Floristic Surprises in North America North of Mexico
originally published in
Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 87: 81--109. 2000
Contrary to recurring perceptions that the flora of North
America north of Mexico has been
fully explored and catalogued, the rate of on-going discoveries has
remained remarkably constant
for much of the last century and shows no evidence of tapering off.
This is particularly evident in
western and southeastern North America, where dramatic new species
and even monotypic genera
are still coming to light, even along highways and near major cities.
Furthermore, the same level of
on-going discovery also characterizes other aspects of floristic
information, including the
distribution of rare species and the occurrence of invasive pest
plants. The majority of on-going
discoveries are dependent on individuals and organizations operating
outside of academia, with
declining opportunities for formal training in floristics or access
to scientific expertise when
complex situations are encountered. This situation is connected to
the perception of floristics as
rote data compilation, when it is in fact better understood in the
context of a massive attempt to
model biodiversity, resulting in an intricate suite of nested
hypotheses that are constantly being
tested and modified. The incompleteness of our floristic knowledge
takes on critical significance in
an era when decisions are being made that will irrevocably determine
the fate of our national
floristic heritage. The cost of this ignorance can cut multiple
ways, increasing the risk of misplaced
mitigation efforts as well as avoidable loss of irreplaceable
biodiversity. Although the magnitude of
the task is daunting, significant advances are achievable in a
collaborative framework. which would
yield a vastly improved floristic knowledge base for informed
Underlying much of our current land-use management planning,
allocations, and hiring decisions is the assumption that the flora of
North America north of Mexico
has been fully explored, catalogued, and mapped, at least to the
extent that is needed for informed
decision-making. Or, to the extent that exceptions are allowed, it
is assumed that 1) such
knowledge accumulates in the form of static data sets, descriptive
rather than truly scientific in
nature, and that 2) the existing academic infrastructure is
adequately addressing the gaps in our
floristic knowledge. This paper sets out to challenge these
assumptions, as well as the equally
common perception that floristic surveys inevitably represent a
threat to private landowners. The
first half of the paper provides testimony to the wealth and
diversity of ongoing floristic surprises in
North America, whereas the second half addresses the factors that
influence these discoveries and
the resultant implications.
The majority of statistics and examples that form the basis of
this paper are derived from the
author's personal expertise and vascular plant focus. The resultant
western North American bias
should not, however, obscure the fact that this region is a rich
source of ongoing novelties. An
effort has nevertheless been made to include examples from other
geographic areas and
representing other groups traditionally studied by botanists:
bryophytes, algae, fungi, and lichens.
The proportional representation of examples should not be taken as an
accurate reflection of actual
discoveries among geographic areas and plant groups, or of their
significance to science or land
ASSUMPTION 1: THE FULLY CATALOGUED FLORA
A. Historical perceptions.
The perception that the vascular plant flora of North America
has been fully explored and
catalogued has a surprisingly long history, as analyzed from our
current state of knowledge. As
early as 1858, Thomas Bridges, an Englishman collecting in California, wrote
the following to Sir
William J. Hooker (quoted in Jepson, 1933):
"I can scarcely describe to you how pleasing and gratifying
it has been to me to learn that
in my collections you have found some new and rare plants---I was
partially under the
impression that from the labours of Douglas, Hartweg, Jeffrey, Lobb
and other travelers
from Europe with the many United States Exploring Expeditions that
little or nothing
remained to be discovered and only gleanings were left to those of us
of the present day."
As it happens, the "gleanings" left by Bridges' predecessors
comprised the majority of
California's flora as currently known. In fact, the number of known
increased by one
fourth during the subsequent two decades under the auspices of the
California Geological Survey,
primarily due to the efforts of William H. Brewer and Henry Nicholas
Bolander. The two-part
botanical report of the California Geological Survey (Brewer et al.
1876; Watson 1880), which
represented the first comprehensive flora of California, included
full entries for approximately 3,450
vascular plant taxa. This contrasts both with the initial estimate
of 2,000 (as noted in Whitney's
introduction to the first volume) and the latest tally of 7,036
vascular plant taxa recognized as
occurring outside of cultivation in California (Hickman, 1993). Not
only were there only half the
number of taxa known in 1880 as in 1993, but there is by no means a
correspondence within the apparent overlap, primarily due to
misapplied names and non-persisting
As it happens, Bolander was himself guilty of seriously
underestimating what still lay
waiting to be found, when he challenged Alphonso Wood's claim of
collecting 1,490 species of
flowering plants on a journey from San Diego up the coast and through
northern California in
1866. In an address to the California Academy of Natural Sciences,
considered it probable that there were not over 500 species of
flowering plants actually existing in
that part of California" (Leviton & Aldrich, 1997, p. 87). On the
contrary, well over 4,000 taxa of
vascular plants are now known to occur in the biogeographic
subdivisions of California that Wood
traversed (as calculated from Hickman  by R.L. Moe, pers.
comm., 1998), though how many
of these Wood actually encountered is admittedly another matter.
Bolander's attitude was in full sway several decades later,
when Katharine Brandegee
accused Edward Lee Greene of conflating California's flora, with the
statement that "It is safe to
say that not more than one in ten of [Greene's] species is tenable,
and probably one in fifteen or
twenty would be nearer the mark"
It turns out that Brandegee was actually the
one who was way off the mark, in that a respectable 70% of Greene's
taxa, at least those described
while he was residing in California, have stood the test of time
A marvelous anecdote relayed by Heller (1908) from one of his
correspondents shows just
how well ensconced was the general belief that the North American
flora had been fully catalogued
by the end of the 19th century:
"[M]y first botanical work was done in California, where my
teacher was looked upon by
me as the complete essence of knowledge, and everything she said was
right---and such is
often the case when one is fourteen years old. . . . At the time I
used to range over territory
[in the mountains near San Diego] which probably was not searched
over botanically or
ornithologically before nor since . . . Sometimes as a result I would
return with 30 or 40
plants, and after vain attempts to name them in my botany (Rattan's
Popular Flora) would
take them to the teacher. The usual words which took place were
about as follows on the
teacher's part: 'Can't you find these in the botany?' 'No.' Study
of the specimens and
consulting the botany followed on the teacher's part, with the usual
ending by her saying:
'They are not given in the botany. They are not good for anything on
that account. Throw
As a final example in the botanical lore, one of Brandegee's
supporters, Marcus E. Jones, is
said to have commented
that "he felt sorry for all future
generations of botanists because he
[Jones] had named all the western American taxa, and there would be
nothing left for them to do"
(S. Welsh, pers. comm., 1998). To the contrary, the rate of
discovery of rare plants in Jones' home
base of Utah remains high, with a significant peak in the 1980's
(Stone, 1998; Fig. 1).
In essence, the inclination to believe that the era of floristic
exploration in North America is
over apparently has an inherent persistency to the point of becoming
a psychological phenomenon
worth investigating in its own right. In the words of Stan Welsh
(pers. comm., 1998), "Each major
publication on western plants has left the impression that all of the
work has been done, that nothing
remains to be discovered, that everything worth naming has been
The perceptions of the
19th century have accordingly become the dogma of the 20th century,
in which the common
understanding is that the flora of North America has, with the rare
exception, been fully explored,
catalogued, and mapped (Reveal, 1991). At its worst, the attitude
developed that anyone describing
new species of plants from North America was indulging in species
conflation for the sake of ego
gratification, rather than practicing valid science.
Against this tide, there have admittedly been some voices to
the contrary. In his introduction
to the second volume of the botanical report of the Geological Survey
of California, Watson (1880)
indicated that "There still remains ample opportunity for good
botanical work at almost any locality
among the mountains, hills, and valleys of the State, to which it is
hoped that these volumes may
prove both an incentive and an aid." And, in a summation lecture of
a symposium on the
Broadening Basis of Classification, Lincoln Constance (1964) noted
that "Many otherwise
informed persons assume that the exploratory phase of botany is
essentially complete; this
assumption is, of course, entirely erroneous."
B. Statistical Challenges
1) Shevock & Taylor, 1987
Possibly the first statistical challenge to the common
perception was that of Shevock and
Taylor in 1987, provocatively titled "Plant exploration in
California: the frontier is still here." In it,
the authors tallied 219 vascular plants described from California for
the two decades from 1968 to
1986, an average of 11 taxa per year. Taylor (pers. comm., 1998) has
continued the analysis,
demonstrating that the rate of discovery remains constant (Fig. 2).
He further extrapolates that, if
the rate of discovery begins to taper off right now and follows the
curve displayed by more fully
catalogued parts of North America (e.g., northeastern United States),
of 300 or more
undescribed vascular plant taxa are still waiting in the wings in
California alone (Fig. 3).
2) Hartman & Nelson, 1998
Furthermore, although California clearly leads the pack, a
recent publication by Hartman
and Nelson (1998) clearly demonstrates the pervasiveness of on-going
throughout North America. For the two decades from 1975 through
1994, a total of 1,197 vascular
plant taxa were described as new to science, ranging from monotypic
genera to formae and
nothotaxa (collectively referred to as "novelties"). The 603 full
species comprise 3.21% of the
18,781 currently estimated to occur in North America (1998 estimate
Flora of North
America North of Mexico).
The overwhelming majority are from the
western and southeastern
United States, but essentially all states and provinces contributed
to the total (including a forma
from Rhode Island,
Champlin). Most are angiosperms, but 78
pteridophytes and 6 gymnosperms are represented.
Other statistics compiled by Hartman and Nelson included:
Taking into consideration that not all published novelties are
subsequently accepted as
worthy of taxonomic recognition, Hartman and Nelson accordingly
calculated the acceptance rate in
a variety of taxonomic works, ranging from 63% to 98%, with somewhere
around 90% apparently
being the norm. This may in fact be an underestimation, if a recent
study by Windham and
Beilstein (1998a, b) is any indication, ironically involving the two
leading authors of novelties. Lest
anyone assume that Welsh's impressive total (nearly double that of
Rollins') results from a bad
case of species conflation, Windham and Beilstein give strong
evidence that Welsh erred on the
conservative side in at least one instance. Not only did the elegant
micromorphological, molecular, and other evidence show that Welsh
mistakenly lumped some of
Rollins' species of
furthermore indicated that Rollins himself had
confused taxa that were morphologically convergent but only distantly
Number of holotypes by political unit
and nothotaxa). Top 10 =
California (217), Utah (183), Texas (70), Nevada (63), Arizona (57),
Oregon (42), New
Mexico (41), Florida (38), Idaho (33), and Wyoming (32)
Families with the greatest number of novelties
(excluding formae and nothotaxa). Top 10 =
Asteraceae (186), Brassicaceae (91), Fabaceae (84), Scrophulariaceae
(46), Poaceae (44), Cactaceae (36), Liliaceae (30), Apiaceae (27),
and Lamiaceae (26)
Authors of novelties
: Top 10 = S.L. Welsh (118), R.C.
