A native flower recently discovered in the Ballona Wetlands has been given a new threatened status a month after it was identified.
The Argonaut first reported March 11th a discovery by the Playa del Rey-based Ballona Institute of the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion during a restoration and beautification project in the Marina Peninsula by the Los Angeles Department of Public Works. The authenticity of the bright, yellow flowers was confirmed and the area where they are sprouting was subsequently cordoned off to prevent any damage.
The Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion was listed as a “1.B.1” by the California Native Plant Society. The listing means the flower is rare, threatened or endangered.
According to a California Department of Fish and Game document obtained by The Argonaut, the rare native flower has now been upgraded to a status “G5T1.S1.”
In an e-mail to Ballona Institute biologist and co-director Robert “Roy” van de Hoek, Roxanne Bittman, lead biologist at Fish and Game, told van de Hoek that while the species was abundant, the Orcutts’s Yellow Pincushion is endangered.
“The new rank is G5T1.S1. G stands for global, T is the global for the variety and S is for the state rank,” Bittman explained in her e-mail.
“C. glab (an abbreviation for Chaenactis glab orcuttiana, the scientific name for the Orcutt’s Yellow) as a species is common. But, this variety is very rare and endangered,” Bittman wrote.
Van de Hoek hopes the new designation will spur interest in getting the native flower an opportunity to eventually make it to the Endangered Species List.
“This shows that this flower is even more imperiled than we thought,” the Ballona Institute biologist said.
The state ranking of S1 on Fish and Game’s special vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens list means that a plant or flower is “critically imperiled” because of its extreme rarity or other factors such as very steep inclines that make it especially vulnerable to extirpation or extinction.
Flowers or plants of extreme rarity often exist in only five or fewer occurrences, or locations, according to Fish and Game, which owns most of the wetlands.
Environmentalists like van de Hoek and their supporters remain wary of the city’s plans to continue working on the restoration effort next to the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushions. City officials recently installed protective fencing around the flowers and say this should protect them from any possible disturbance.
Shortly after the discovery of the rare flower, van de Hoek complained that city employees could harm budding Yellow Pincushions, which may not be visible to an untrained eye.
“Any work where the pincushions are is now on hold pending mitigation by our environmental specialist, William Jones,” Lauren Skinner, public information officer of the city’s public works department, told The Argonaut March 19th.
Jones was one of the experts to confirm the endangered species, as well as Dr. Mark Porter, a professor of botany at Claremont Graduate University.
Van de Hoek does not think the protective fencing will dissuade anyone who wants to gain access to the flowers.
“People can step right through it,” the biologist claimed. “It’s not very stable, and damage to the flowers can still occur.”
Asked if city officials could continue to work in the area and secure the rare flowers, Skinner responded, “our team thinks so.”
The institute sent a letter to City Attorney Carmen Trutanich on March 16th, asking him to intervene with other city agencies regarding their disagreement on whether the project should continue following the discovery of the Orcutt’s Yellow.
“The area where the population of Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion was found is considered ESHA (Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area), as designated by the California Coastal Commission and as outlined in the Venice Local Coastal Program,” the letter states. “The project as currently being implemented by the Bureau of Engineering includes installing a decomposed granite walk path and digging of an irrigation trench for planting of native plants.
“So far, due to the discovery of this plant population, the Coastal Commission has asked the city staff to re-route the walk path.”
Van de Hoek and Marcia Hanscom, co-director of the Ballona Institute, take issue with the city’s contention that if seeds from the flowers are collected and placed in a freezer at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, the walkway work can continue without disruption.
“We do not believe that on public land, the law supports such mitigation and that, instead, everything possible must be done to protect this species on site in the same location where it was discovered to be surviving,” Hanscom and van de Hoek wrote.
“Because this species was not known to be present when the permits were granted by the Coastal Commission and California Environmental Quality Act documents prepared by the city, we ask that all work be stopped and a full environmental impact report be prepared before proceeding with the project in the area where the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion was found.”
Advocates of the wetlands preserve are thrilled that the flower has been identified and that state agencies are taking an interest.
“It’s wonderful to hear about a new discovery in the Ballona Wetlands,” said Rex Frankel, director of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project. “It’s great to hear that the flower’s endangered status has been upgraded.”
Jonathan Coffin, a local photographer who recently captured a stiletto fly on an Orcutt’s Yellow near the restoration site, thinks finding the rare native flower was just short of miraculous.
“Maybe the miracle is that the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion was re-discovered at the brink of being lost to a walking path that would have been constructed where they stand and a variety of other plants would been planted in their place without their presence ever being known,” Coffin wrote in an e-mail to The Argonaut.
Van de Hoek said he is “happily surprised” that discovering the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion has received national attention over the last two weeks.
“It’s a real affirmation of what we have here, and that we should appreciate what we have here in our wetlands and how we should consider these wonderful ecosystems to be very precious,” he said.