California Native Plant Society Unveils Major Update to the Online Rare Plant Inventory

Contact: Aaron Sims
(916) 738-7610

Pitkin marsh lily (Lilium pardalinum ssp. pitkinense, California Rare Plant Rank, 1B.1) Photo: Amy Patten

June 2, 2021, Sacramento — Today, the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) launched its fully-rebuilt and updated Rare Plant Inventory (RPI) database and website. The Inventory is a widely-used resource guiding rare plant protection, conservation planning, land acquisition, and management in California.  

CNPS published the first Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California in 1974 to provide current and accurate information on the distribution, ecology, and conservation status of California’s rare and endangered plants. In the years since, the Inventory has moved from a physical set of index cards to an online database where more than 2,400 plants in California are now documented and ranked as rare in the state. 

“The CNPS Inventory has been our Society’s flagship product and conservation tool that has been adopted statewide as the rare plant ranking system environmental laws and policies recognize as the basis for regulatory protection of California’s rare plants,” said Heath Bartosh, chair of the CNPS Rare Plant Committee and founder of Nomad Ecology. “Today we unveil an updated version of our most cherished work, with the same great information on our rarest plants, but also a new look and added functionality.” 

Government agencies, biological consultants, and conservationists use the Inventory to determine the potential for rare plant resource conflicts, develop project-specific lists of rare plants to target during botanical surveys, and help prepare and review environmental documents and public testimony. Academic researchers and naturalists also use the tool for rare plant research.

“Accurate, up-to-date rare plant data is essential for anyone working to conserve the native flora of California,” said Julie Kierstead, recently retired Shasta-Trinity National Forest botanist of 30 years, author of books and papers about the rare plants and flora of northern California, and a California Academy of Sciences botanical research associate. “The CNPS Rare Plant Inventory is the result of a deep collaboration among a community of experts, and the newly updated site will be an essential tool for conservation scientists working to understand and protect our native plants amid unprecedented threats to their survival.”

What’s new on the Inventory?

The update integrates data maintenance performed within the same web-based program, meaning that updates and changes are made live for immediate use in searches to help inform conservation priorities. Visitors to the refreshed site will find nearly 50 additions and changes to California Rare Plant Ranks in addition to hundreds of data updates since the database rebuild began. For the first time, the site includes an “Other Status” section with information on seeds that have been banked as part of the California Plant Rescue initiative.  Other website highlights are included in the Release Notes.

“We are ecstatic to announce the Rare Plant Inventory has been developed into a new, fully integrated web application!” said CNPS Rare Plant Program Director Aaron Sims, adding that some areas will continue to be refined. 

For example, the new site supports easy photo integration and management using links from CalPhotos, but some photos used in the prior version may be missing. CNPS is seeking experienced volunteers to help add photos where needed and encourages feedback and inquiries from regular site users and partners.

“The CNPS Inventory is an invaluable resource for rare plant conservation in California,” explained Kristi Lazar, rare plant botanist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife and botany data manager for the California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB). “The updated CNPS Inventory displays the key facts for each rare plant tracked in the database and provides a user-friendly interface by which the user can search for, and retrieve, rare plant information. The CNDDB provides generalized high quality data on plants and their locations to the CNPS Inventory, where it is summarized and displayed in an easy to understand format alongside CNPS’s own rare plant information. The CNPS Inventory is a convenient one-stop shop for the most essential rare plant information.”

To develop the new site, CNPS contracted with Rincon Consultants, Inc., led by Rincon’s GIS team member, John Donoghue in collaboration with The Jones Payne Group and CNPS Webmaster Mark Naftzger.

“This work could not have been possible without our great sponsors and major contributions from the state of California, the Center for Plant Conservation, the California Plant Rescue initiative, and the US Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region,” said Sims. 

For more information, questions, or feedback on the Inventory, contact


About the California Native Plant Society:

The California Native Plant Society is a statewide organization working to save and celebrate California’s native plants and places via plant science, advocacy, education, and horticulture. CNPS has nearly 10,000 members in 35 chapters throughout California and Baja to promote its mission at the local level.


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