Rollins (62), J.L. Reveal (45), R.C.
Barneby (32), G.L. Nesom (26), N.H. Holmgren (25), W.H. Wagner (24),
(23), S. Goodrich (19), and B. Ertter (18)
Parallel to Taylor's analysis, Hartman and Nelson showed that
the rate of publication of
taxonomic novelties has remained relatively constant since 1955,
averaging nearly 60 per year.
They predicted, however, that the rate of publication of novelties
will diminish once
Flora of North
America North of Mexico
(FNA) is completed. It is accordingly
worth noting that Taylor's
statistics do not show a comparable drop following the appearance of
The Jepson Manual
(Hickman, 1996); if anything, the appearance of an up-to-date
flora has spurred essential field work
and increased the likelihood of recognizing a novelty as such. There
is at least one example already
that the appearance of a generic treatment in FNA is independent of
ongoing discoveries: Warren
H. and Florence Wagner (1994; pers. comm., 1998) report that they
have already accumulated
new species of
beyond the 30 included in their
treatment for FNA (Wagner & Wagner,
Although it is impossible to accurately know exactly how much
remains unknown, a
calculation based on Taylor's method of extrapolation has at least
some conceptual validity. If
Taylor's extrapolation of 300+ still-to-be-discovered vascular plant
novelties in California is
accurate, and if the 1:6 ratio of California-to-North America
novelties remains constant, then at least
1,800 more novelties can be expected for North America. If half are
full-fledged species (as in
Hartman and Nelson's analysis), then nearly 5% of the North American
vascular plant flora is still
Non-Vascular Plants and Fungi
Comparable statistics have not previously been published for
non-vascular plants and fungi,
but Marshall Crosby and Raymond Stotler have compiled the raw numbers
on mosses and
liverworts respectively, kindly making them available for this paper.
From 1975 to 1998, a total of
63 mosses have been described from North America, including 42 full
species (M. Crosby, pers.
comm, 1998). This represent 3.17% of the 1,323 species estimated for
FNA, almost the same
percentage as for vascular plants (3.21%). Liverworts tell a similar
story, with 19 novelties
described in the last 20 years, representing 3.44% of the current
tally of 553 (R. Stotler, pers.
Statistics generated from the
Index Nominum Algarum,
maintained by Paul Silva and
Richard Moe (pers. comm., 1999), indicate that at least 63 marine
macroalgae have been described
from the North American coastline since 1980, with an incomplete
cataloguing of pre-1986
publications. This clearly indicates that algae are also still being
actively discovered and identified,
perhaps at even higher percentages than for vascular plants.
Comparable summaries have not been
generated for lichens or fungi, which in general lag behind vascular
plants in terms of systematic
C. Examples of "New to Science" Discoveries
Although the statistics cited above are impressive in their own
right, it is not evident to what
extent strikingly new discoveries are represented, as compared to
cryptically distinct variants of
marginal significance. To address this question, a selection of the
most dramatic of the newly
discovered and/or described taxa are presented here, drawn from among
the 1,197 novelties tallied
by Hartman and Nelson and numerous others published since 1994.
Choosing among the wealth
of riches was one of the more challenging parts of preparing this
paper, with new examples
constantly coming to the fore. The resultant choices are organized
among the following categories:
Five species covered by Hartman and Nelson were distinctive
enough to be described as
new monotypic genera:
W.H. Earle (Cactaceae),
Reveal & J.T. Howell
Evert & Constance
is from California.
found in the Chiricahua National
Monument in 1973, became the second genus assigned to the family
whose closest probable relatives grow in
deciduous forests in eastern North
is known from a single remote population located
along a proposed pipeline route in the
Wyoming desert (Dorn, 1991).
discovered by retired
schoolteacher and rock-gardener
Erwin Evert in 1979, has more recently been found to occur within two
miles of downtown Cody,
Wyoming (Evert & Constance, 1991; R. Hartman, pers. comm, 1998). The
was discovered by conservation
activist Mary DeDecker (Reveal &
Howell 1976; Nilsson, 1994), with one population
within walking distance of a
scientific research station on the outskirts of Bishop, California.
Subsequent to Hartman & Helson's publication, two more monotypic
genera of vascular
plants have been described, by coincidence both Brassicaceae from
California. The first was
S. Boyd & T.S. Ross, with three separate
occurrences encountered in the
course of doing an environmental impact survey in relatively
well-botanized and well-traveled
portions of southern California (Boyd & Ross, 1997). The second was
also discovered by a
consultant in an area proposed for development, within earshot of
Interstate Highway 5 in the San
Joaquin Valley. Originally suspected of being yet one more
introduced European annual, it was
determined instead to represent a unique new species and was
accordingly described as
Al-Shehbaz (Al-Shehbaz, 1999).
Looking beyond vascular plants, newly discovered species
distinctive enough to be
described as new genera are particularly common among algae. Of the
63 macroalgae cited above,
eight were distinctive enough to be described as new genera:
J.A. West, & Hommers. from California;
M.J. Wynne and
C.W. Schneid. and
from North Carolina;
R. Nielsen & J.A. Correa
from Nova Scotia;
Whittick, & K.M. Cole
E.C. Henry from Florida.
Merrill (Pottiaceae) was also recently
discovered and described as a monotypic genus (Merrill, 1992).
Although it was subsequently
(Zander, 1993), its distinctiveness as
a species remains noteworthy. The
new moss is furthermore remarkable in making its appearance in the
Great Plains, a region
otherwise relatively depauperate in both mosses and new discoveries
The award for most publicity for a recent discovery goes to the
Shevock, Ertter, & D.W. Taylor (Rosaceae),
whose serendipitous discovery in
1992 in northern California made both
The New York Times
February 1993) and the
(30 December 1992)
based on two
aspects of particular significance
(Shevock et al., 1992). First, the Shasta snow-wreath was the second
species in a genus that had
previously been known as a single rare species in the southern
Appalachians, over a thousand miles
away. This disjunct distribution, indicative of a Tertiary relict,
was, however, less puzzling than the
second aspect; namely, that this never-before-collected shrub was
locally co-dominant (with poison
oak) along a well-traveled highway, 25 miles northeast of Redding,
California. Once a focused
search was undertaken, several additional populations were readily
located, one adjacent to a
developed campground. As a further anomaly, the currently known
range lies largely within one of
the few areas (Redding quadrangle) whose vegetation types were
completely mapped and published
(Weislander et al., 1939); nevertheless,
among the abundant vouchers.
As an eastern example of "charismatic megaflora," a 5--7 meter
tall rosaceous shrub or
small tree, discovered in Arkansas in 1970 and initially identified
as either a
was subsequently described as
Phipps (Phipps, 1990). As such, it was
a surprising addition to a previously monotypic genus known only from
Europe, the medlar
L. Subsequent isozyme studies supported
the inclusion of the new species
(Phipps et al., 1991). Described as being "of
exceptional beauty," only 25
individuals are known from a single 22-acre grove.
Another contender for most charismatic recent discovery
from eastern North America is the
Kentucky lady's slipper,
C. F. Reed
(Orchidaceae), among the tallest
and showiest species in a genus of showy orchids. Although currently
known from several
southeastern states, it was not described until 1981, long after the
author had first encountered it
cultivated in a garden (Reed, 1981). The most recently discovered
population, in coastal Virginia in
1995, is only 150 km as the crow flies from the center of Washington,
D.C. (Weldy et al., 1996).
Botanical "Hot Spots
A jackpot of undescribed species is occasionally encountered in
areas of complex geology
and rugged terrain, which set the stage for an often bewildering
expression of island biogeography
in a continental setting. In such areas, an unusual substrate or
isolated mountain top has the
potential of harboring a unique suite of endemic plants, and the
first botanist to reach the site can
reap a bonanza of floristic surprises.
As it happens, my own career as a professional taxonomist began
when I had the good
fortune of participating in the discovery of one such botanical treasure
trove while still an
undergraduate, thanks to a newly built gravel road in the early
1970's that made Leslie Gulch in
southeastern Oregon a two-hour drive by passenger car from Boise,
Idaho. The unique ash-flow
tuffs of Leslie Gulch have thus far yielded a total of 5 plant taxa
new to science:
Ertter & Reveal,
J.W. Grimes & Ertter, and
J.W. Grimes & P.L. Packard
(Grimes, 1984). Some of these species are so distinctive that their
relationships remain unclear,
whereas variants of several other species might prove to be
taxonomically distinct upon further
study. In addition, Leslie Gulch turns out to be the "mother lode"
for several other species that
had been known previously from only a handful of populations:
Alas, Leslie Gulch is now overshadowed by the latest "hot spot",
the Ketona Glades in
Bibb County, Alabama. In 1992, a group of environmental consultants
undertaking a rare plant
survey by canoe on the Little Cataba River came upon a calcareous
glade community harboring at
least seven undescribed taxa:
Chapman ex A.DC. var.
sp. nov. In addition, several state records for
Alabama were present, most with some
level of formal rarity status, along with a new county record for the
(Allison, 1994; Gould, 1996).
The rugged southern Sierra Nevada in California also
continues to be a rich source of
novelties, with three new taxa discovered in a single day on a remote
marble ridge in 1996:
D. York, Semple & Shevock,
Shevock & A.G. Day, and a
The ridge also harbors
the only known California populations of
three mosses (J.R. Shevock, pers. comm. 1998).
In Our Backyards:
Although the majority of new discoveries are encountered in
relatively remote sites, a
surprising number appear around significant population centers, even
those with major herbaria and
a long tradition of botanical exploration. Among the more dramatic
of these "in our backyards"
examples are the following:
(Ranunculaceae), was discovered in
1982 by a budding botanist who practiced by collecting specimens around his
neighborhood inside the city limits of Huntsville, Alabama (Kral,
1987). Now federally
listed as Endangered, the species is still only known in and near
residential areas in the
Huntsville area. Morefield himself, inspired by this early
experience, went on to become
botanist for the Nevada Natural Heritage Program.
Not far from Las Vegas, Nevada, in the course of a floristic
survey of Red Rock Canyon
National Conservation Area,
P.J. Leary &
G.L. Nesom (Asteraceae) was
discovered in 1990. The highly localized population, within sight of
the Las Vegas casinos,
occurs on an edaphic island of sandstone surrounded by limestone.
The species is
distinctive enough that it might justifiably be treated as a
monotypic genus (Nesom &
Approximately 25 miles west of downtown Los Angeles,
California, a few miles north of the
trendy community of Malibu in the Santa Monica Mountains,
Beauch. & Henr. (Asteraceae) was discovered in 1988 (Beauchamp &
Beauchamp had earlier described another
Baccharis, B. vanessae
R.M. Beauch., from the
midst of housing developments in central San Diego County (Beauchamp, 1980).
