Benton County is home to nine native plants that are at varying levels of risk for becoming extinct; luckily, they are all less at-risk during fire season than one might think. Dr. Stephen Meyers, the Director of Taxonomy at Oregon Flora, said a large part of this was due to Oregon’s climate.
“Normally, we live in what is sometimes referred to as a Mediterranean climate, which means a wet winter and a very dry summer,” Meyers said. “So, these plants are well adapted to live for very long periods of time without any rainfall. I say that with a caveat, that warm, dry periods are becoming longer and hotter. and how much hotter and drier conditions these plants can tolerate is an unknown right now.”
One of the many things Oregon Flora does is monitor and collect data about the state’s plant species, subspecies, and varieties that grow in the wild.
Some of the native plants monitored and studied include the Golden Paintbrush (Castilleja Levisecta), Willamette Valley Larkspur (Delphinium Oreganum), and Bradshaw’s Desert Parsley (Lomatium Bradshawii). These plants are all located in Benton County and are endangered.
Federally and within the state, designations used are endangered, threatened, and species of concern.
“Endangered is the worst category. If a species is endangered, that means that it’s in peril of extinction,” Meyers said.
Threatened plants are not yet at that point, but that could change quickly. Species of concern, on the other hand, means that if a plant’s numbers are declining and continuing to do so it could fall into one of the first two categories.
Currently, there are nine native Oregon plants in the Benton County area that fall into one of the three categories.
As far as the relationship between our three endangered plants and the dry season goes, so far it is tentatively thought the plants will be okay.
“We’re heading into unknown territory. But, if there are species that stand a chance to get through this, it’s our endemics [species], it’s our native species because they are well adapted to those [dry] conditions,” Meyers said. “The same is true for fire.”
Meyers said the Kalapuya people would regularly burn the Willamette Valley, and because of that many native plants are adapted to fire. In fact, there is evidence that native plants may do better when they are burned on a regular basis.
“You can’t burn them a lot, and those fires can’t be intense and hot, but they can tolerate fire. So, again, hot conditions with the fire doesn’t necessarily mean the automatic extinction of these plants. But we need to monitor it.” Meyers said. “That’s our first line of defense, really.”
Endangered Native Plant’s Greatest Risk
Plants that make the list for being endangered, threatened, suspended, or injured, are by far and wide most impacted by habitat loss. These plants are adapted to living on prairies, something you’d be hard-pressed to find.
Meyers said that if he were to estimate the percentage of danger that comes from habitat loss as opposed to anything else, he’d say 90% of the reasons native plants are threatened was due to that.
Yet, many conservation efforts depend on funding.
“Rare plants normally aren’t on top when it comes to allocation of funds” Meyers said. “Charismatic animals tend to get the most money, and I understand that,
However, there are still a few reintroduction efforts for plants such as the Golden Paintbrush, the plant at the greatest risk. Mainly though, the focus and funds have been spent on learning about and monitoring these rare plants.
“For example, Oregon has a rare plant program called the Native Plant Conservation Program. It’s one guy who sometimes gets funding for a year and sometimes doesn’t. So, you know, we don’t have much. And as far as the feds go, again, Oregon has one person, he’s based in Roseburg,” Meyers said. “My organization, we try our best. We monitor, we collect data and that’s our main goal is to collect data, synthesize it and present it to the public. That is another way to monitor what’s going on. And I think we do a good job at it, but I would love to see more resources devoted to it.”
Aside from donating — you can donate to Oregon Flora here — there are other ways to get involved in plant conservation.
“I would encourage people who have an interest in these things to go out and find these plants. There are some who say we need to hide these plants and to not disclose where they are, to hide them from the public to save them. And I tend to disagree with that. I want the public to take ownership of these issues,” Meyers said. “And if people do, if they give them attention and take ownership of them, I think it can only benefit them. That way if there is a population of say Willamette Daisies growing somewhere and they want to just build a new OSU lecture hall on it, people will say, ‘hey, hey, hey, no, no, no. I go out there, I go visit it, I look at it, I adore it. You can’t do this.’ Learn about the plants. Go find them and look at them, appreciate them. Go love them.”