TheNAT Botanist Uncovers 'Lost' Mexican Plants
You're listening to midday additions. The curator of botany at the San Diego natural history Museum has returned from a trip to Baja California. He went looking for lost flowers in La Paz. Plans that they did not know still existed gone in the. Thank you for joining us. Sounds like a wonderful trip. Tell us what is a lost plants quick flip of the last three years we have been working on the flora of Baja California putting together a checklist based on historical records. What we know to be bare-bones specimens that were collected many years ago. In the process we found many species that we have not seen in a very long time. Sometimes over 100 years. Those will be our lost species. Things we were seeking to rediscover his neck what were you working off of? How did you know the species had been seeing [ Indiscernible- participant too far away from the microphone ] We have a historical collection that dates back to 1870. And collections of dried plant specimens that have these older records. We visited a lot of other collections and happiest dried plant specimens that we could see and try to relocate where they were at. I understand it was raining when you were there. Yes it's a great thing for botanists to be there during over a year where there is a lot of rainfall. A lot of plans will respond to the rainfall. Sometimes it has a negative effect. You have so much plant material coming up here and there that you cannot see some of the other plants that are there underneath prison it was a landscape like? Very rocky ? Or tropical? It is tropical deciduous forests. We call it a thorny scrub that during the rainy times of the year it's very cleaned off Michael Wiley. During the dry season you can see the rocks. Is very steep and rugged. But there are trees of all different kinds and shrubs everywhere appears that what was the find that excited you the most? There were a lot of surprises. Things that we did not know were growing there before. But I think one of the most exciting for me was this plants. We have only known this for one historic collection. Someone describes the species for the first time they designate type specimen. And that's all we knew. And going out and about in finding this thing on a steep rugged area was quite a thrill. With her son that you found that did not look quite like you expected from the records ? That was over 100 years old peers sometimes the color goes away. And that species I was expected to be a yellow flowering plant. But it was lavender and paint. That was a surprise. Has the area changed a lot in the last 100 years? Did you see evidence of some of the species could be threatened? Yes, there are areas that are heavily impacted by development. Like the Los Cabos area with all of the resort development. Also livestock. They eat everything. And that's the problem with they are eating the things we are seeking peers Mac did you retrace the steps of some old botanist through their notes? And how was that? We tried to do that. Sometimes there are no notes to retrace. So you cannot figure out where they were exactly. Other times some of the people were more specific. We would try to go to the areas that sometimes the type specimens are very day. Other times they have a very specific locality, so many miles south of Pueblo or something in that region peers So we try to go specifically to that region. Sometimes it's easy sometimes not so much. Sometimes there's a lot of luck involved this year almost like a detective peers For you every plant is valuable. For the average person they may ask how would this been at the -- benefit us ? And you found quite a few that you could not find again right? We rediscovered about 50 of these plants. But there are still many throughout the Peninsula. Well over 100. As far as the overall value of that that's a hard thing to indicate. We know nothing about the species. We do not know if they had a value to the culture in the area ? Because a lot of that information is gone. Or there are no longer information on those groups on the Peninsula peer we do not know the value of that at this point. Every species has an innate value. And every plant plays a role in a healthy ecosystem peers Mac did you have local botanist working with you? Absolutely. We have been collaborating with a couple of Mexican botanists. And I have been traveling with them for years. And this was a chance for me to spend a lot more time with them. Is there a sense that there will be a cross-border collaboration ? To document the species or maybe preserved them? Yes we have been quite devoted to collaboration with our Mexican counterpoints. The first step is having people know that it is there an exist. Before we can decide if it's been threatened? This is a first step of rediscovery and hopefully we will move on from their peers Mac and can you describe a day, did you spend all day walking ? Walking miles and miles every day? It depended on the expedition I was on. Sometimes they were just day trips. And I can go out for the day and look in a particular area then return. Other times we reusing Buhl's to get to remote areas spending a few nights in the field. And doing all of our collections from there. How can people see what you have discovered is that right now they are being held in Ensenada until I can get them into the US. There is a lot of permitting involved. We will have the specimens deposited in our collection. There will be collections that are in Baja California. People can come and learn more about it at the top that we have coming up here tomorrow night to John will be speaking tomorrow night at 7 PM. That is Jon Rebman. The curator of natural botany. The Met watched KPBS evening edition at five and 6:30 PM. Join us again tomorrow for the midday edition at noon. If you missed a show check out the webcast at KPBS.org back casts. Thank you for listening.
It's been more than 120 years since botanists have seen some flowers, ferns and shrubs in Baja California Sur. They're called "lost plants," with scientists in possession of only a handful of old specimens.
Scientists may not have been actively looking for the plants all this time, but they still never came across them in more than a century, according to Jon Rebman, botany curator for the San Diego Natural History Museum. So last year, Rebman spent 10 months in Baja California Sur on the hunt for these rare species to see whether some had gone extinct.
"Extinction is a really hard thing to say because some of these species require winter rainfall which is really rare in that part of the peninsula," Rebman said. "If they get enough, the plants can pop up on these big plains. You could look for years, but unless it’s the right conditions, they’re not even going to show their heads."
Rebman said last year it rained more than it normally does and he found 50 lost plants, traveling to remote areas and through abandoned, overgrown paths. The finding is significant even if these plants don't have any immediate applications in medicine or other fields.
"I hate that aspect, that it has to be something that we value (in order to be worthwhile)," Rebman said. "But it’s a part of a healthy ecosystem. To me, it’s like we’ve inherited this rich heritage of biodiversity. You don’t want something to blink out on your watch. Now we know at least 50 are there and the threats to them."