Only about six miles from one of the main herbaria in Utah, on cliffs behind
N.H. Holmgren (Violaceae) was
discovered in 1989 by a
"modern-day naturalist" who was monitoring other rare plants known to
occur in Logan
Canyon (Holmgren, 1992). Disagreement exists as to taxonomic placement of this
distinctive species (H.J. Ballard, pers.comm. 1998).
A short distance outside of Yosemite National Park, among the
most visited parks in the
United States, the showy-flowered
& G.A. Allen (Liliaceae)
was discovered in 1996, bringing to three the number of extremely local endemic
in the lower Sierra Nevada (Shevock & Allen,
1998). In addition to being the
only New World species of the genus with scented flowers,
is intriguing in being
a candidate for the
once reported to occur in
Yosemite Valley (Brandegee,
1891), where no representatives of the genus are currently known (D.W. Taylor,
In spite of growing less than 10 miles from downtown San
Francisco, California, in an
extensively botanized county with a recently updated flora (Howell,
A.J. Hill (Liliaceae) was not discovered until 1972.
The species is so
distinctive that "its existence challenges the currently accepted
(Hill, 1973). The protologue furthermore noted "That a previously
uncollected new species
. . . was discovered in such a botanically well known area suggests
the need for a very
careful look at any areas that are threatened by development of other
near expanding population centers. Had this species not been noticed
soon, it might very
well have become extinct without ever having been recorded."
Nestled among the Lick Observatory complex on Mount Hamilton,
within easy reach of the
University of California at Berkeley, the California Academy of
Sciences, and Stanford
Constance & Ertter
(Apiaceae) was not described
until 1996, too late to be included in Hartman's synopsis. Its
location on Mount Hamilton
was brought to the attention of Lincoln Constance, the expert on
by a wildflower
photographer, Nigel Hancock (Constance & Ertter, 1996).
with ten novelties listed in Hartman & Nelson,
is also an example of a large
genus that has undergone extensive speciation, resulting in an
abundance of highly localized
endemic species that are still being discovered at a steady rate.
Among other significant examples
are the following:
(Fabaceae) contains the largest number
of novelties (43) listed in Hartman and
Nelson, due in large part to the efforts of Rupert Barneby.
is also worth
highlighting for the potential medicinal value of the new
discoveries, given the known value
of at least one Old World species,
This species not only has a
long history of use in Chinese traditional medicine, but it has also
entered the American
alternative medicine pharmacopoeia as an immune system enhancer, with
evidence of activity in cancer patients with impaired immune
responses (e.g., Chang et al.,
1983; Kosuge et al., 1985). Intriguingly, this eerily approaches a
case of fact following
fiction, in that the hypothetical discovery of a cure for cancer in
the form of
only in this case a North American species, plays a key role in
Duane Isely's fictionalized
prognostication of what would happen if all taxonomists and their
has potential medicinal value,
has proven horticultural significance. The 29
novelties listed in Hartman and
Nelson accordingly represent valued additions to the existing
penstemon palette for rock
gardening enthusiasts, at least to the extent that they can be
brought into cultivation without
negatively impacting natural populations. In the Intermountain
Region alone, seven species
have been discovered and described subsequent to the 1984 treatment
, averaging one every two years (Holmgren,
(Brassicaceae): Of the 83 species of
in the late Reed Rollins'
monumental synopsis of the Cruciferae of North America (Rollins,
1993), nearly half were
authored or coauthored by Rollins himself over his long career,
several in the book itself.
As massive a compendium as this was, three additional species were
before the ink was dry:
Rollins from Montana (Rollins,
Rollins, K.A. Beck & Caplow from
the Hanford Nuclear
Reservation in Washington (Rollins et al., 1995). A short two years
later, a fourth species,
J.L. Anderson, Reveal, & Rollins, was published,
with the epithet chosen in
reference to the fact that the type locality was behind the home of a
neighbor of one of the
co-authors in Montrose, Colorado, growing in the sheep pasture
(Anderson et al., 1997; J.
Reveal, pers. comm, 1998).
(Brassicaceae): The appearance of
Rollins' 1993 compendium also triggered the
description of a suite of four new
from Canada, Alaska,
as well as
reports of numerous range extensions from the same region, all in the
(Mulligan, 1995). This example is significant in demonstrating that
the northern latitudes
are also full of floristic surprises, in spite of their generally
fewer numbers of species.
recently been described from southern
California, a stone's throw from a major highway (Boyd, 1998). All
of these species are
additions to the 17 novelties listed by Hartman and Nelson.
entries in Hartman and Nelson,
proven to be an on-going source of novelties, with one new species
discovered on the
Hanford Nuclear Reservation across the river from the new
, as part of the same
botanical survey (Reveal et al., 1995). An even more recent and
dramatic example is
provided by a pair of Friends of the Jepson Herbarium weekend
in California in the summer of 1997, taught by
specialist James L. Reveal. Of
the 35 participants, mostly agency botanists and consultants, three
ended up providing
Reveal with additional undescribed taxa, leading to the quip that we
should schedule a
workshop on how to describe new species! In addition, Reveal
confirmed that the variant
Benth. that is the host plant for a federally
listed butterfly, the Lange's Metal
(Apodemia mormo langei
is itself an
undescribed taxon, bringing up
to three the number of plants endemic to Antioch Dunes (a badly
degraded inland dune
complex on the edge of the Sacramento River delta in central
California, less than an hour's
drive from Berkeley).
is noteworthy in
that the majority of the 21 novelties listed in
Hartman and Nelson, an average of 2 per year, are found in eastern
LeBlond, for example, was discovered in 1991 in North
Carolina, where it is a rare
endemic of wet savanna underlain by limestone. It is furthermore
interesting in being a southern outlier (by 750 km) of a circumboreal
possibly a relict from the Pleistocene. Associates of
include numerous other rare
species, including Venus flytrap and an undescribed
(LeBlond et al., 1994).
Another recently described sedge,
Reznicek, & Crins, is
known from widely disjunct populations in Ontario, Ohio, and
Kentucky. Although locally
a ground layer dominant, it was presumably overlooked because the
nestled at the base of the plant and appear unexpectedly early in the
season. In the
protologue, the authors note that "The recent discovery of this
distinctive new species in a
supposedly botanically well-known areas suggests that even the flora
of northeastern North
America is not as well-known as is commonly supposed" (Catling et.
Scientifically Significant Discoveries:
On top of the importance of cataloging the components of
biodiversity for their own sake,
many of the recently described species have carried significance
beyond their intrinsic value. Some,
interesting biogeographic puzzles. Others,
provide the key to unraveling
phylogenetic questions (Reveal & Howell, 1976; Reveal, 1989a; Hill,
significant as an ancient lineage postulated to have accumulated such
a high segregational genetic
load of heterozygosity that seed set is severely depressed (Wiens et
al., 1989). Some additional
At the time of Keck's revision of
thought to be restricted to the Sierra Nevada of California and
Nevada. Field work by
numerous botanists over the last two decades, however, has shown not
is scattered on mountaintops across the Great Basin, with a
varietally distinct outlier in Utah
Ertter), but that a previously unknown
complex apparently represents the low
elevation analog on unusual edaphic sites (Ertter, 1989). The
consists of several closely-related entities with widely disjunct
Ertter & Reveal var.
rhypara, I. rhypara
& J.P. Nelson. This example of island biogeography in a continental
setting is interpreted
in the context of Pleistocene-driven isolation and radiation, with
one lineage retreating to
isolated montane "islands" and the other finding a comparable niche
in unusual edaphic
sites at lower elevations. Molecular investigations with Christopher
State University at Hayward) are currently underway to further
elucidate the resultant
R.L. Moe is noteworthy not only in
being one of the few known
marine lichens, but the only lichen known with a brown algal
phycobiont. Described in
1997, it is also another example of "in our backyards," occurring in
the intertidal zone
around San Francisco, California (Moe, 1997).
G.D. Carr (Asteraceae), described in
1975, possesses a chromosome
arrangement almost identical to that of
is unlike that of other species
in the genus. Reconstructions of chromosomal evolution based on
show that the ancestor of both aneuploid
species lineages (which comprise
the bulk of the genus) had a chromosome arrangement similar or
identical to that of
reconstruction of chromosome evolution
would have been equivocal (Carr, 1975; Baldwin, 1993).
Probably the most surprising discovery involving North American
ferns has been the
realization that several species of Hymenophyllaceae and Vittariaceae
in the eastern United
States exist primarily as gemmiferous gametophytes, either growing
north of the range of
the sporophytes or, in a couple of cases, with sporophytes produced
rarely if ever (Farrar
1993a, b). Although vegetatively reproducing gametophytes have been
known since 1888,
their relative abundance (10% of all fern species world-wide) and
significance has only
become appreciated relatively recently (e.g., Farrar, 1974). Once
gametophytes became the
target of attention, three new species were discovered in the early
Farrar & Raine,
The liverwort genus
perhaps second only to
amount of attention previously given to liverwort genera,
nevertheless provides a case where
a critical look at the "common" species in the field yields
unexpected results. Prior to
1981, only four species were recognized worldwide; in relatively
quick succession, however,
two new ones were published from eastern North America (
R.M. Schust. [Schuster 1981, 1991]), and
one more is currently being
described from Mississippi (R. Stotler, pers.comm. 1998).
has been a puzzle since its
discovery in 1951, at which time it was
considered to be a liverwort. However, only vegetative and
archegonial material was known,
and attempts to induce fertile structures in cultivation met with
failure. Sporophytic plants
(Mitt.) Grolle were finally encountered in
1990, in the course of field
work in the Aleutians Islands, firmly establishing
identity as a moss (Smith &
Davison, 1993). In essence, floristic discovery resulted in the
transfer of a genus from one
division (Hepatophyta) to another (Bryophyta)!
D. Other Kinds of Floristic Surprises
Although newly described novelties capture the imagination, they
represent only the tip of
the iceberg of floristic surprises, only the starting point for the
comprehensive information that is
truly needed for making difficult decisions in a scientifically
informed manner. Even more
incomplete than our knowledge of what species exist is our knowledge
of where they occur, what
their habitat requirements are, and similar questions that can only
be answered by extensive
fieldwork coupled with critical taxonomic analysis.
