[PCA] NEWS: Trouble in bloom at Clif. development site

Adolf Ceska aceska at telus.net
Wed Jul 19 08:23:41 CDT 2006


Correct me if I am wrong, but Sebastopol meadowfoam (Limnanthes vinculans)
was probably the last species of meadowfoam ever described.  The late UC
Berkeley professor, Robert Ornduff, described it as a new species only in
1969. Even though it is not the smallest meadowfoam, it has escaped
attention of Californian botanists, in spite of the fact that Californian
botanists never stop bragging that they know everything better than the

The genus meadowfoam is cursed. It has about twelve species and about half
of them are relatively common in parts of California and Oregon, and the
other half of them are species or subspecies that are either rare or

Those rare species and subspecies of meadowfoam are sources of troubles. The
best example is Butte County meadowfoam (Limnanthes floccosa var.
californica). It grows almost entirely in the Chico urban area where it
caused numerous headaches to the local developers and to the church goers
who wanted to expand their church parking lot. Sebastopol should name Chico
their sister city; they both have similar meadowfoam problems that they
tried to solve in a similar, whatever absurd way.

All species of meadowfoam are +/- winter annuals. They germinate in fall or
early winter and flower in spring. After they produce seeds (up to 4 to 5
nutlets per each flower), the plants shed the nutlets and wither to nothing.
Whereas the common species of meadowfoam are obvious (hence the name), the
rare members grow in small populations and easily escape the attention.  In
order to find them, you have to search for them and the window of
opportunity is very small indeed.

Here in British Columbia, we have one rare, endemic (?) species of
meadowfoam on Vancouver Island. It is called Macoun's meadowfoam (Limnanthes
macounii) and it was described as early as in 1888 and named after John
Macoun, who first collected it "in ditches in Victoria". It is the smallest
meadowfoam, with small flowers and it easily escapes one's attention.

Till about 1926 it was known from about 4 sites around Victoria. After the
death of several early amateur botanists, the plant "disappeared"
(understand, nobody found it again) and in 1952 it was pronounced extinct by
the Hitchock's et al. Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest.  By pure
coincidence, it was the same year, when the plant was first collected again,
the first time after about 25 years, at the site that had not been known
before.  Two other populations were discovered in the Victoria area by 1968.

I found our first new site of Macoun's meadowfoam in 1972 when I was taking
a picture of popcorn-flower and saw the meadowfoam plant in the viewfinder
of my camera.  It was a new, previously not reported site.  This find
triggered an intensive search and by about 1987, my wife and I had found
about 90 patches of this plant that represented about 25 to 30 distinct
populations that stretched along about 100 miles of the Vancouver Island
coastline.  How lucky we were that we did not have the California Fish &
Game Department on our heels that would have had ordered us to destroy those
newly discovered populations!

Never mind, the reaction of our governmental bureaucrats was equally wrong.
When we proposed to list our Macoun's meadowfoam as an endangered species,
the scientific panel of the Wise Men from the East (the Canadian federal
government in Ottawa) decided that Macoun's meadowfoam "readily survives in
the urban areas around Victoria."  That was in 1988, but only a few months
ago, the plant was finally pronounced endangered. Since 1988 we have lost
about one third of the original populations and subpopulations of those we
knew in 1987 and our Wise Men realized their mistake.

There is yet another twist in the Macoun's meadowfoam story. In March 1998,
Californian botanist Eva Buxton found a large population of what looks like
Macoun's meadowfoam in a Brussels-sprout field near Half Moon Beach, San
Mateo Co., south of San Francisco. The field is about 18 acres large and our
rare Macoun's meadowfoam (or something similar to it) grows there as a weed,
competing only with the chickweed. I am sure that nobody seeded Macoun's
meadowfoam on that Brussels-sprout field, and since the California Fish &
Game Department does not know about it, they have not ordered to destroy
that population yet. Furthermore, this Californian plant may be a new, yet
not described, species of meadowfoam. 
for the Californian Half-Moon Bay meadowfoam story.

Congratulations if you managed to read my whole meadowfoam story.  If you
did, you are not surprised that I am sad about the total lack of botanical
knowledge in the Californian public. The Fish and Game Department officials
who ordered a destruction of a newly discovered site of Sebastopol
meadowfoam should go to their respective universities and ask for returning
their tuition fees. They did not learn too much.

All the best,


Adolf Ceska, Ph.D. - Ceska Geobotanical Consulting
P.O. Box 8546, Victoria, BC, Canada  V8W 3S2
Phone: 250-477-1211  Cell/Mobile: 250-216-1481
E-mail: aceska at telus.net or aceska at victoria.tc.ca 
BEN archive: http://www.ou.edu/cas/botany-micro/ben/

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