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    • December 16, 2019

    Photo of saguaro in the desert by Duncan S. Bell
    ©2011 Duncan S. Bell

    The saguaro (pronounced sah-wah-roh) cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) can grow to over 45 feet in height and is the largest cactus in the United States. It can survive for over 150 years but grows very slowly and generally does not start reproducing until about 35 years of age. The saguaro cactus only occurs in the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert and is a critical component of the desert ecosystem providing homes and food for a variety of wildlife.

    The saguaro cactus is an iconic component of the landscape in Arizona and northern Mexico with an entire National Park dedicated to preserving and celebrating these cacti (Saguaro National Park in Arizona). In addition to Arizona and Mexico, a few isolated populations of this species occur in the far southeastern corner of California along the Arizona/California border. This means that California can claim the saguaro cactus as part of our diverse native flora!

    The saguaro cactus is an excellent example of a plant that is rare within California but more common outside the state (California Rare Plant Rank/CRPR 2B). As such, this species is tracked by the CNDDB with only about 30 occurrences known in California. By tracking species that are rare in California but more common outside the state, we are helping to conserve the entire geographic range of widespread species and protecting evolutionary processes and the genetic diversity of these species.

    If you happen to come across a saguaro cactus in California, please submit your observation to the CNDDB using our Online Field Survey Form.

    Categories: Education and Awareness, Taxon of the week
    • October 21, 2019

    Closeup of the white ghost plant - © Keir Morse, all rights reserved

    In the “spirit” of the season, we wanted to highlight one of CNDDB’s spookiest species. Imagine wandering along a dark and secluded trail in the forest, a dense canopy of trees above you. You see a white patch on the ground out of the corner of your eye – is it a ghost? Sort of! Monotropa uniflora, a member of the Ericaceae family, is known by the common names ghost pipe, ghost plant, or Indian pipe.

    As one might suspect from its ghostly pallor, these plants do not contain chlorophyll and therefore cannot produce their own nutrients. M. uniflora is a mycoheterotroph; they are parasites on underground fungi. In turn, these fungi obtain their nutrients by forming mycorrhizal relationships with tree roots, which means that there is a mutually beneficial exchange of resources between the fungi and tree roots. Therefore, M. uniflora plants are indirectly taking their nutrients from the nearby trees by stealing them from the fungi they are parasitizing. Since M. uniflora does not require direct sunlight and is closely associated with trees, it can be found in dark areas of the forest understory.

    Although M. uniflora is widespread through much of Northern America, it is considered rare in California with a California Rare Plant Rank of 2B.2. Currently there are 100 occurrences of this species in CNDDB, all of which are restricted to the far northern coast of California in Del Norte and Humboldt counties. While M. uniflora populations tend to occur in remote and unpopulated areas, this does not mean they are immune to human-caused threats and disturbances. Due to the preference for forested habitats, the primary threat to M. uniflora in California is timber harvest operations.

    If you happen to catch a glimpse of this elusive specter in California, don’t forget to submit your observation using the Online Field Survey Form!

    Photo credit: Keir Morse

    Categories: Taxon of the week
    • September 16, 2019

    left: western spadefoot adult; right: closeup of the back foot
    Left: Western spadefoot (Spea hammondii) adult; Right: The “spade” on its back foot.

    Today we explore the spadefoot an amorphously shaped creature with bulging eyes and catlike vertical pupils. California is home to three species of spadefoot toads: Couch's spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchii), western spadefoot (Spea hammondii), and Great Basin spadefoot (Spea intermontana). Though commonly referred to as toads, spadefoots are not considered “true toads” since they lack parotoid glands behind their eyes. Spadefoots are named after the harden black "spade” on their back feet used for digging burrows in the soil. They typically spend most of their lives underground and emerge to breed in ponds.

    The CNDDB tracks two of the species, Couch’s and western, and both are a California species of special concern. Western spadefoots are found in the Central Valley and along the south coast. They frequently breed in temporary ponds, such as vernal pools, that are formed by winter rains. Couch’s spadefoot ranges in the desert throughout the southwestern United States and occur in the southeastern corner of California. They are triggered by summer monsoon rain events to emerge and breed in rain-filled pools. This species is adapted to extremely dry conditions, and tadpoles are known to metamorphose within 8 days in a race against evaporation!

    These squishy and soft friends protect themselves by secreting toxins that make them unpalatable to predators. There have been accounts that adult western spadefoot secretions smell like peanut butter, but don’t spread them on toast! Spadefoot secretions are known to cause eye irritation and runny noses in humans, so keep that in mind if you come across one. If it is a western spadefoot or Couch's spadefoot, be sure to share your findings with us through our Online Field Survey Form.

    Categories: Education and Awareness, Taxon of the week