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Jul
16
Check in with Rare Plant Rescue

Hello everyone! Rare Plant Rescue checking in again to share more stories from the field.

At the end of June we headed out to search for the endangered Small-flowered Sand-verbena. Luckily for us, this meant we had the opportunity to visit some sandy riverside slopes where this plant is known to thrive. To start off the trip, we headed out to some previously documented populations to collect data on any changes since our last visit five years ago. We headed down the beach full of anticipation and were not disappointed. Within minutes we reached our first site and saw it was full of flowering plants! We were very excited to have such a promising start, and as we continued down the shoreline we found that the second patch we had come to monitor had grown substantially! We walked back and forth along the shoreline flagging plants when all of the sudden the wind picked up and the sky got dark. With a sudden sense of urgency, we scanned the shoreline for any remaining plants and counted them quickly. We hurried back to our vehicle and made it back just in time to miss the massive thunder storm that delivered 50mm of rain (and hail) to the area in just a couple hours!

 

left Small-flowered Sand-verbena (Tripterocalyx micranthus), right Thunderstorm moving into our search area. Photo credit: Emily Putz

 

As the week continued, so did the much needed rain. With careful planning to avoid the afternoon showers, we quickly finished our monitoring work and continued down the beach to look for new occurrences. As we worked our way down miles of shoreline, we discovered that some areas were muddy rather than sandy and we began hauling giant mud plates on our shoes as we walked! Although searching this new habitat was difficult at times, it was also very rewarding. We ended up finding a single Small-flowered Sand-verbena growing in a small patch of sand in an otherwise muddy stretch of shoreline. This single plant was healthy and producing tons of seeds, which gives us hope that there will be many more plants the next time we come monitor the area. We also found a variety of rare shoreline birds. First we saw the endangered Piping Plover, which was particularly exciting for me as I’ve never had the opportunity to see one before. Then we saw a few Long-Billed Curlews (listed as special concern) who persistently lured us and a neighboring coyote away from their nests.

For our next trip we welcomed back the sand and headed out to monitor populations of Western Spiderwort. This threatened plant grows in partially stabilized sand dunes in southern Saskatchewan and when it is not flowering, looks very similar to many grasses. Fortunately, we knew the easiest way to spot Western Spiderwort was by its bright purple flowers which only open from sunrise until mid-morning. So we set our alarms for 4:00am and headed out at sunrise to find this beautiful flowering monocot. Our first day out did not go as we expected. We headed out to the last recorded location of the plants from ten years prior and found that since then, the road side ditch had completely filled with grasses. We scanned the area for purple and didn’t see anything but grass. Still determined to give it our best shot, we walked along the ditch keeping our eyes peeled for our target plant. It didn’t take long before Emily shouted out that she had found one and I hurried over and saw a young spiderwort just starting to produce flower buds. It was very cool to see how resilient these plants were and that they were able to adapt to their changing habitat over the years. Once we saw the first Spiderwort, it was a little easier to spot them among the grasses and we walked (and crouched) slowly through the ditch playing a game I like to call “spot the spiderwort”.

 

Image 1: Can you spot the Western Spiderwort? 

 

 

 

Western Spiderwort beginning to produce flower buds (left), Mourning Dove singing at sunrise (centre) and one of many deer grazing at dawn (right)

 

 

The next day we headed out to a new area which we hoped would have less grass and more blooming Spiderwort. We hiked for an hour and finally reached a sandy hilltop that was filled with beautiful flowering cactus, not so beautiful poison ivy, and more Western Spiderwort. Once again, all the plants we encountered were producing buds but had not started flowering. With only one day left in our trip, we were excited to have found so many healthy populations, but were determined to see a spiderwort flowering. We searched the hillsides and flagged dozens of plants when all the sudden I spotted a single purple flower out of the corner of my eye! With a shout, I hurried over with my camera and documented the first blooming Spiderwort I had ever seen.

 

 

Prickly Pear Cactus and Western Spiderwort with a single bloom. Photo credits: Michelle Lang

 

 

Little did we know that this single purple flower was only the beginning! The next day we went to our final monitoring location; a series of large partially stabilized dunes with perfect habitat. As we approached the first dune we saw the whole area was filled with beautiful flowering Spiderworts! As we went from plant to plant snapping photos we noticed the wide range of shades the flowers were. Most of the flowers varied from light to dark purple but we also found one plant with bright pink flowers which was very cool to see! We were also lucky enough to see a Gibson's Big Sand Tiger Beetle as we crouched among the plants. We spent the day counting Spiderwort that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was an amazing experience and we couldn’t have asked for a better end to such an amazing trip!

 

Sand dunes on route to our monitoring site and Western Spiderwort

 

 

 

Western Spiderwort. Photo by Michelle Lang 

 

 

Until next time,

Michelle Lang – Rare Plant Rescue Habitat Assistant

 

 

Sun coming up through the fog. Photo credit: Michelle Lang

 

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