Using the Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search

By Kaitlyn Green and Ellen Dean

While using simple search for the Rare Plant Inventory (RPI) allows you to efficiently use the tools; using the RPI advanced search unlocks even more capabilities. As with most searches, the more criteria specified, the smaller and more refined the results will be. Think of how you might search for a car—searching for an SUV will return more options than if you specified that you were looking for an SUV with a sunroof and four-wheel drive. As with the simple search, as more criteria are defined, the number of plants that will be returned in the results appears on the right-hand side of the search tool. 

The criteria in the advanced search page are split into five headings: Name, List/Rank, Location, Biology, Plants Added by Year. 

Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search button circled

Name and List/Rank

In these sections you can limit your results to a particular group of plants by specifying a family or genus. It is also possible to specify one or multiple special statuses including: California Rare Plant Ranks (CRPR), Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) or State California Endangered Species Act (CESA) listing status, and Global or State imperilment ranks. This is a handy place to obtain up-to-date data on how many California rare plants are CRPR 1B or how many are federally listed in some way. When concerned with both federal and state listing status, you can change the search output by using the AND and OR functions. If you choose the AND function the search results will only include plants that have both sets of specified listings. Alternatively, the OR function will return all plants that have at least one of the listings specified. No matter how you limit your search, the output will still provide you with complete information on the California rare plant ranks, federal and state listing status, and global and state ranks."Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: "threatened" for Federal "AND" state listing selected

Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: Venn Diagram showing overlap of AND vs OR of threatened species


In this section it is possible to refine the search by limiting the output by various location criteria, such as plants endemic to California or indigenous to the Channel Islands. You can search by one or multiple counties (as in simple search) and by elevation limits or ranges. When using an elevation range the results will only return plants whose entire elevation range is within the range you specified. If you are trying to limit the list of plants returned to what you would likely find in a project area, it would be best to use a maximum or minimum elevation, instead of both. Use whichever makes the most sense to your project area. 

As explained in our post on the many uses of the RPI, it’s important to construct a rare plant table prior to doing a botanical survey. Although you could query the RPI for the rare plants in your survey area using a simple county search (for the county in which you are doing the survey), most botanists do a USGS quadrangle (“quad”) search that includes the USGS 7.5’ quad where the survey will be located. The most common procedure is to do a search that includes the quad where the survey is located PLUS the eight surrounding quads. This is called a nine quad search. The reason for doing a nine quad search is to gather more information on the rare plants in the region of your survey. The RPI makes this so easy! After choosing the other criteria (what plant ranks, listing status, habitats, etc. that you want to include), go to the location part of the advanced search page, and choose Nine Quads. Then move the map to near where you will be doing your survey by holding down on your mouse and moving the map, then use the plus and minus icons to zoom in on the quadrangle map and click on the area where your survey will be located. You will see that nine quads will then be highlighted. Look to the left of the map—it will show you the nine quads that you have selected. It is that easy!

"Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: Quadrangles location map from Rare Plant Inventory


In this section you can specify natural communities (general habitats in the plant record page) that you plan to survey. More information on California’s plant communities can be found in our glossary. The ability to search by lifeform is expanded from simple search. With advanced search, you can narrow your search to subsets of vascular and non-vascular plants, such as shrubs or mosses. You can also refine the search by the plant’s duration, (annual, perennial, or ephemeral) and the time of year it blooms, allowing you to create a list of plants that would reflect what might be flowering during your survey.

"Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: Biology section of Rare Plant Inventory. Can search by natural community, lifeform, and duration

Plants Added by Year

This section allows you to refine the search by when a plant was added to the inventory. This comes in handy when updating a report, allowing you to determine if there have been any additional plants added to the inventory since the last time you ran the search. 

Example Search

Let’s say we have a survey where we want to know about all rare plants"Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: Filtered by rare plant ranks


that also have some form of Federal or State listing status,"Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: Adding in threatened federal or state listing

as well as have some form of Global and State rank,"Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: Global and state ranks selected

which are endemic to California and occur in LA County where the survey will be done."Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: Selecting endemic to CA and LA county

The survey will happen in the Baldwin Park quad, but a nine quad search will make sure to catch all potential rare plants that may be seen in the survey."Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: 9-quad search map from results

We know the survey will be in chaparral . . . "Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: Chaparral selected for natural community

and we are just looking for perennial herbs that bloom in July."Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: Selecting July bloom time, perennial and herb

The output from this search indicates that there is one plant, Astragalus brauntonii, to look for within our survey area that fits our study criteria."Rare Plant Inventory Advanced Search: 1 match found for our criteria; Astragalus brauntonii


Try using Advanced Search today and let us know at if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions!

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