Fulfilling court orders won by the Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has issued proposed rules to designate and protect 92,244 acres of critical habitat for six endangered California plants. Five of the six plants have been waiting for federal protection since 1975 when the Smithsonian Institution petitioned to place them on the endangered species list. They languished in bureaucratic limbo for 25 years until the Center and the Native Plant Society filed suit to protect them. With 181 threatened and endangered plants, California is second only to Hawaii in plant imperilment.

Center initiatives have led to the protection of 126 species under the Endangered Species Act, including 86 plants and the designation of 37.6 million acres of critical habitat.

The purple amole (Chlorogalum purpureum), 21,980 acres. A member of the lily family, the amole occurs in oak woodland and grassland habitats in Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties. It is threatened by military training, off-road vehicles, fire suppression, cattle grazing and invasive non-native species. Amole is an Aztec name brought to the U.S. by Spanish explorers from Mexico. It is also sometimes called a soap plant because Native Americans crushed the underground bulb into a lather with which to glue arrows together. The fibers of the bulb jacket were used to make brushes.

The Kneeland prairie penny-cress (Thlaspi californicum), 74 acres. A member of the mustard family, the penny-cress is endemic to serpentine soil on the outer north coast range of Humboldt County. It has declined by 48% since 1997 with only 5,100 plants remaining today. It is threatened by habitat fragmentation and destruction, primarily in the form of roads and helipad construction.

The La Graciosa thistle (Cirsium loncholepis), 44,315 acres. A member of the sunflower family, the thistle occurs in coastal dune habitat and wetlands in northern Santa Barbara and southern San Louis Obispo counties, including the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. It has only 17 small and isolated locations left, many with less than 60 plants each, and 5 with fewer than 10 plants. It is threatened by agriculture, oil field development and aggressive non-native species.

The Lompoc yerba santa (Eriodictyon capitatum), 8,495 acres. A shrub in the waterleaf family, the yerba santa has lavender flowers and reaches heights of ten feet. It grows in maritime chaparral and bishop pine forests in western Santa Barbara county, and has just 4 known locations: 2 on Vandenberg Air Force Base, and 2 on oil fields and private land, with 11-20 populations each. Its threats are land fragmentation, fire management practices, and naturally occurring catastrophic events.

The Gaviota tarplant (Deinandra increscens ssp. villosa), 14,020 acres. A member of the sunflower family, the tarplant occurs in rare needlegrass grasslands on coastal terraces and ridgelines in the Santa Ynez Mountains, including Vandenberg Air Force Base. Most of the populations are on private lands owned by the petroleum industry, and are threatened by habitat loss and degradation due to development of oil and gas facilities.

The Santa Cruz tarplant (Holocarpha macradenia), 3,360 acres. A member of the aster family, the aromatic tarplant occurs in coastal prairie and marine terrace habitats. It has been reduced to just 13 native populations along the coast of central CA, primarily near the cities of Santa Cruz and Soquel. Habitat destruction and alteration caused by urban development is the most significant cause of its decline.


The Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society filed a lawsuit on 11-15-01 against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for eight threatened plants in San Diego, Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Inyo and Mono counties of southern California.

The goal of the suit is to promote conservation and recovery of imperiled plants, and to improve land management, especially rivers and wetlands, by federal agencies. All eight species are on federal public lands or jurisdictions, rather than on private land.

The Lane Mountain milk-vetch (Astragalus jaegerianus) is only known to occur at four western Mojave Desert sites north of Barstow, CA, near the Ft. Irwin tank base in San Bernardino County. It has cream to purple flowers and silvery leaves, and is widely scattered at each site. This endangered plant is threatened by proposed U.S. Army Ft. Irwin expansion, with related tank training, military vehicle trespass on to off-limits BLM lands, dry wash recreational gold mining, off-road vehicle use, increasing fire frequency, and associated fire suppression activities.

The Coachella valley milk-vetch (Astragalus lentiginosus var. coachellae) grows on loose wind-blown and alluvial sands on dunes and flats in the Coachella Valley area of the Sonoran Desert near Palm Springs. It has deep pink-purple flowers, and a mottled fruit or pod. Urban sprawl either directly destroys lands on which this endangered plant occurs, or reduces the source and transport of the blow sands that maintain its habitats. Roads and off-road vehicle use also damage habitat.

Peirson's milk-vetch (Astragalus magdalenae var. peirsonii) is located at Algodones Sand Dunes, in the Sonoran Desert of eastern Imperial County, CA, and is listed as threatened. It grows in sandy and gravelly soils, and has white or pale flowers. Its main threats are destruction of habitat from intensive off-road vehicle use, water projects and pipelines.

Fish slough milk-vetch (Astragalus lentiginosus var. piscinensis) is a threatened plant occurring in the Great Basin Desert northwest of Bishop, CA, in Inyo and Mono counties. It is restricted to a 6-mile stretch of alkaline flats paralleling Fish Slough, a desert wetland ecosystem. Trampling and grazing by cattle, roads and off-road vehicle use, modification of wetlands, the Red Willow Dam and related expansion of Fish Slough Lake are all threats.

Spreading navarretia (Navarretia fossalis) occurs primarily in vernal pool ecosystems, and, in 1998, had fewer than 30 populations left. Nearly 60% are concentrated in three locations: Otay Mesa in southern San Diego County, along the San Jacinto River in western Riverside County, and near Hemet in Riverside County. It is an annual in the Phlox family, and is threatened by on-going degradation and destruction of vernal pools due to urbanization, agricultural practices, off-road vehicles, flood control and widespread habitat loss.

Munz's onion (Allium munzii) is an endangered perennial in the Lily family, with only 13 populations located in western Riverside County, CA, including the Gavilan Hills, Harford Springs County, Paloma Valley, Skunk Hollow, Domenigoni Hills, Bachelor Mountain, and the Elsinore Mountains.

San Jacinto Valley crownscale (Atriplex coronata var. notatior) is an endangered plant reduced to just 12 populations, primarily associated with the San Jacinto River and Old Salt Creek tributary drainages in the San Jacinto, Perris, Menifee and Elsinore Valleys of western Riverside County, CA.

Thread-leaved brodiaea (Brodiaea filifolia) is a member of the lily family, with violet flowers. It is listed as threatened, and in 1998, just 37 populations were known in southern California. 15 are in the cities of Vista, San Marcos and Carlsbad in northern San Diego County. The remaining 22 populations are scattered within Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties.

More information on the suit and species.


The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition 1-2-02 to list the Gentry indigobush (Dalea tentaculoides) as an endangered species. Gentry indigo bush is found in only three places – a recently discovered site in Mexico, a site on the west slope of the Baboquivari Mountains on the Tohono O'odham Reservation, and in Sycamore Canyon on the Mexican border.

The population in Sycamore Canyon occurs in the Gooding Research Natural Area established to protect rare plants such as indigobush. Despite this protection, livestock grazing on the Bear Valley Allotment in combination with an extensive road network have caused degraded watershed conditions that lead to excessive erosion and large floods, threatening the continued survival of the plant. Exacerbating these problems, trespass cattle from Mexico and Forest Service lands have been observed trampling and eating the rare native plant.

Gentry indigobush is a perennial herb in the legume family with violet flowers. It occurs in sandy, gravelly soils in the flood plains of small creeks. It can resprout from stems following burial or scouring following light flooding, but complete burial or severe scouring associated with more violent floods has been observed to result in severe population declines. The most recent surveys indicate there are roughly 500 plants in Sycamore Canyon. Because the plant reproduces asexually, however, the true number of individuals is impossible to estimate and is almost certainly fewer.

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