California Native Plant Society

Rare Plant Treasure Hunt

Penstemon Stephensii
Keying plants in the Mojave. © Amber Swanson

The Rare Plant Treasure Hunt is Citizen Science that Works

The CNPS Rare Plant Treasure Hunt teams botanists with amateurs to search for new and historic populations of rare plants across the state. Participants can survey for rare plants in areas with little history of botanical exploration, relocate historic (not documented in over 20 years) rare plant occurrences, and/or update known occurrences of high-priority rare plants. Up-to-date information on rare plants and their habitats are needed to inform conservation actions and to aid planning efforts. The current status of many rare plant occurrences is unknown, and thousands have not been documented for decades.

The first season preliminary results for the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt are in and they are stupendous! Here are some of the numbers (and they aren’t all in yet):

  • Volunteers and partner organizations updated approximately 600 rare plant occurrences (populations) across the state.
  • Of these, approximately 70% were new occurrences (previously unreported populations)
  • Approximately 70% were List 1B (Rare, threatened and endangered in California and elsewhere).
  • An estimated 245 volunteers and partners contributed
  • These volunteers gave over 2500 hours of time to the project!
  • Over 20 chapters had participating volunteers.

From the education standpoint, we are happy to see people of all ages and backgrounds getting out and enjoying this activity. We have discovered that this project energizes children and teenagers, as well as adults. Children enjoy looking for the plants and finding them once they have the search image. Hiking on the way to locations, you can give them other things to discover, such as finding as many different types of trees or seed pods, as they can.

Some highlights of this year included:

  • An Eagle Scout who did a Treasure Hunt project in the Mojave,
  • Two teenage girls who had never been camping before, attended a training and will focus a CNPS internship on getting other teenagers out to look for plants (with an experienced trip-leader/botanist),
  • A homeschool network hooked up with a team leader to go out on trips,
  • A 20 yr old woman, who had never been on a hike before, participated.
  • The San Gabriel Mountains and San Diego chapters contributing tremendous numbers of volunteer hours (429 hrs and 420 hrs respectively) and occurrence updates (27 and 24 respectively).
  • The BLM, DFG, RSABG, National Parks and Parks Conservancy, East Bay Regional Parks, and Santa Clara County Parks are participating and contributing funds, staff time, office space, volunteer coordinators, volunteers, and enthusiasm.

From the botanic point of view, we are thrilled to be adding so much important new occurrence information to our databases, and we are pleased with the high quality of data coming in so far. We have been concentrating our efforts in areas where development pressure is high and resources for surveys are scarce when we can, such as in the eastern Mojave and Walker Ridge areas.

This year, we will offer trainings for team leaders to give people the tools and confidence to lead trips. If you are interested in attending a training or treasure hunt, see the workshops listed below or please let us know at Go to the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt page for more information.

The Treasure Hunt project was split into two sections to comply with the requirements of our funding sources. The Mojave Desert section was funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Service and we were able to hire Amber Swanson as the botanist/project coordinator. The Treasure Hunt for the remainder of the state was funded by a smaller grant from the CNPS Billisoly Fund, and we were able to hire Shannon Still as the project coordinator. Our partners in the project to date include Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

We are currently applying for funding for the 2011 season. We will happily accept donations from individuals and organizations for the project. Simply send a check earmarked Rare Plant Treasure Hunt to our main office. We believe that citizen science projects like the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt serve dual purposes: (a) data collection: we are able to collect critical data on plants that would not otherwise be surveyed, and (b) Education: by teaming up amateurs with botanists, we are able to get people outdoors and learning about rare plant ecology that might not otherwise be out there.

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