California Native Plant Society

Rare Plant Treasure Hunt

Duncan Bell, RPTH intern, in the Mojave Desert photographing the rare, Eriastrum harwoodii
Duncan Bell, RPTH intern, in the Mojave Desert photographing the rare, Eriastrum harwoodii -Credit Amber Swanson

New Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Intern

Amber Swanson, CNPS Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Coordinator, and Duncan Bell, RPTH Intern

We’d like to welcome Duncan Bell to the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt program. He will be our intern for the 2011 field season in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. You may recall that Duncan was our grand prize winner for 2010, and now he will assist us coordinating Rare Plant Treasure Hunts, leading volunteers in the field and readying data for the California Natural Diversity Database. Duncan has a degree in Anthropology with an emphasis in Ethnobotany from the University of La Verne in Southern California. He has worked for the past two years for Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden doing botanical surveys and working in their herbarium. Duncan will be a great addition to our team.

Take a moment to read about what Duncan has to say about his experience with botany in the desert:

"It was Naomi Fraga and Sula Vanderplank of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden who first introduced me to floristics. As an intern they took me out to far away places and showed me plants that most people have never seen. I was immediately hooked. It wasn't long after that I heard a discussion from botanists Steve Boyd and Lucinda McDade on the importance of floristics in California and how very large areas were still unexplored. Like many others, I assumed that all of California had been fully explored and that there was no place botanists had not been. I was very wrong! With some research I found that there were many areas (vast areas!) that were under collected and unexplored. Partly out of my need to be in nature, and partly from my want to learn how to identify and key out plants, and with a whole lot of curiosity I set out to a small, unexplored mountain range in the desert in literally 'the middle of nowhere'. I wasn’t sure what I would find, but I ended up finding a great deal. To date I have identified over 150 species of plants that have never been collected from that mountain range, many of which are rare and endemic to California.

I urge anyone interested in floristics, rare plant hunting, and botany in general to look to California’s deserts, especially those areas belonging to the Bureau of Land Management. There are many large solar and wind projects that are going into effect right now that will soon disrupt thousands of acres of desert lands in the way of bulldozing to make way for solar mirrors and wind turbines. It is these areas that need immediate study and exploration before those plant communities are wiped out. There are so many areas out there that need study, and so many areas where no botanist has ever been.

Any plant collection within an unexplored area, whether common or not, is an important collection for science, as it increases the knowledge of species distribution and habitat. There is great potential to find un-described species as well as undiscovered populations of rare species within these vast areas. In an editorial commending field botanists for significant floristic discoveries, California botanist Scott White made a terrific statement by saying 'Anyone with requisite curiosity and a plant press can make similar discoveries'.

Much thanks to Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, the California Native Plant Society, and to all desert naturalists assisting in the conservation of California’s great deserts."


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