Hunting for Vasek’s clarkia with Kern County CNPS
Vasek’s clarkia (Clarkia tembloriensis ssp. calientensis) is a rare plant on the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) List 1B.1 considered seriously endangered in California. It is known from only three locations, all on the White Wolf area of Tejon Ranch near Caliente Creek. The status of Vasek’s clarkia in these locations has only been periodically documented over the last 25 years, and the population size has fluctuated significantly from survey to survey. On Saturday May 1, the Conservancy hosted the Kern County CNPS look for Vasek’s clarkia at these known locations and to document its current status. With all of the rain that we have had this year, we were hopefully to find good numbers of individuals.
The group of 15 headed out along Bena Road to the vicinity of the first known location, where we quickly found Vasek’s clarkia in full bloom along a steep east-facing slope. We estimated several hundred Vasek’s clarkia were growing among nonnative annual grasses (primarily Bromus spp.) in this location, along with very showy displays of speckled Clarkia (Clarkia cylindrica) and scattered bladderpod (Isomeris arborea). We then found another small population on a north-facing slope, quite near the known location in this area.
The group then moved on to the other two known locations supporting Vasek’s clarkia, passing an extensive population of Bakersfield cactus (Opuntia basilaris var. treleasei) a Federal and State endangered species in the Caliente Creek floodplain. We found Vasek’s clarkia at the two known locations in this area, and estimated the largest population at about 1,000 individuals, which is similar to the largest population size that has been recorded for this taxon. As with the previous populations, individuals were found on a step northeast facing slope, growing among fairly dense nonnative annual grasses with beautiful displays of speckled clarkia. Shrubs species on these slopes included bladderpod and yellow mock aster (Eastwoodia elegans). We also found several dozen Vasek’s clarkias at a previously undocumented location in this area.
It was a beautiful day and finding the populations of Vasek’s clarkia doing so well made it all the better. We are grateful to everyone from Kern County CNPS who continue to show an interest in the plants and other species of Tejon Ranch, and use their knowledge to help us better understand the resources we are charged with stewarding. We are fortunate to have such good neighbors and look forward to a long partnership with them. The Conservancy would especially like to thank Ellen Cypher for leading the trip and sharing her knowledge of the plants in this region.