, Wentworth said.

    Without the kind of information gathered at sites like this one, effective decisions about how to preserve wooded and natural areas for future generations in the face of development might not be possible, Wentworth said.

    “Think about how few places like this remain, between what’s been converted to agriculture, plantation forestry and developed for urban residential and commercial use. This kind of site is relatively rare in the landscape and important to preserve,” Wentworth said.

    According to its Web site, The Carolina Vegetation Survey of The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program is a part of the Office of Conservation and Community Affairs within the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The program inventories, catalogues, and supports conservation of the rarest and the most outstanding elements of the natural diversity of our state. These elements of natural diversity include those plants and animals which are so rare or the natural communities so significant that they merit special consideration as land-use decisions are made.


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