Botanists Team Up to Recover Holy Ghost Ipomopsis

Closeup Holy Ghost ipomopsis flowers.
Holy Ghost ipomopsis is an attractive plant with clusters of flowers on stalks about 2 feet tall. Photo by Bob Sivinski, New Mexico State Forestry Division.

flat of young Holy Ghost ipomopsis.
A flat of young Holy Ghost ipomopsis ready for planting. Photo by Bob Sivinski, New Mexico State Forestry Division.

woman, a volunteer, planting Holy Ghost ipomopsis on a hillside.
A volunteer plants Holy Ghost ipomopsis in natural habitat. Photo by Phil Tonne, University of New Mexico.

three men and two women, volunteers, planting Holy Ghost ipomopsis on a hillside.
Volunteers dig holes and plant Holy Ghost Ipomopsis at one of the three hillside locations on the Santa Fe National Forest. Photo by Phil Tonne, University of New Mexico.

The worldwide distribution of Holy Ghost ipomopsis (Ipomopsis sancti-spiritus), a federally endangered plant, is limited to a 2-mile stretch of Holy Ghost Canyon on the Santa Fe National Forest in north-central New Mexico. Concerns that a catastrophic forest fire might wipe out the species stimulated efforts to establish new populations in nearby canyons. In addition, plants grow best in bare mineral soils. Natural disturbances have been excluded from Holy Ghost Canyon for decades. Competing plants are moving in, shade is increasing, and leaf litter is building up, all of which are bad for Holy Ghost ipomopsis growing conditions, as well as increasing the fire risk. So botanists are thinning the forest and doing mechanical ground disturbance in Holy Ghost Canyon to improve the habitat for this endangered plant. Partners in these recovery efforts are the Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico State Forestry Division, University of New Mexico, and local volunteers.

Phase I - New Populations in Nearby Canyons

In 2005, Botanists selected three locations to start new Holy Ghost ipomopsis populations. All of the sites were similar to the occupied habitat but far enough apart that the same wildfire or other catastrophe would not hit all of them.

Plants were germinated and grown at the University of New Mexico greenhouse to maximize the number of plants that could be coaxed through the sensitive seedling stage. Planting was done in early July at the beginning of the summer rainy season. In 2005, the normal summer rains did not come and the plants had to be hand watered for more than a month. Watering duties were shared among the partners. Rainfall was abundant in 2006 during and after the plantings. More than a thousand plants were put in the ground and survival exceeded 80 percent. Most of the plants flowered during the summers of 2007 and 2008. New plants will start coming up from seeds in 2009 and later. Phil Tonne of the Natural Heritage Program at the University of New Mexico will monitor the new populations for at least 5 years.

Phase II - Habitat Improvements in Holy Ghost Canyon

In 2009, a project was initiated to improve the habitat in Holy Ghost Canyon. Two New Mexico inmate forestry crews cut down all the trees that were less than 10 inches in diameter in two plots that totaled about 2 acres. All of the wood and small limbs were removed from the area. Additional ground disturbance will be done with rakes to expose more of the bare mineral soil that Holy Ghost ipomopsis prefers. Monitoring plots were set up in both treated and untreated areas to determine how Holy Ghost ipomopsis responds to its new habitat. If the response is positive, the treatments will be expanded to other nearby areas.

For More Information

Charlie McDonald, Regional Botanist
U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region
Albuquerque, NM 87102
Phone: (505) 842-3228
E-mail: cbmcdonald@fs.fed.us

Aquilegia jonesii.
The forest before thinning. The tape marks a tree to be removed. All of the trees smaller than the one marked will also be removed. Notice the thick layer of pine needle thatch and the general absence of herbaceous plants in this closed canopy forest. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Aquilegia saximontana.
These flags mark Holy Ghost ipomopsis plants growing along the roadside just downhill from one of the treatment areas. Notice that Holy Ghost ipomopsis is growing on a rocky eroding slope that has little ground cover. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Aquilegia scopulorum.
The New Mexico inmate forestry crew is felling trees and hauling them out of the treatment area. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Aquilegia jonesii.
All of the small limbs were chipped and hauled away. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Aquilegia saximontana.
The forest after thinning. More sunlight can now reach the forest floor. Hand raking will be done to expose the mineral soils that Holy Ghost ipomopsis prefers. Photo by Charlie McDonald.