An excellent example of the incomplete and non-static nature of
floristic information is
provided by the recently revised flora of Missouri, in which the
number of plants known to occur in
a relatively well-studied state (with one of the oldest and largest
herbaria in the country) has
increased by nearly 12% since 1963, two-fifths of them native
(Yastkievych, 1999). Current
research on the flora of Mount Diablo, an isolated mountain and
popular state park situated 25
miles east of San Francisco, California, shows an even more dramatic
increase. In spite of the high
quality of the original floristic effort (Bowerman, 1944), a recent
update (Bowerman & Ertter, in
press) has increased the known taxa by 25%, approximately half of
which are native. Furthermore,
several species in the 1944 treatment have been deleted or replaced,
as a result of misidentified
vouchers or changed circumscriptions. On the other hand, locally
occurring variants of
have the potential of
being undescribed novelties (Ertter &
Some of the main categories of "floristic surprises" other than
novelties are the following:
Nearly as dramatic as the discovery of new species is the
rediscovery of species that had
been thought to be extinct. A recent example in California is that
of the Ventura Marsh milk-vetch,
Munz (Fabaceae), which was recently
found in Ventura County, California, after being presumed extinct for
40 years. Local newspaper
coverage referred to "A botanical resurrection"
21 Aug 1997) and "The
Elvis Presley of flowering plants"
(Santa Barbara News-Press,
15 Aug 1997). The wildlife
biologist who found the plant, Kate Symonds, was quoted in one
account as noting "It is more
common to realize something is gone that used to be around, rather
than finding something thought
to be gone that is still in existence. It feels like a second chance
for the species"
15 Aug 1997). Ironically, the site was a former oil field waste
dump, dispelling any notion that
significant discoveries occur only in pristine habitats.
Coincidentally, another recently rediscovered California
Astragalus, A. agnicidus
was also associated with disturbance. In this case, a plant that had
been deliberately eliminated
because of its perceived toxicity to livestock
"lamb-killing") reappeared when
logging activity apparently triggered the germination of seeds that
had lain dormant for decades
(Hiss & Pickart, 1992). This example also serves to illustrate the
difficulty of determining presence
vs. absence of a species at a site, let along globally, even when no
mature individuals are evident.
The systematic search for selected subsets of the 416 plants and
animals that are considered
potentially extinct in the United States was given a major boost
recently by the Canon Exploration
Grants Program directed by The Nature Conservancy (Stolzenburg, 1998;
Anon., 1998). Although
a depressing majority have not been relocated to date, there have
been enough satisfying success
stories to justify the program, in more ways than one. As evidence,
consider the following story
transmitted by the director of the program, Bruce Stein (pers. comm.,
"As I was jotting my note to you, a second 1998 find from the
Canon program was slipped
into my box. This just in from South Texas near Corpus Christi:
B.L. Turner [Caryophyllaceae], which was last collected in 1958.
As Bill Carr, the guy who
refound it says (after finding it 9 paces from where he parked his
car on his first stop), 'for
me the experience was just another reminder of how few active
botanists there are in Texas
and how far behind the rest of the country we are in terms of
tracking down our rarer
resources . . . but maybe that's the point behind the Canon
Exploration Grants Program. It
provided the stimulus to get a warm body into the field to look for a
species that, given the
dearth of botanists in this part of the continent, might otherwise
have remained enigmatic for
who knows how long.'"
Not quite as exciting as the rediscovery of globally "extinct"
species, but of potentially
equal implications for land management, is the rediscovery of
globally rare species that had been
considered regionally extinct (i.e., extirpated). Excitement on the
Mendocino National Forest in
California has centered around the 1996 discovery of several
populations of the federally threatened
Howellia aquatica A.
Gray (Lobeliaceae), previously known from
California only on the basis of a
single fragment collected in 1928 (Isle, 1997). Interpopulational
genetic studies are currently
underway to compare the California plants with those in Washington,
Idaho, and Montana. In
addition, another plant that had been thought extinct in California,
(Ophioglossaceae) was recently located adjacent to one
population (D. Isle, pers. comm.,
Even the reappearance of a not-so-rare species in a part of its
range where it had seemingly
disappeared can be newsworthy, as evidenced by the attention given to
a population of
Lindl. found on the outskirts of Corvallis, Oregon
(Holden, 1999). Although this species
remained relatively common in the Central Valley, it had been assumed
to be locally extinct in
Oregon. As with
the reappearance of
after nearly ten
years demonstrates how long a species can persist in the seed bank,
and accordingly how difficult it
is to verify absence from a site.
More prosaic but gaining significance through sheer weight of
numbers is the constant
stream of distributional discoveries: major extensions in the known
ranges of native species. Only
the most dramatic are published (e.g., new state records); the bulk
accumulate in the form of
herbarium specimens. A recently verified, curiously overlooked
example in the Jepson Herbarium
(JEPS) is a specimen of
(Coville) M.E. Jones
(Juncaceae) from northwestern
, over 600 km south of the nearest
previously reported occurrence in
northwest Washington (Hitchcock & Cronquist, 1973). A good example
from eastern North
(E.P. Bicknell) Rehder
(Schizandraceae), the only American
representative of an otherwise Asiatic genus. A population found in
1991, clambering over a
sandstone cliff in southeastern Kentucky, is 250 km from the nearest
of the previously known
localities scattered across the coastal plain of the southeastern
United States (D.D. Taylor, 1994).
More problematic is the recent discovery of
Trel. (Limnanthaceae) in
a seasonally fallow field in west-central California (Buxton &
Ornduff, 1998). Previously known
only as a rare endemic of southeastern Vancouver Island in Canada,
was at one point
presumed extinct (Hitchcock, 1961). What is currently under debate
is whether this represents a
surprising dispersal event, a previously overlooked natural range
disjunction, or evidence that
additional populations might exist in intervening sites (A. Ceska,
pers. comm. 1998). Ornduff
(pers. comm., 1998) supports the dispersal hypothesis, citing the
reverse example of
(DC.) Ornduff (Asteraceae) being found in northwestern
Washington, over 1000 km north
of the nearest naturally occurring population in central California
(Vasey et al., 1994). The field in
which the California population was found, which was probably
significantly larger than the British
Columbia population, was subsequently plowed prior to planting
cabbage (Buxton & Ornduff,
Distributional discoveries are not restricted to single species
within North America, but can
occur as unexpected suites, as evidenced by the following:
A special category is that of continental-level range
extensions: species previously known
only from Eurasia that are determined to occur in North America as well, not as
introductions but as naturally occurring populations. William Weber
(pers. comm., 1998)
addressed the large number of Asiatic-Rocky Mountain disjunctions,
many recently located,
with the comment: "J.D. Hooker was certainly right when he was
shocked to see some of
his Asiatic things on his five days in the Rockies [in 1877]; sadly,
Asa Gray evidently was
on a vacation/picnic and didn't recognize that there might be a high
latitude component to
his Tertiary discoveries in eastern North America."
Continental-level range extensions are not restricted to the
arctic and alpine regions,
however, but can also be found farther south. For example, specimens
from Texas and
Arizona previously confused with
turned out to be conspecific with the widespread Old World species
(Zech et al., 1998). More recently,
Lindb. (Cyperaceae) has been
determined to be native and widespread in boreal North America (S.G.
Smith & T. Gregor,
mss. in prep., 1998).
While continental-level range extensions are noteworthy in
vascular plants, they are
more routine in bryophytes and lichens (B. Murray, pers. comm.,
1998). Even here,
however, some examples stand out from the crowd, such as
Thor. Described in 1986 from Scandinavia, where it often occurs on
the mortar of old
churches, this lichen was unexpectedly encountered on an old
retaining wall connected to
the building which houses the COLO herbarium in Boulder, Colorado
(Weber, 1996). The
account of the discovery of this population amusingly addressed the
quandary of how to
obtain a decent specimen from an intact structure, solved with the
cooperation of Facilities
Conifers are perhaps the best-mapped group of plants in North
America (e.g., Little, 1971),
being both conspicuous and economically significant. Nevertheless,
recent field work by
David Charlet has determined that 43% (90) of the 207 conifer-bearing
mountain ranges in
Nevada harbor at least one more conifer than previously reported, and
12% (24) have had
two to four species added to the known complement (Fig. 4).
Approaching the same data
from a different angle, of the 22 species of conifer known to occur
in Nevada, 14 occur on
at least one more mountain range than had previously been reported,
resulting in 15 new
county records in Nevada's 13 western-size counties (Charlet, 1996;
pers. com., 1998).
On the Pacific Coast, on-going surveys of near-shore banks that
rise to within 30 meters of
the surface are revealing a hitherto unsuspected and remarkably
uniform assemblage of
around 40 species of marine macroalgae (seaweeds), extending from
Puget Sound to
northern Baja California. Included in the assemblage are noteworthy
range extensions such
Setch. & D.A. Saunders
(Laminariales), before 1970 recorded
only as far south as Oregon but now known to be dominant at depths of
40 meters off the
central California coast (Kjeldsen, 1972; P. Silva, pers. comm.,
1998). Although the kelp is
readily identifiable, the existence of these southern populations was
not apparent because
the plants grow at depths that are undisturbed by even violent storms
and are accordingly
seldom cast ashore.
Probably the biggest distributional surprise in fungi is the
discovery that the occurrence of
mushrooms above ground and the fungal species diversity below ground,
as determined by
molecular analysis of hyphal fragments in the soil, can be completely
& Bruns, 1996). As a result, determining the distribution and rarity
of various fungal
species presents a challenge well beyond that posed by vascular
plants and bryophytes.
Declines and Invasions
Whereas all of the preceding examples involve changes to our
knowledge of the
distributions of species, there are also actual changes in the
distributions themselves. On the one
hand are significantly diminished ranges, in which historical
occurrences documented by herbarium
vouchers no longer reflect current distributions. An example is
Horkelia cuneata Lindl. ssp. puberula
(Greene) D.D. Keck
(Rosaceae), in which a significant portion of the
historically documented range has disappeared under Greater Los
Angeles (Ertter, 1995). This
kind of distributional attrition has obvious conservation
implications, but is extremely difficult to
become cognizant of, such that it is theoretically possible for a
species to go extinct before its
endangered status has even been noted.
On the flip side, and often contributing to the decline of
native species, is the spread of
species into areas where they did not historically occur. The
explosion of aggressive non-natives is
of increasing concern due to the various negative impacts such
invasions can have on both natural
and economic systems. The sheer numbers of newly reported
non-natives can be mind-boggling,
though it is difficult to determine which are new occurrences and
which have simply been
overlooked, given that naturalized species are historically
under-collected. Vincent and Cusick
(1998) documented 70 additions to the Ohio flora, and also emphasized
the fact that the non-native
component of floras is dynamic, with species appearing, flourishing,
and occasionally disappearing.
Even around the United State's national capitol, which has been
rather systematically collected since
the 1690's, recent surveys have resulted in the discovery of seven
new plant records for Maryland
(including two native
, five of which came from the
grounds of the Agriculture Research
Center in Beltsville (J. Reveal, pers. comm, 1998).
