Mapping New Botanical Discoveries

Hello from the office in Prineville, OR! East of the Cascade mountains we’ve been dumped on with snow after snow, and few folks have gotten into the field (it’s been hard enough just to get to work!) except those who go out to plow some of our BLM access roads. Something to keep us from getting too much cabin fever is the office photo contest. I submitted several entries, so wish me luck! I’ve been keeping busy by snuggling into my cubicle and mapping away in a program called GeoBOB. Oregon and Washington BLM use GeoBOB (Geographic Biotic Observations Database) to track special status plant and animal species in GIS. I’ve gotten much better at using computer programs and GIS during the course of my winter CLM internship. I’ve been documenting our revisits of the sensitive plant populations we monitored over the summer, and I also had a little fun creating some new polygons.

These represent the areas where I stumbled upon a newly listed Oregon BLM sensitive species, Astragalus misellus var. misellus, pauper milkvetch. We only were aware of one location of this species, so it was a big surprise. At first I mistook the plant for a different milkvetch (anyone else agree that Astragalus can be a challenging genus?) but something about that conclusion just didn’t feel right. So I kept at it, keyed it over and over and examined drawings of the plant, photos of the other milkvetch, and thought a lot about the differences in habitat between the two, which are pretty distinct once you know which plant is which. What finally gave it away was the fruit size, shape, and curve. Without fruits it’s terribly difficult to distinguish from similar milkvetches.

After the deeper study, I felt pretty confident in my identification of this species, but I still sent 2 herbarium vouchers I collected to the Astragalus experts at Oregon State University. I was really excited when I heard back from them that I do indeed have A. misellus var. misellus. Additionally, I gifted the herbarium at OSU the specimens to add to their collection. They were thrilled to have them, and said that it’s the first collection of the species that they’ve had in nearly 100 years! While the species is a sensitive endemic, I came across it in the field quite frequently and even on my time off when I was just out hiking with my dog. I don’t know how this little plant slipped under the radar in the past, but now we have several mapped locations so that we can learn more about its ecology and develop a strategy for its conservation. To add to that, I just got word that a new to science plant species was discovered on BLM land nearby.

So the moral of my little story is: keep your eyes peeled, key plants, and do not assume you know what everything looks like even after you’ve learned them, and trust your botanical intuition! You never know, you might find a whole new species or a brand new location of a rare plant! Google earth is great, but there is still soooooo much to discover on our planet. You might just get lucky. Keep up the good work CLM interns. You are the curious botanizer, inquisitive scientist, the enthusiastic protector of plants, work station: Planet Earth.

One of the photos I entered in our district photo contest. Coincidentally, the milkvetch was found nearby on this day of fun.

The distinctive fruits that finally gave away her identity…

Astragalus misellus var. misellus