Uinta National Forest Introduction Program to Recover Clay Phacelia, Phacelia argillacea, One of Utah’s Most Endangered Species

Sisyrinchium sarmentosum.
Clay phacelia habitat is found on sparsely vegetated slopes of the Green River shale formation at about 6,600-feet elevation. Photo by Denise Van Keuren.

Sisyrinchium sarmentosum.
Clay phacelia grows on fragile, barren soils on steep hillsides only in Spanish Fork Canyon, Utah. Photo by Denise Van Keuren.

The Forest Service is contributing to recovery efforts of one of the nation’s rarest plants, the endangered clay phacelia (Phacelia argillacea) by taking action to establish new populations on federal lands. This plant is currently known from only two small populations on private lands. Over the past decade, Uinta National Forest employees have conducted extensive surveys, looking for clay phacelia in suitable habitat on federal lands adjacent to occupied sites, but no additional populations have been found. Field surveys conducted in 2001 indicated an alarmingly low number of plants in the known populations, due to a series of natural and weather related factors (drought, predation, etc.). Urgent action was needed!

In 2004, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided initial funding to begin seed collection from clay phacelia growing on habitat owned by The Nature Conservancy. The seeds collected are to be used for ex-situ (off-site) testing, propagation, and seed banking. The goal is to establish up to thirteen new populations of clay phacelia on federal lands, where listed species receive greater protection from the law, increasing the likelihood that this species will survive in the wild.

Assisting were members of the Red Butte Garden staff (a Center for Plant Conservation garden), Utah Native Plant Society, and Dr. Susan Meyer from the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Provo, Utah. In 2005, Dr. Meyer conducted initial germination procedures at the Provo Shrub lab, which resulted in 53 potted plants. She later took these plants at home, where she had a small apiary of blue orchard bees. To her delight, the 53 plants produced 11,000 seeds! These will be the source of young plants and seeds to be planted out on the Spanish Fork Ranger District of Uinta National Forest in 2007. Additional genetics research will be conducted by Brigham Young University in 2007 on populations from both of the currently known wild populations.

Rare plant species found on private land do not receive the same level of protection under the Endangered Species Act that animals do. Therefore, an important element of clay phacelia’s recovery plan is that new populations be established on public lands with more certain protection. Thanks to the actions of the Uinta National Forest leadership and its many public and private partners, efforts to recover one of America’s beautiful gems is well under way.

For More Information

Denise Van Keuren
Forest Ecologist
Uinta National Forest
(801) 342-5179

Partners

  • Uinta National Forest
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station
  • Red Butte Garden
  • Brigham Young University
  • Utah Native Plant Society