In California, over 70 non-native species are currently known to
have become naturalized
beyond those included in
The Jepson Manual
(Hickman, 1993; F.
Hrusa, pers.comm., 1998). As
dramatic evidence of how difficult such new occurrences are to keep
abreast of, at least 19 occur
within an hour's drive of the building in which
was edited. Five are even fully
naturalized in the Berkeley campus natural areas
), and at least three others
have already achieved significant pest status in
Molina). The dynamic nature of California's
non-native flora, as well as the
difficulty of obtaining reliable information on current occurrences,
has been addressed by
Rejmanek and Randall (1994).
E. Why Not Found Before?
The preceding examples should serve to emphasize that the
era of significant floristic
discoveries in North America north of Mexico is far from over,
independent of perceptions
extending back to the mid-nineteenth century. Even the initial
cataloguing of novelties is
incomplete, to the extent that conspicuous shrubs along highways are
still being discovered and
described as distinctive new species. The comprehensive mapping of
known species, including
newly invasive pest plants, is equally erratic, at a time when such
information is sorely needed to
make sound science-based land management decisions.
The inevitable question arises as to
so much of our
floristic heritage has remained
unexplored, uncatalogued, and unmapped. The principal answer is
relatively straightforward: it's a
big job! As a result, and as many of the previous examples testify,
a primary factor contributing to
ongoing floristic discoveries is the number of people who are
actively scouring the field.
Fortunately, this is by no means limited to professional scientists
in academic institutions, but
instead depends heavily on the collective efforts of agency
biologists, environmental consultants,
and native plant enthusiasts (Ertter, 1995; Yatskievych, 1999).
Representatives of this diverse group
are highlighted in a later section of this paper.
However, the number of people actively searching is only one
aspect of floristic discoveries.
The remaining portion of this paper accordingly addresses other
assumptions that have influenced
the cataloguing of North American plants, both historically and currently.
ASSUMPTION 2: HYPOTHESIS-FREE DESCRIPTIVE SCIENCE
One key assumption is the common and recurring one that
taxonomy and floristics, as
examples of "descriptive" science, are not intrinsically scientific,
at least as contrasted to the more
overtly experimental sciences. This assumption has directly
influenced hiring, funding, and
promotional decisions, which in turn determines research priorities.
Although the full structure of
my argument is beyond the scope of the current paper, I will
nevertheless posit that science is most
definitely involved in all aspects of taxonomy and floristics,
complete with the full panoply of
falsifiable hypotheses and scientific methodology, even when these
are not explicitly expressed.
A. Descriptive Hypotheses
The assumption that recognizing and "describing" novelties is a
simple descriptive process
reflects an outdated understanding of biodiversity as consisting of
discrete, pre-Darwinian quanta,
lacking significant internal variation and separated from one another
by inviolate boundaries (Ertter,
1997a). This was noted by Constance (1951) nearly half a century
ago: "Although the doctrine of
'Special Creation' of species has lacked any scientific status for a
hundred years, many people
seem still to be thinking in terms of a finite number of objects
created once and for all, and which
merely have to be recognized, described, and named."
Much of the confusion has a semantic underpinning, in that
"describing" a species is by
no means equivalent to "describing" a concrete individual item. To
place species "description" in
the explicit framework of set theory and hypothesis generation, the
"A description of new species
, which differs
from other species of
characters X, Y, and Z"
can be expanded into the complex hypothesis:
"There exists a previously undiscerned component of natural
diversity that falls within the
biological parameters of the current species concept, which is hereby
coded as species-set
. As both support for and corollary of this
hypothesis, all members of species
are hypothesized to possess biological
attributes X, Y, and Z, whereas all
members of other species-sets in genus-set
hypothesized to lack this combination
of biological attributes."
Furthermore, not only are species and their circumscriptions
best understood as complex
hypotheses, but so also are such seemingly "factual" statements as
"Leaves (2.4)35(6.1) cm
long," which is in actuality shorthand for the predictive statement:
"Based on a measured subset, leaf-length for ALL leaves for ALL
members of species-set
, past, present, and future, is predicted to be at
least 2.4 cm long but no more than
6.1 cm long, with the majority falling in the 35 cm range."
In both cases, the first phrase is obviously much less
cumbersome, but the expanded version
more clearly expresses the fact that nested hypotheses are involved,
all of which are subject to
subsequent testing and modification whenever new data are obtained,
most often in the form of new
collections of plants that "haven't read the book." Even the
identification of an individual
specimen can be worded to reflect the complexities of set-assignment,
to whit: "The specimen in
hand possesses the diagnostic biological attributes that characterize
members of the set
B. Parsing Species
In other words, rather than being routinely simple and
straight-forward, the task of parsing
biodiversity into taxonomic components can be a significant
intellectual challenge. As a result,
although blatantly distinct species are still being encountered, the
majority of recently described
novelties are determined to be such only after an extended and
detailed comparison with other
species, often requiring a wholesale re-thinking of existing
taxonomic frameworks. In these cases,
it is not at all intuitively obvious what qualifies as a "previously
undiscerned component of natural
diversity" that falls within "the biological parameters of the
current species concept," based on
some yet-to-be-determined suite of diagnostic biological attributes.
An excellent example is provided by
Ertter (Rosaceae), in which
multiple collections had accumulated and been variously identified as
(= assigned to species-sets)
S. Watson (Ertter, 1992). The non
obvious nature of the taxonomic hypothesis that an undescribed
species was involved is evident
from the fact that an earlier numerical analysis of phenetic
variation failed to uncover the novelty
(Johnston, 1980). The species is actually quite distinct, once the
appropriate diagnostic attributes
In fact, it is more the norm than the exception for the first
few collections of a species to be
shoe-horned into existing species-sets, generally with modifications
to the "biological attributes"
hypotheses. Taylor and Shevock (1987), for example, noted a range of
1 to 121 years between
earliest herbarium specimen and publication in their analysis of
California novelties, with an average
of 41 years! An even greater span is noted by Hartman and Nelson
(1998), with the oldest
holotype over 200 years old, and 60% of the novelties having type
specimens over 10 years old.
However, Hartman's and Nelson's statistics under-represent the actual
range between initial
collection and date of publication, in that the earliest collection
is not always chosen as holotype.
Shevock, Ertter, & Jokerst (Lamiaceae),
for example, was typified on a 1986
(Shevock, Bartel, & York 11727),
but included among
the paratypes was an 1896
that had languished in the
undetermined-to-species folder for nearly a
century (Shevock et al., 1989). This example also illustrates that
the distinction between a novelty
based on a new discovery and one resulting from a novel analysis of
existing specimens is not
always clearcut, in that the collection of an undescribed
on a 1986 "Inter-Institutional
Haybaling Expedition" is what triggered the herbarium search that
uncovered the older specimen.
Nor does the proposing, testing, and rejection of alternate
hypotheses end once new species
are described. For my doctoral work, I essentially tested the
hypothesis proposed by my advisor
that a series of annual
(Juncaceae) did not meet
the criteria for recognition as distinct
species, as had been previously proposed (Hermann, 1948), but rather
"appear to be mere technical
variants, often locally constant as in self-pollinated groups in
other genera, but with widely
overlapping ranges and similar habitat requirements" (Cronquist,
1977). As it turned out, my
doctoral work not only provided support for all of Hermann's
hypothesized species except one, but
gave evidence of three additional novelties (Ertter, 1986). Although
I enjoy the notoriety that comes
with being able to say that I proved Art Cronquist wrong
him to admit it,
I will also submit
that his was a perfectly legitimate hypothesis
based on the
information available to him at the time,
independent of the fact that five years' worth of additional data
supported an alternate hypothesis.
C. Floristic Models
The last example introduces the concept of monographs and floras
as representing complex
models encompassing multiple species, whose individual identities
depend on the larger context.
As a result, the binomial
Engelm. codes for
three very different entities, depending
on whether it is in the context of Hermann's, Cronquist's, or
Ertter's model. In this example,
sufficient evidence has been accumulated to support one model over
the alternatives, but this is not
always the case. A contrasting example is presented in Table 1, a
partial list of corresponding units
of the taxonomically challenging genus
occurring in the Intermountain West,
as proposed by four different specialists, all with access to the
same data. The lack of consensus is
not an indication of an inability to agree on standards, of
taxonomists not being able to "get their
acts together," but is rather a reflection of four equally valid
models for which insufficient evidence
currently exists to strongly support one over the others.
An even larger scale example of a floristic model is provided by
the numerous differences
between the comprehensive list of California taxa as summarized in
The Jepson Manual
1993) and the contemporaneous
Inventory of Rare and Endangered
Plants of California
& Pavlik, 1994). As analyzed by Skinner and Ertter (1993), the
differences result not from one or
the other being intrinsically "wrong," but from legitimate
philosophical differences in the
rationales behind the two publications. The goal of the
was to maximize the likelihood of
unequivocal identification, while that of the
highlight units of plant diversity that
merited conservation attention. These different goals resulted in
different models; in those
situations where there was legitimate room for alternate taxonomic
to lump where the
tended to split, so as to avoid
"lamentation over taxa that are shown to
be distinct only after their disappearance" (Skinner & Ertter, 1993).
D. Novelties in Waiting
Nevertheless, even within an
emphasizing the smallest defensible
units as worthy of taxonomic recognition, the requirements for
scientifically legitimate, peer
reviewed publication of novelties demand rigorous support for the
proposed taxonomic hypothesis.
For example, the
study by Windham and Beilstein (1998a,
1998b), discussed in an earlier
section, clearly demonstrates how sophisticated an analysis is often
required even for the
recognition of unequivocally distinct species. In addition, although
many of the highlighted
novelties prove that radically different species are still being
discovered, the truth is that the majority
of blatantly distinct and/or readily encountered taxa have already
been described. As a result,
ferreting out the remainder will require not only continued
exploration, but also increasingly
rigorous scientific analysis.
Because of this, there currently exists an unknown number (50?
200? 500?) of potential
novelties from North America that members of the taxonomic community
are collectively aware of,
but which need to be extensively tested before being written up for
publication. I am personally
aware of several possibilities, in
Juncus, Rosa, Potentilla,
Horkelia, Eriogonum, Montia,
and in fact have as a rule of thumb that any complex
group that has not been intensively
monographed recently is likely to harbor undescribed novelties.
