The Only Plant Of Its Kind, Living Life In A San Mateo Agricultural Field

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

This article is one of those stories that is interesting to read in the author’s words, and describes the discovery and final determination of a new species of wildflower on the California coast.  What makes this story unique, however, is that there only exists one population of this plant in a farm field. I don’t want to re-describe the human interactions in the story (you should read it!), but the discovery of the species, called Ornduff’s Meadowfoam, was also very surprising because botanists had combed the state for meadowfoams with tetramerous stamens (stamens in multiples of four instead of the usual multiples of five) since the 1970s to see if there was anything similar to a rare meadowfoam from British Columbia. They had concluded “that this species could not have been overlooked, if, in fact, it grew in California.”  Little did they know that a brand-new species of tetramerous meadowfoam would be found in a single farm field.

What else is amazing is that this field is plowed once a year, and the meadowfoam population hasn’t decreased more than 10% since 1998, when it was discovered. Botanists recommended the same management be continued because the plant has persisted with this disturbance.  The plants are not protected in any way.  The landowner agreed to continue plowing at the same time every year.

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.