Santa Ynez groundstar is a small plant that’s inspired big interest
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and the California Native Plant Society on Friday announced the “re-discovery” of a native plant species — the Santa Ynez groundstar — at Vandenberg Space Force Base.
This plant has not been documented in decades.
Smaller than a penny, the Santa Ynez groundstar (Ancistrocarphus keilii) was found after scientists from the botanic garden and the plant society pieced together old records and obtained permits to search the location at Vandenberg where the plant was known to have existed.
The plant was originally described as a new species in 2004 from analysis of dried specimens. The plant was first seen by two scientists in the 1990s, but they could not properly identify the specimens until 2004.
Dr. Dieter Wilken, a now retired research associate with the botanic garden, is the only person to have seen the plant since its recognition as a distinct species. Since then, there have only been a few botanists who have seen the plant in the wild.
With Dr. Wilken’s records and help, the researchers were able to find the plant.
The small size of the Santa Ynez groundstar made it that much harder to find during a search that took many years.
“It’s a cool little plant, and it’s only known in one little place in all of Earth, which is right here in the Central Coast,” said Dr. Matt Guilliams, the Clifton Smith Herbarium curator and the Ken and Shirley Tucker Systematist.
He told the News-Press Friday that the plant is known to be solely native to California, based on DNA lineage tracking.
As explained by Dr. Guilliams, the CNPS has given this plant a “CRPR 1B.1” ranking, which means the plant is rare and threatened, but federally and at the state level, it does not yet have a ranking when it comes to conservation.
Dr. Guilliams said he hopes that it soon will be recognized on the federal level.
Although small, the plant adds to the vast world of biodiversity.
“They represent a totally unique solution to figuring out how to exist on the planet, yet they are super tiny,” Dr. Guilliams told the News-Press. He explained that this is what makes “tiny plants so fascinating”.
Dr. Guilliams has collected the new specimens of the Santa Ynez groundstar, and it will be deposited at four regional herbaria: Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, the Hoover Herbarium at California Poly San Luis Obispo, California Botanic Garden Herbarium and the herbarium at the Vandenberg Space Force Base.
Scientists will also update population data as they turn toward conservation and seed banking of the species.