However, all of these possibilities
are just that, possibilities, and will require a significant
investment of research effort to determine if
they are rigorously supportable as taxonomic hypotheses. In other
words, the limiting factor for
many novelties is not whether they have been encountered or not, but
the existence of persons with
sufficient expertise, motivation, and time to undertake the necessary
ASSUMPTION 3: ACADEMIC PARTICIPATION
To recapitulate, although the initial discovery of novelties
does not require professional
training, the analysis of potential novelties is another matter, in
which scientific expertise plays a
crucial role. Most collectors accordingly rely on the network of
taxonomic specialists, who in turn
rely on the analytical resources represented by herbaria and
botanical libraries, as well as
established and innovative technologies. These resources, along with
the custodianship and
transmission of the extensive legacy of taxonomic knowledge, skills,
and techniques, have
traditionally fallen within the domain of plant taxonomy in an
academic setting, including research
museums and botanical gardens.
A. The Role of Regional Faculty
Although university-based faculty are only one category of
professional expertise (vs., for
example, research staff and museum-based professionals), they are
highlighted here on the grounds
that they are generally assumed to provide the backbone of the
rigorous taxonomic analysis
described in the previous section, especially faculty at those
universities with large herbaria that
occur in the regions where most novelties are being discovered. In
this context, it is illuminating to
analyze the current status of persons in Table 4 in Hartman and
Nelson (1998): "Individuals who
authored six or more novelties of North American plants during the
past two decades," according
to the categories in Table 2. Of the 56 individuals listed, the two
largest categories, both in number
of individuals and number of novelties, are "Emeritus (or nearly so)"
and "Deceased." Together,
the two categories account for 60% of the novelties described from
1975 through 1994. øIn contrast,
faculty who are currently mid-career account for only 6% of the
To pursue the specific question of novelty description by regionally based
faculty further, I
polled plant systematists at universities who matched all of the
1) Located in the contiguous western United States (Arizona,
California, Colorado, Idaho,
Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington,
Wyoming), a region
with a high rate of on-going discoveries.
2) Located at a university or college with an herbarium of at
least 20,000 specimens,
representing the equivalent of a fully equipped laboratory for doing
taxonomic research on
the local flora.
3) Self-defined as vascular plant systematist (vs. ecologist,
plant population geneticist, etc.)
OR serving as director/curator of the departmental herbarium.
4) Department-based (vs. adjunct) faculty appointment, excluding
emeriti, as those persons
whose hiring, promotion, and tenure are determined by current
The specific question addressed was whether each respondent had
described a) zero, b) one,
or c) more than one vascular plant novelty from anywhere within the
contiguous western United
States. The number of responses to this survey was gratifying, but
the collated results (Table 3) are
thought-provoking. Of the 56 persons included in the survey, over
half had not described a single
novelty from the region, and over half of the remainder had only
described a single novelty (or at
least had one in press). In several cases, this solitary western
novelty was described during the
course of graduate work but not since attaining faculty status. Only
10 qualifying faculty members
in the entire region have described more than one novelty from the
region, and several of these
persons are within a handspan of years from retiring.
Furthermore, of the 48 western universities with significant
herbaria, five currently lack
faculty-level vascular plant systematists, including two that house
the largest herbaria for their
respective states (University of Montana, Missoula; University of
Nevada, Reno). In Oregon, the
two primary herbaria were recently combined, eliminating the position
of plant systematist at
University of Oregon, Eugene. One state (Colorado) currently lacks a
systematist who has published any novelties from the region, while
four others (Arizona, Montana,
Nevada, Washington) can claim only one faculty systematist who has
described a single novelty
from the target area. This in a region in which 813 taxa were
described from 1975 through 1994,
around 41 per year, with no evidence of tapering off (Hartman &
B. Academic Selection Pressures
The purpose of this survey was not to call into question the
scientific productivity of the
respondents, who are all actively pursuing a commendable diversity of
significant research in plant
systematics, including describing novelties from other parts of the
world. Nor is it intended to
slight the significant contributions of individuals outside the
admittedly narrow survey criteria,
professional and otherwise. The survey does, however, undermine any
assumption that faculty-level
plant systematists at the best-equipped western universities comprise
the major pool of expertise in
on-going efforts to analyze and describe the unknown elements in a
novelty-rich regional flora.
Moreover, there is evidence that this is not a statistical
curiosity, but rather an indication that
the current academic infrastructure actually discourages such
participation. Several respondents
indicated that they knew of undescribed regional novelties, but could
not justify the research time
and effort required to publish them. In the words of one such
respondent, "the value of new
species descriptions in terms of professional prestige and
satisfaction of university administrators
(who control raises and promotions) seems low relative to other
publications that could be
generated in a similar period of time." In effect, the publication
of regional novelties is not only of
little value, it is actually counter-productive to career development
in the current academic
environment. Paradoxically, the fact that the amount of time and
effort it takes to publish a novelty
can be equivalent to that needed for other research activities in
itself provides evidence that
describing novelties is not the trivial activity it is routinely
perceived to be.
I find it illuminating to compare the preceding quote with
another, from nearly a half century
ago: "If taxonomy and taxonomists are to regain some of their lost
prestigeand they have lost a
great dealit seems obvious that mastery of a local flora, an
ability to recognize characteristic
members of the more common plant families, a familiarity with the
rules of nomenclature, and the
capacity to write descriptions are bound to prove woefully
inadequate" (Constance, 1951). We
have apparently come full circle, where the skills that were once the
sine qua non
of a practicing
taxonomist have apparently gone from being "inadequate" to being
irrelevant. Or, at best, these
former skills are assumed to come as part of the "systematist
package," overlooking the tenet
otherwise well-known to biologists that "you get what you select
for." Admittedly, the above
analysis is only a single slice in time, but it nevertheless strongly
suggests that the activities that
result in the publication of regional novelties are NOT among those
currently being selected for
within academia, and as a consequence are de facto being selected against.
C. Who Is Doing the Work?
The question then arises: if not faculty-level systematists at
the best-equipped regional
universities, who is responsible for generating the 41 novelties per
year in the contiguous western
United States? Obviously there are numerous people who are
discovering and describing western
novelties other than those targeted here, who I have neither surveyed
nor otherwise statistically
analyzed. The major categories, however, would include the following:
Certainly the academic and museum-based categories play
significant roles, which should
not be underestimated. What I wish to draw attention to at this
point, however, is the high degree of
participation by professionals and amateurs outside of academia, many
of whom have an
exceptional eye for novelties and a serious commitment to floristic
undertakings. As representative
examples, some of the more outstanding are spotlighted below:
emeriti plant systematists
museum-based plant systematists, often with adjunct
appointments at nearby universities
faculty-level plant systematists at less well-equipped regional
university and colleges (i.e.,
with herbaria having less than 20,000 specimens)
plant systematists outside of the region
non-faculty research and curatorial appointments
non-systematists (e.g., ecologists, population geneticists)
government agency biologists
biologists working for the private sector, mostly as
Government Agency Biologists:
Beginning with his stint in 1979 as botanist for the Sequoia
National Forest in California,
James R. Shevock has now tallied six vascular plants and one moss
named in his honor, 12 others
that he has authored, and several undescribed novelties in various
stages of publication. Many of
his earlier novelties were encountered by his being the first
botanist each year on newly constructed
portions of the Pacific Crest trail, which ended up bisecting a
McNeal that is still one of the only populations known. While
retaining a focus on the southern
Sierra Nevada, Shevock's botanical interests have subsequently
expanded to include mosses and
D.H. Norris (Orthotrichaceae) being
the most recent addition to his eponymous tally. The protologue
credits Shevock with "opening
the eyes of the junior author to the bryophyte riches of the southern
Sierra," a significant
accomplishment considering Norris's extensive expertise with the
California bryoflora (Lewinsky
Haapasaari & Norris, 1998). Shevock's agency career has likewise
expanded; as Regional
Botanist, he prepared the status report on rare and endemic plants
for the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem
Project (Shevock, 1996), and he has recently moved on to become
Associate Regional Director of
the National Park Service. Shevock's botanical explorations are
accordingly now confined to
weekends and vacations, but have not noticeably slowed as a result.
On a 1996 foray (a.k.a. "death
march") to an isolated marble ridge, he and protégé
Dana York (biologist for the California
Department of Transportation) discovered three novelties in a single
D.A. York, Shevock & Semple,
Shevock & A.G. Day, and a still
The tragic death of James D. Jokerst, who drowned while
trying to retrieve the family canoe,
cut short the career of one of the persons who did the most to
convert environmental consulting into
a legitimate career for skillful, well-trained botanists. While
working full-time for the environmental
consulting firm Jones & Stokes Associates, Jokerst nevertheless found
time to develop expertise in
the Lamiaceae, preparing treatments of several genera in
including the notoriously difficult
He also authored or coauthored
Ertter, & Jokerst, and
doing a botanical survey in 1985,
Jokerst discovered an unusual gold-flowered
was posthumously named in his
honor (Vincent & Morgan, 1998). According to Vincent (pers. comm.,
1998), the clover "was
found in an area that A.A. Heller had collected at several times, but
never early enough in the
Environmental consultants in general are playing an increasingly
significant role in
discovering novelties, as the persons most likely to have access to
poorly botanized areas. As prime
examples, the discoveries of
Yermo xanthocephalus, Twisselmannia
were connected to environmental survey efforts.
Unfortunately, a great many biological
consultants lack the training or orientation needed to recognize
potential novelties, and may in fact
be discouraged from taking note of anything but a mechanically
generated list of rare species
determined to be potentially present at a given site. This practice
is based on the dangerously
flawed assumption that previously existing knowledge is an accurate
indication of likely occurrence,
an assumption at odds with the theme of "floristic surprises." As
summarized by S. Boyd (pers.
comm., 1998), discoverer of
and other novelties in
the course of doing environmental
"There is the strong possibility that other botanical gems
are being overlooked by
overworked, and sometimes undertrained, botanical consultants too
myopically focused on
the punchlist of expected sensitive species. It seems to me much
better to approach any
botanical inventory from the point of 'what is present overall?' vs.
'which sensitive plants
are present?' I wonder how many other undescribed taxa have been
subsequently lost to habitat destruction."
3. Amateur Enthusiasts:
Among the more unexpected of the amateur enthusiasts is Lowell
Ahart (Geary, 1978), a
sheep rancher who started out cataloguing the plants of his ranch and
has since moved on to county
floras, collaborating with retired zoology professor Vern Oswald
(e.g., Oswald & Ahart, 1994).
Two plants from his ranch have been named after him
Ertter), and an
being named in his honor (J. Reveal, pers.
comm., 1997). When Ahart brought the undescribed
to my attention, begging that
someone provide a name for it so he could complete the checklist of
his ranch, it had actually been
known for some years but had been assumed to represent yet one more
introduced Eurasian annual.
However, by then a worldwide monograph of the Paronychiinae was
available (Chaudhri, 1968),
making it evident that an anomalous undescribed species was involved,
whose affinities are still
unclear (Ertter, 1985).
