Utah Native Plant Society

The posts contained herein may not always necessarily represent the official positions and views of the Utah Native Plant Society and are mine alone; nonetheless, this blog is intended to largely supplement the Utah Native Plant Society web site and has similar goals and objectives and when I think my slant about something is perhaps either controversial or straying from what might be generally supported by UNPS, I will try to so indicate since I am also the webmaster for the UNPS web site, a former UNPS board member, conservation co-chair, Utah rare plants guide coordinator, and remain actively involved with day-to-day issues involving the organization. Much of the information contained here will therefore no doubt therefore relate to issues of current concern to the UNPS board and/or its members, inquires made to unps@unps.org, postings made on the UNPS listserv, and the activities our various committees are involved with (conservation, restoration, rare plant issues, invasive species, horticulture and more) and our many and various botanical connections not the least of which are the herbariums based in Utah and elsewhere, and other conservation organizations that have goals that overlap those of UNPS.




Wednesday, February 4, 2015

College campuses: no safe haven for native plants

The construction and ultimate expansion of college campuses (and for that matter, all schools) inevitably involve some sort of impacts on formerly natural landscapes and habitat loss, often equally as severe as in any commercial project.    As institutions of higher learning and typically with large amounts of acreage, college and universities particularly have a duty to build and expand on their campuses in a responsible manner, and to try to preserve some tiny remnants of our past heritage by incorporating natural open spaces as part of their overall design, and to incorporate the use of native plant materials to the fullest extent possible in landscaped areas.

Too often however that has not been the case.  And in a number of circumstances, university campus expansion and developments have directly contributed to the increasing rarity of native plant species. 

And far too often, college campus landscaping is reduced to a monoculture of lawn grass accompanied by a plethora of introduced trees and other plant species that are largely quite contrary to their founding purpose, and therefore not only highly inappropriate but also even environmentally disastrous; not to mention costly.

A basic understanding of ecology somehow needs to be introduced into the building and expansion plans of all educational-oriented campuses and their administrators and planners, and also needs to be fully integrated into training programs for landscape architects, arborists, urban foresters, and really for anyone working with landscape design or maintenance.

Here are just a few examples of direct impacts to native plant communities that originally existed on some Nevada and Utah college campuses.  I have included some of the specific related references directly within each university topic rather than list them all at the end, with a few general references at the end.


University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV):  

The globally rare Las Vegas buckwheat (Eriogonum corymbosum var. nilesii) once grew on the UNLV campus.  No more.  Some 1.8 acres of its habitat there was eliminated.

Some 62% of the original range of this species has been lost.  Of 12 recognized populations (all in Nevada; this entity does not occur in Utah), three populations have been lost.

More information:

US. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2014. Species report for Eriogonum corymbosum var. nilesii (Las Vegas buckwheat). Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office.  55 pp. Available on-line at: http://www.fws.gov/nevada/nv_species/documents/lv_buckwheat/20140909_ercon_species_report_final.pdf 

(see Table 2, page 15 concerning the 1.83 acres that was extirpated at UNLV)


Utah State University (USU):

We often think that rare plants only grow in some far off, desolate location.  Not true. The Logan buckwheat (Eriogonum brevicaule var. loganum, syn. E. loganum) is mainly a low elevation plant which grew primarily on the benches of Cache Valley (but with also some disjunct occurrences), and near the USU campus. 

As told by the late* Dr. James L. Reveal:

"This plant is well known to hundreds, if not thousands, of Utah State students for at one time the plant was common on "smoker's hill" at the south edge of campus.  Recent construction of parking lots in this area has essentially destroyed the type population and now only a few scattered plants remain."  (Holmgren 2012, p. 280)

See also Dr. Reveal's discussion also here where he reiterates that  the parking lot construction almost extirpated this scientifically important occurrence of a globally rare taxon:


More information/comments:

Utah rare plant guide PDF (for Eriogonum brevicaule var. loganum)

*Sadly Dr. Reveal died quite recently, on January 9, 2015

**Based on newer DNA evidence, Reveal did place this taxon back within the Eriogonum brevicaule complex for the 2012 treatment of the Polygonaceae in the final volume of the Intermountain Flora series (Holmgren 2012).  Also, the posting date of the link to plantsystematics.org  was made in 2003, so the reference to "recent" parking lot construction is at least now somewhat dated.



Weber State (WSU):

A pipeline was built through a portion of the campus in 2012 for which WSU trustees approved an easement in 2011.   Administrators there saw the water pipeline there as a way to potentially fuel future campus growth.   After residents started to complain about the scar on the foothills that are inevitable with pipeline projects (and which always cause irreversible damage), a city engineer was quoted as saying that "Much of the vegetation will grow back naturally. . .  but the city will also use a U.S. Forest Service-approved seed mix to stimulate regrowth." 

City engineers are typically ill-qualified to make revegetation assessments.   Historically there have been few things more scary than a Forest Service, BLM or USDA "approved seed mix."   But that aside, in fact, this project has left in its wake a scourge of mainly non-native grasses including the dreaded Secale cereale which has formed vast, devastating swaths of monocultures in counties along the Wasatch Front (including Salt Lake, Davis and Weber Cos).  Lost were a variety of indigenous forbs and grasses including plants of the somewhat state rare Scutellaria antirrhinoides, known in Utah known along the Wasatch Front only in Weber and Morgan counties (and, also known in Utah from Duchesne Co., although the Duchesne plants may warrant separate taxonomic recognition (Welsh 2008)).

