Who knew? Newly Delimited California Sensitive Plant Gains Protection from Rock Barrier and Informative Sign
Hutchison’s lewisia (Lewisia kelloggii ssp. hutchisonii). Photo by Karen Callahan.
Susi Urie stands next to sign, mounted high enough to stay above the snow in winter. Photo by Bill Aaron.
Stunted pines grow on granitic gravel at the lewisia site. Photo by Susi Urie.
Boulders placed along roadside to prevent vehicle travel into Lewisia kelloggii ssp. hutchisonii habitat. Photo by Susi Urie.
New genetic research on Kellogg’s lewisia (Lewisia kelloggii ssp. kelloggii) and Hutchison’s lewisia (Lewisia kelloggii ssp. hutchisonii) provides support for the separation of these species from related plants occurring in Idaho, now named Sacajawea’s bitterroot (Lewisia sacajaweana). The National Forest Genetics Electrophoresis Laboratory performed the analysis that determined the populations in Idaho are highly differentiated genetically from those in northern and southern California. The assignment of species status to Sacajawea’s bitterroot makes both Kellogg’s lewisia and Hutchison’s lewisia endemic to California. As a result, these two varieties of Lewisia kelloggii have both been added to the Forest Service Region 5 (California) sensitive plant list.
Kellogg’s lewisia is now known from just one occurrence in the southern Sierra Nevada Range. Hutchison’s lewisia occurs at seventeen sites ranging from the southern Cascade Range to the central Sierra Nevada. Its habitat is granitic gravel on ridge tops and flats between 5,100 and 7,000 feet elevation, sparsely vegetated by spindly Jeffrey pine and lodgepole pine woodlands, with patches of upland sedge (Carex sp.) and rock garden wildflowers. Although this plant is perennial and showy during its flowering period in late June, it shrivels up and disappears by late July until the next spring season.
The California Native Plant Society alerted the Forest Service to the presence of Hutchison’s lewisia on national forest lands, and their need for habitat protection. The habitat is open and inviting to off-road travelers and campers.
One site on the Tahoe National Forest had become a popular off highway vehicle and camping spot. A California State Parks Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Division conservation grant funded work to place boulders between the roadway and this Hutchison’s lewisia site. Forest Service botany program funds paid for the creation and installation of a sign to gain further compliance through understanding of Kellogg’s lewisia and its vulnerability. The sign informs visitors about the special nature of the plant and its habitat, and describes how to avoid damaging the plant. Since this area receives several feet of snow during winter, mounting the sign on a traditional display frame was impractical. The sign is attached permanently to a rock that is visible from the road, using expansion bolts with specialized vandal-proof fasteners, installed with a rock bit drill. Site monitoring shows that impacts have decreased. Patrols and further education are still needed.
For More Information
Susi Urie, East Zone Botanist
Tahoe National Forest
- California Native Plant Society, Redbud Chapter
- Off-highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division
- Barbara Wilson and Valerie Hipkins
National Forest Genetics Electrophoresis Laboratory
- Diane Dulmage
Folia Industries Inc. (Sign manufacturing company)