A final example of expertise outside of academia is provided by
Arnold (Jerry) Tiehm, who
has an advanced degree in botany and previous professional experience
(e.g., curatorial staff at the
New York Botanical Garden). For the last several years, however,
Tiehm has earned his living as
bell captain and limousine driver at the Peppermill Casino in Reno,
Nevada, doing his botanizing on
his days off. At last count he has nevertheless made the type
collections of 19 species (Holmgren,
1998), approximately one per year, several of which are named after
him. Probably the most
Rollins, the single
North American representative of a genus
otherwise confined to central Asia (Rollins, 1982). It also
qualifies as another "in our backyards"
discovery, not encountered until 1980 even though occurring only a
few miles off a well-traveled
highway 20 airmiles east-southeast of Reno.
D. Is the Pool Sufficient?
These highlighted individuals are only a sampling from a large
pool of talented and
dedicated individuals operating outside of an academic setting,
including some who not only
discover but analyze and describe their own novelties. When these
para-academics are combined
with museum-based systematists, faculty at smaller institutions, and
non-faculty research staff, it
might accordingly be argued that the existing pool of expertise is
sufficient, and that faculty
systematists at the larger universities should appropriately be
encouraged to address avenues of
research that cannot be handled by others.
While confirming my enthusiastic support for a diversity of
individual research interests
within academia, and likewise for the active participation of
individuals outside of the academic
mainstream, I will nevertheless argue (as have others, such as
Kruckeberg ) that a core of
professional plant systematists will continue to play an
indispensable role in the task of discovering,
analyzing, and describing the remaining unknown element in the North
American flora, as well as
critically evaluating new information accumulated about previously
described species. In other
words, rather than being made redundant by the para-academic network,
an active core of
professional systematists is integral to the proper functioning of
the network. Furthermore, a
significant percentage of this professional core needs to be housed
at the large regional herbaria,
especially in the West and Southeast where the majority of floristic
discovery is occurring.
The obvious argument for academic participation is, of course,
to provide the formal
systematic training for all other participants in the network,
including agency biologists and
environmental consultants. Perhaps even more critical, however, is
the reality that regionally based
professional systematists represent the essential source of quality
control and accessible scientific
expertise to turn to when non-systematists encounter "plants that
haven't read the book."
Furthermore, para-academics who analyze and describe their own
novelties generally do so only
after a period of "apprenticeship" with a regionally based,
practicing taxonomist. In this regard, it
is unsettling to realize how many of the regional professionals who
provided early encouragement
and training to the current crop of active para-academics are now
retired or deceased. A prime
example of the latter is the late John Thomas Howell of the
California Academy of Sciences, who
provided significant encouragement to most of the individuals
Howell also represents the category of museum-based research
staff that is becoming
increasingly important in maintaining the role of the professional
core. As significant as this
contribution is, however, museums and botanical gardens are too few
in number to provide complete
regional coverage, and are also less likely to be involved in formal
training. At the same time, the
suggestion that descriptive systematics should be relegated to
smaller universities and colleges runs
counter to the fact that the major herbaria are generally at the
larger universities. The continued
participation by major regional universities is therefore essential
to the ongoing task of discovering
and analyzing the regional flora. If this task is in fact
incompatible with academic realities currently
facing faculty systematists (and not just a matter of erroneous
perceptions), then it is imperative that
alternate ways to ensure such participation be investigated, perhaps
involving direct funding or
collaborative programs with state or federal land management agencies.
E. The Taxonomic Legacy
Approaching the situation from a different angle, there is the
question of the taxonomic
legacy, a term used here to refer to the material resources (i.e.,
regional herbaria and associated
libraries); the fundamental knowledge, skills, and techniques for
floristic analysis; and the setting of
scientific standards, generally in a peer-reviewed context.
Custodianship of this legacy, developed
over several centuries, has traditionally fallen within the domain of
plant taxonomy in an academic
setting: universities, research museums, and botanical gardens. The
question that needs to be asked
is not only to what extent this legacy is being maintained, but to
what extent the components are
currently available to whomever is actually doing the bulk of
analyzing and describing regional
novelties, whatever their professional credentials and
self-identities might be.
A prime example is the situation referred to above, in which
large universities that house
major herbaria struggle to justify their upkeep while simultaneously
systematics to less well-equipped or well-situated institutions. The
transfer of floristic survey work
to the domain of ecologists, another apparent trend, is also a
potential problem if it is not
accompanied by the transfer of associated skills and techniques
(e.g., critical taxonomic analysis
and an understanding of the role played by vouchers). Paradoxically,
it is possible that, in the name
of increasing the scientific respectability of systematics, one
outcome might actually be a net
in the scientific standards underlying the analysis
and description of new species, the very
foundation of our knowledge of biodiversity.
ASSUMPTION 4: THE PROPERTY RIGHTS CONFLICT
A. Sociological Ramifications of Floristic Surprises
Furthermore, what are the broader ramifications of allowing
taxonomy and floristics to take
place largely as a
a labor of
love even for those in professional positions, rather
than an academically supported undertaking? For better or worse, the
days when new taxonomic
and floristic discoveries were of concern only to professional
botanists and amateur enthusiasts are
far behind us. Although there are numerous exceptions (e.g.,
Ertter, which is
widespread in western North America), the majority of newly described
species qualify for some
level of sensitive species status, with immediate implications for
land-management activities on
public and private lands. Problems can arise if negatively affected
landowners develop the
impression that so-called "amateurs" are behind newly described rare
species without the backing
of socially sanctioned expertise.
Even for those species that aren't novelties, a lack of
sufficient information on their
taxonomy and distribution interferes with effective conservation
efforts. The magnitude of this
problem can be seen in the list generated by Skinner et al. (1995) of
182 rare California plants for
which further taxonomic resolution is needed, and another 44 which
require additional distributional
information before their conservation status can be properly
assessed. The implications of this
knowledge gap become apparent in the face of decisions that are being
made now which will
irrevocably determine the fate of much of our natural heritage,
representing a vast resource
containing both pragmatic and aesthetic values.
B. In Front of the Bulldozer
In this context, it is unsettling to realize how many plants
(and other organisms) that would
qualify for some level of management activity, possibly representing
5% of the North American
flora (based on Taylor's extrapolations as previously discussed) and
including some of the rarest
of the rare, are currently receiving NO attention because they have
not yet been discovered,
analyzed, and described. In other words, we risk losing a
significant percentage of our floristic
heritage out of sheer ignorance of its existence, not just in the
tropics but in our own backyards.
In support of this statement, an increasing number of novelties
in North America, as in other
parts of the world, are being discovered "in front of the
bulldozer." The type locality of
Neviusia cliftonii, for example,
is threatened by a limestone
quarry, and the monotypic genus
discovered as part of a survey along a proposed pipeline route. The
(J.T. Howell) Munz var.
Ertter (Rosaceae) was still
in manuscript when plans to build a dam
that would have flooded almost the entire population came to light
S. Boyd, T.S. Ross, & L. Arnseth (Rhamnaceae)
was found during the environmental
impact study of a proposed development in southern California (Boyd,
Ross, & Arnseth, 1991).
Even more recently, the type population of an undescribed
(R. Hartman & R.
Rabeler, mss. in. prep.) was found adjacent to the staging area for
an active logging site, potentially
surveyed for sensitive species prior to approval for timber harvest,
but not for undescribed taxa. A
new tarweed currently being described from Livermore, California,
also falls into this category,
occurring as it does in an area of some of the heaviest development
pressure in the San Francisco
Bay Area (B. Baldwin, in press) .
Unfortunately, there is also evidence of potential novelties
being eliminated before they
could even be described. This may be the case with an undescribed
mentioned in the
population in southwestern Idaho has possibly been eliminated by the
C. Landowner Resistance to Surveys
In-front-of-the-bulldozer discoveries, exciting as they might be
to the botanical community,
can be a decidedly rude surprise for the landowner, representing an
unexpected and potentially very
expensive complication in what might otherwise have been a relatively
profitable undertaking. One newspaper covering the rediscovery of
the Ventura Marsh milkvetch
the plant was "causing trouble" and had
"thrown a kink" in the developer's plans to build $300,000 homes
surrounding a man-made lake
15 Aug 1997). Fanned by negative publicity
and property rights advocates, the
fear that property values and development options will be severely
curtailed by the discovery of
such unwelcome surprises has unfortunately led to a significant
polarization between private
landowners and advocates of biodiversity protection. This in turn
has often resulted in a refusal to
allow floristic surveys on private lands, which can contain
significant portions of relatively
unexplored areas that could harbor novelties and populations of other
The scale of the fear and distrust has even led to the
paradoxical situation in which local
landowners insist that "there are thousands" of a so-called rare
plant on their properties, while
simultaneously refusing to allow the scientific surveys needed to
justify less stringent management
options. Frank testimony to exactly this situation, and to the
massive amount of distrust, fear, and
outrage that can build up in the absence of trustworthy sources of
reliable information to the
contrary, is provided by Janssen and Williamson (1996). In
summarizing her efforts to gain access
to reported populations of
on the private ranchlands
of Zapata County, Texas, state botanist Gena Janssen shared these insights:
"As I began to meet and get to know more and more landowners, I
began to notice that
most of them did basically the same thing when they met me: They
yelled at me. And then
one day it finally hit me as to why they did that. Finally, they had
a person, a warm body, in
front of them that represented all these endangered species issues
that had been scaring
them for so long. They just needed to vent, so I let them. They had
no one there for them.
There was no one there to say, 'No, that's not true,' or 'Yes, that
was a very difficult
situation for everyone,' or 'Well, only part of that is true,' etc.,
Encouragingly, this stage was the prelude to a particularly
noteworthy success story.