More information:





University of Utah (U of U):

The lower campus at the University of Utah contained one or more populations of the now highly state rare Viola beckwithii.  This we know for certain based on a photograph taken by the legendary University of Utah botanist/ecologist Dr. Walter P. Cottam.   Natural space however was not protected or preserved in any fashion as the university expanded, and this habitat was soon lost and in fact not until May of 2008 was a tiny population discovered in Red Butte Garden's natural space (technically within the University of Utah campus, but at much higher elevation). V. beckwithii had not been observed or collected by scientists since 1950 in Salt Lake or Davis counties until the 2008 discovery, the future survival of which remains very much in doubt.

Doc Cottam himself fought to save at least some natural features on campus (and hence "Cottam's Gulch" on the lower campus behind the old museum location, but which today still only faintly bares resemblance of what it once must have looked like).   Inclusion of natural open space in a campus located adjacent to natural space has not been on the university's radar for the most part.  The campus is mostly covered in lawn grass and non-indigenous species in its general landscaping.

Perhaps the worst example of poor vision in this regard relates to Research Park founded in 1968, which is owned and administered by the University of Utah.   Located immediately adjacent to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and foothill benches, it has been quickly filled with buildings surrounded by lawn grass.  Colony after colony of native Gambel's oak have been removed; and that continues to be the case.

Utah Valley University (UVU):

One estimate places the loss of wetlands in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to be from 30% to 36%  during the period of 1780 to 1980  (AmphibiaWeb 2015).   Losses along the Wasatch Front have been much worse, and continue.

The UVU (formerly UVSC) campus contained a small wetlands area adjoining the western edge of the campus.  Here various botanists including the late, great Dr. Kimball T. Harper recorded marsh plants that are fast disappearing from the Wasatch Front including Asclepias incarnata, Verbena hastata, Sagittaria cuneata, Bidens cernua, Cyperus esculentus var. leptostachyus, and many others.   UVU has a "botany club" and many excellent botany instructors, and this area helped to serve an important and convenient educational need.

Yet despite objections made by some faculty members, this area was eradicated  in favor of athletic fields.

More information/references:

AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. 2015. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: http://amphibiaweb.org/. (Accessed: Feb 3, 2015).  See specifically:  http://amphibiaweb.org/declines/HabFrag.html



Dixie State University (Dixie):

The St. George LDS temple was the first such temple built in Utah.  Construction began in 1871 and was completed in 1875 (and dedicated in 1877).   And remarkably, with improvements over the years, it is still there. Dixie State University is located a half-mile due east of the temple. 

When pioneering medical doctor/botanist Dr. Charles C. Parry visited (and stayed with) St. George resident Joseph E. Johnson from about from early April to late June of 1874, he collected many new things previously unknown to modern plant taxonomy.  One of these species (besides  the rare and endangered species later recognized as Arctomecon humilis) was a shrub that was ultimately named after him, Petalonyx parryi.

Parry's own account of finding this plant in the St. George area:

"A diligent search over the dry gravelly and alkaline soil, where it was found associated with the common 'grease woods' of this region, failed to bring to light any other plants, so that this single locality, precariously situated within a stone's throw of the great Mormon temple, does not encourage the hope of a prolonged existence for the benefit of future botanists."  (Parry 1875, p. 144)

In 1988, Dr. Stanley Welsh indicated that while the type above had since been eradicated, it was "locally common" (a term used by botanist/taxonomists that is often not understood by others and does not mean a species is common and/or not rare and/or not in need of consideration) east of Washington, Utah.    

That area has since rapidly changed, and Petalonyx parryi occurences in the vicinity have greatly suffered. Yet, unfortunately in the Southern Corridor highway project, the FHWA failed to consider impacts to Petalonyx parryi (despite protestations from the Utah Native Plant Society) because of the reference by Welsh  to it being "locally common" even though by 2008 Welsh indicated:

"Certainly much of the prime habitat near St. George has been obliterated and is beneath developments.  One can no longer find it within a "stone's throw" of the great Mormon temple, or even within gunshot of that edifice."  (Welsh 2008, p. 499)

P. parryi grows on soils with high gypsum content and does not grow in conjunction with "greasewoods."   The plant that Parry found was likely a waif (Parry only found one shrub) that had managed to survive on the outer limits of nearby habitat to the east (and closer to where Dixie State University was constructed in the 1960's).   Today P. parryi is on the BLM state sensitive species list, and has been ranked as "High" in priority by the Utah Native Plant Society's rare plant committee.

By the time Dixie started to be built, perhaps any remaining straggling plants relating to P. parryi were gone; but it is likely that if they were still there, that they too were built over.  


More information/comments/references:

Parry, CC.  1875.  Botanical observations in Southern Utah, II.  Amer. Naturalist 9:139-146.

Welsh, S.  1988.  Charles Christopher Parry.  Great Basin Naturalist 48(1):9-18.

Parry's petalonyx picture and habitat loss east of St. George

Utah rare plant guide PDF (for Petalonyx parryi)

In referring to "grease woods" it is possible the Parry was including a dominant shrub in the area within that term, i.e. Cresote bush, Larrea tridentata, even though it is not a "greasewood."  So far in his published lists, I have not yet been able to find a collection that he made of either Creosote bush or of a true greasewood (Sarcobatus) during his time in the St. George, Utah area during the spring of 1874 which is surprising (perhaps too common?).   Rare plants in the area are typically not associated with Larrea and only occasionally with Sarcobatus.




General references:


Holmgren, NH, PK Holmgren, JL Reveal and others. 2012. Intermountain flora: Vascular plants of the Intermountain West, U.S.A. Vol. 2A, Subclass Magnoliidae-Caryophyllidae. Bronx, New York: The New York Botanical Garden. 731 pp.

Welsh, SL, ND Atwood, S Goodrich, and LC Higgins [eds]. 2008. A Utah flora, fourth edition, revised. 2004-2008 summary monograph. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University. 1019 pp.

















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