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NATURAL HISTORY

SAN JACINTO VALLEY CROWNSCALE } Atriplex coronata var. notatior
FAMILY: Chenopodiaceae

DESCRIPTION: A member of the goosefoot family, the San Jacinto Valley crownscale stands from four to 12 inches tall and sports many small, elliptical, white-green leaves. This bushy plant can have one or several gray-green stems, which turn deep yellow as it grows older and dies. Each plant is monoecious, meaning that it bears both male and female reproductive organs, with females flowers lower on the plant and males on the upper. The male parts bloom after the females are mature, to prevent inbreeding. The female organs are difficult to see until the plant bears fruit. San Jacinto Valley crownscale fruit is distinguishable by a series of bumpy bracts (special types of leaves) fused around each fruit.

HABITAT: This plant prefers silt and clay soils, with a strong attachment to highly alkaline ground. It is often found near vernal pools and in floodplains, where the area may be flooded for a portion of the year.

RANGE: Western Riverside County, California

LIFE CYCLE: The San Jacinto Valley crownscale is prodigiously well adapted for a life near water. For part of each year, winter rains flood the California grasslands that this plant calls home. After the water recedes in the spring the plants germinate, spreading their roots deep into the moist soil. The San Jacinto Valley crownscale blooms in April and May, and usually sets fruit by May or June. Each fruit bears dark brown seeds which can last up to five years; the seeds are dispersed by seasonal floodwaters, which can carry them great distances before they germinate.

THREATS: The San Jacinto Valley crownscale is in particular danger from increased urbanization because its habitat is nearly flat and therefore easy to develop. It is also threatened by habitat fragmentation, agricultural weed-control measures where its habitat is repeatedly disked, off-road vehicle use, alteration of hydrology, deliberate manure and sludge dumping, trampling by livestock, and competition from nonnative species.

POPULATION TREND: The San Jacinto Valley crownscale experienced a severe decline between 1992 and 1999, when it lost 70 percent of its population; it continues to decline today. The four remaining populations are located in the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, the floodplain of the San Jacinto River, the Upper Salt Creek vernal pool, and Alberhill Creek. Because floodwaters carry crownscale seeds over long distances, population ranges may shift from year to year.

Photo by Ileene Anderson