Janssen's patience, honesty, and willingness to listen
compassionately paid off, first in obtaining
the access needed to acquire critical distributional and other
biological data on a plant that occurs
almost exclusively on private land, and subsequently in working with
the landowners to develop a
voluntary conservation plan. As a result,
currently being removed from the
endangered species list, with many of the ranchers now taking
legitimate pride in "their" rare plant
(Janssen, pers. comm., 1998; see also
In this context, there is a distinct irony in the fact that the
fundamental floristic work in Kern
County, California, currently a property-rights stronghold, was
undertaken by a local rancher,
Ernest C. Twisselmann. His contributions to California botany have
recently been acknowledged in
the form of a newly discovered genus named in his honor,
Twisselmann's interest in botany, triggered by an outbreak of nitrate
poisoning in his cattle
(McClintock, 1973), eventually led to the publication of two floras
(Twisselmann, 1956, 1967) and
the discovery of several new species (e.g.,
J.T. Howell & Twisselm.) The acknowledgements to his
1967 flora provide insight
into the respect for private property that lay behind the success of
"In a time when malicious trespass and vandalism are almost an
acceptable form of outdoor
recreation, locked gates are essential and a suspicion of even
well-intentioned strangers is a
natural attitude of rural people. So I am doubly grateful for the
open-handed trust and
generosity of the many landowners who freely gave me access to their
property, and whose
friendships have been one of the quite unexpected dividends of the
D. Floristic Surprises or "No Surprises"?
example is only one among many
in which an increased floristic
information base, sometimes paid for by the private stakeholders,
worked in their favor, either by
providing sufficient scientific evidence for reduced protection
status (e.g., downlisting) or by
increasing the mitigation options. These examples need to be brought
together for impact, but
currently exist only in scattered documents and word-of-mouth
reports. Granted, there is a
difference between a ranch family that wishes to continue a way of
life requiring large open spaces,
and a developer who needs to subdivide and build in order to realize
an investment. Even in the
latter case, however, the negative consequences of floristic
ignorance can cut both ways, increasing
the risk of misplaced mitigation efforts as well as the unintentional
extinction of species.
As a society, we have acknowledged that the perpetuation of our
biodiversity heritage is a
highly desirable goal, for pragmatic, aesthetic, and ethical reasons.
Within this context, the key
question becomes how to accomplish this goal as fairly and
effectively as possible. Unfortunately,
instead of making the necessary hard decisions on a solid basis of
complete scientific knowledge of
all elements involved, we are forced to face the tragic fact that the
"best available scientific
evidence" is often a woefully inadequate reflection of the actual
data needed for the kind of far
reaching decisions that are currently mandated.
A common quandary, for example, is determining whether a species
is truly as rare as
existing evidence indicates. In these circumstances, it is sometimes
argued that, if the scientific
evidence is incomplete, then no land-management constraints can be
justified. This argument,
however, runs counter to the fact that all legal decisions, including
those addressing environmental
issues, are based solely on best evidence available at the time of
the decision, with neither hearsay
nor supposition having a legitimate role. One can speculate that a
species is more widespread than
the currently available scientific evidence indicates, but a decision
based on this speculation without
hard evidence to back it up is no more justified than is ruling on a
defendant's guilt strictly on
speculation that the person
have done the crime. Given
this, it is readily apparent that
operating from a maximally comprehensive and accurate information
base is vastly preferable to
acting in ignorance, and willful ignorance becomes inexcusable, if
not outright foolish. When all is
said and done, the best guarantee of "No Surprises" is complete
information up front.
ASSUMPTION 5: THE OVERWHELMING CHALLENGE
Within this framework, the significantly preferable option to
surveys would be a proactive, comprehensive effort to address the
existing gaps in our floristic
information base. It works to no one's benefit for an undescribed
plant or a significant population
of a sensitive species to be discovered
funds have already been expended on a
proposed project. There is furthermore a distinct sense of
unfairness in having the short straw fall
to the landowner(s) of the last refuge of a once-common species,
which only became endangered
when neighboring landowners had developed their parcels first.
Avoiding such situations is in fact a primary goal behind the
current focus on developing
regional conservation plans on which to base land-management
decisions. Although excellent in
principle, in reality such efforts have often been deficient in
addressing species-specific information,
in large part because of the assumption that obtaining the relevant
information is too formidable a challenge to pursue. This in turn
leads to the argument that
alternate information (e.g., satellite imagery, umbrella species)
serves as an adequate substitute to
field-based, species-specific floristic data. A dramatic counter to
this argument is provided by the
, in which a relatively
conspicuous shrub was completely
overlooked by one of the most complete vegetation mapping projects
ever undertaken (Weislander
et al., 1939). As a bottom line, large-scale land-management plans
that address only dominant and
formally listed species have the potential of allowing the
incremental disappearance of all other
species in the region, including any undescribed novelties, without
even leaving a record of their
The challenge of comprehensively addressing the species-specific
gaps in the floristic
information base is indeed formidable, but the assumption that it is
an overwhelmingly unrealistic
goal is based in large part on the assumptions previously addressed.
In particular, it can hardly be
said that the assumption has ever been put to the test, given the low
level of support that floristic
efforts have historically received. For such an undertaking to become
a reality, however, the
following would accordingly need to be addressed:
acknowledge incompleteness of existing floristic knowledge base.
assign value to floristic information commensurate with the
effort required to generate it and
its value to society at large.
ensure that essential academic resources are available at
foster the network of professional and para-professional expertise.
promote the training and participation of para-professionals
within a framework of
acceptable scientific standards.
depolarize relations with private landowners, with academic
participation providing an
essential agenda-neutral framework
disperse floristic information in a framework that addresses
the particular needs of all
Several possible prototypes incorporating one or more of these
elements have already been
developed. The Rocky Mountain Flora Project, for example,
demonstrates the scale that can be
accomplished by focused floristic surveys within an academic setting
(Hartman, 1993). In contrast,
the Oregon Flora Project depends less on graduate student projects
and more on existing and newly
generated information from an extensive network of academic, agency,
and native plant society
sources, critically analyzed by herbarium-based professional
systematists (Sundberg, 1997). The
1980 peak of novelty description in Utah, as shown in Figure 1,
resulted in large part from the
collaborative activities of regional academics, agency biologists,
and environmental consultants, and
similarly collaborative "haybaling expeditions" have taken place in
Idaho (Big Horn Crags) and
the southern Sierra Nevada. In the San Francisco Bay area, a
regional checklist was specifically
designed to facilitate and encourage the participation of
para-academics in floristic inventory efforts
(Ertter, 1997b). In that all of these efforts, and the discovery of
"floristic surprises" in general,
have proceeded with minimal institutional support in an increasingly
avocational network, one can
only speculate as to what could potentially be accomplished within
the framework of a well
coordinated, seriously supported floristic undertaking, taking full
advantage of both professional
and para-academic networks.
THE BIG PICTURE
In conclusion, I propose that what taxonomists have been up to
is nothing less than one of
the most massive scientific endeavors ever undertaken; namely, a
collaborative effort to model global biodiversity. If this does not
qualify as "Big Science," I don't
know what does! The significance of this undertaking takes multiple
forms, starting with the
fundamental desire to know what other forms of life share this planet
with us, the only island of life
we know for certain exists in the universe. The resultant model also
forms the foundation
underlying other branches of biological knowledge, and it follows
that the more complete and
accurate the model is, the stronger the foundation is (cf. the
"taxonomic impediment" of R.W.
Taylor, 1983). Most important, as we now find ourselves in an era
when crucial decisions are being
made that will determine the face of life on the planet, it is
imperative that these decisions be made
with the most comprehensive information possible.
Furthermore, the challenge of obtaining the species-specific
floristic information needed to
make science-based land-management decisions in North America north
of Mexico, although
formidable, is not beyond our grasp. However, the viability of the
essential professional taxonomic
infrastructure needs to be ensured, and the undertaking approached as
a seriously supported
collaborative effort combining academic and para-academic resources
at the regional level. If not,
then we risk losing 5% of the floristic diversity in the North
American "backyard" by ignorance
alone, as well as unfairly allocating the conservation costs for
biodiversity in general.
A quote by Thomas Bridges opened this paper, expressing his
amazement that there were
still floristic surprises in North America in 1858. I will end with
a more accurate perception by
Dieter Wilken, expressing his delight in the Colorado flora in 1984,
over a century after Bridges'
visit to California (transmitted by R. Patterson, pers. comm. 1998):
"I am continually amazed at
the things that are yet to be discovered."
This paper would have been significantly depauperate, if not
outright impossible, without the
open-handed sharing of favorite examples, photographs, personal
anecdotes, survey responses, and
other critical information by a multitude of persons, to whom I am
accordingly indebted and deeply
grateful. In particular I must express my deep appreciation for the
generosity of those individuals
who so willingly lent me a fantastic selection of their beautiful
slides of photogenic novelties, and/or
provided me with unpublished figures that provided a critical
statistical underpinning for this paper:
James Affolter, Steve Boyd, Thomas Bruns, Roy Buck, Adolf Ceska,
David Charlet, Beth Corbin,
Raymond Cranfill, Marshall Crosby, Charmaine Delmatier, Ronald L.
Hartman, Noel Holmgren,
Fred Hrusa, David Isle, Gena Janssen, Patrick Leary, David Magney,
Richard L. Moe, James D.
Morefield, Jan Nachlinger, Elizabeth Neese, James L. Reveal, Anton
A. Reznicek, James R.
Shevock, Paul Silva, Frank (Buddy) Smith, R. Douglas Stone, Raymond
Stotler, Dean W. Taylor,
John Taylor, Michael Vincent, and Carol W. Witham. Other individuals
who contributed in various
ways are Lowell Ahart, James R. Allison, Kelly W. Allred, Ihsan
Al-Shehbaz, Bonnie Amos, Tina
Ayers, Bruce Baldwin, Mary Barkworth, Kathryn A. Beck, Peter Bowler,
Gregory Brown, Richard
Brummitt, Steven Brunsfeld, Thomas Carlson, William Carr, Terri
Charlet, Curtis Clark, Lincoln
Constance, Allyson Davis, Ellen Dean, Dennis Desjardin, Heidi Dobson,
David L. Dyer, Wayne
Ferren, Stuart Garrett, Arthur Gibson, Ann Halford, Richard Halse,
Gary Hannan, Walter Holmes,
Larry Hufford, C. Eugene Jones, David Keil, Sylvia (Tass) Kelso, Les
Landrum, Matt Lavin, Aaron
Liston, Timothy Lowrey, Don Mansfield, Michael Mancuso, Niall
McCarten, Lucinda McDade,
Dale W. McNeal, Brent Mishler, Joseph J. Molter, David Morgan, Walter
Barbara Murray, David Murray, Kathleen Nelson, Bryan Ness, Wesley
Niles, Richard Olmstead,
Brad Olson, Robert Ornduff, Vernon H. Oswald, Jose L. Panero, Robert
Patterson, James B.
Phipps, Jackie Poole, Daniel Potter, Jerry Powell, Teresa Prendusi,
Richard Rabeler, Thomas
Ranker, Peter H. Raven, Monique D. Reed, Andrew Sanders, Michael
Schierenbeck, Lisa Schultheis, Leila Shultz, Beryl B. Simpson,
Michael G. Simpson, Alan R.
Smith, S. Galen Smith, Douglas Soltis, Brian Speer, Bruce Stein,
Kingsley Stern, Scott D.
Sundberg, David Tibor, Arnold (Jerry) Tiehm, Carol A. Todzia, Billie
Lee Turner, Florence Wagner,
Warren H. Wagner, Phil S. Ward, William A. Weber, Steve Weller,
Stanley L. Welsh, Jun Wen,
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