Rare Plant Treasure Hunt

You'll never look at the desert the same way!

The Rare Plant Treasure Hunt is a citizen science project of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) funded in part by grants from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Bureau of Land Management.

Teams of botanists and amateur plant detectives venture out into public lands across the state to record rare plant occurrences.

Last year, more than 260 volunteers and professional partners discovered more than 600 new and historic rare plant occurrences—including more than 80 unique plant species—in California!

“The point of the project is to get people out into native plant communities and see why they’re worth preserving,” says Amber Swanson, CNPS project coordinator. Swanson, who is based out of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, manages the Southern California desert region, which includes the Mojave and Sonoran deserts and spans across Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino, Inyo and Kern counties.

Each trip out into the field yields data and plant samples used to expand State of California database holdings of rare plant information, both recent and historic. The data in turn is used by agencies such as the Department of Fish and Game, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.

The efforts have already seen rewards. After a trip to a proposed solar energy site near Ridgecrest, volunteers created a plant list of the site’s flora. A biologist for the California Energy Commission then sited the list with the recommendation not to build the solar site there, partially because the presence of desert tortoise food plants. As of December 2010, the site was taken off fast track status for further study.

“There are many large solar and wind projects that are going into effect right now that will soon disrupt thousands of acres of desert lands to make way for solar mirrors and wind turbines. It is these areas that need immediate study and exploration before those plant communities are wiped out,” wrote Duncan Bell in a Rare Plant Treasure Hunt blog entry in January.

Bell, RSABG curatorial assistant and 2011 Rare Treasure Plant Hunt intern, was the grand prize winner for the 2010 Rare Plant Treasure Hunt. He found and documented the most occurrences of rare plants.

Swanson stressed that renewable energy is important, but planning these projects using rare plant location data can help preserve intact desert communities.

This is not armchair botany! Are you interested in joining the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt?

Send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Let them know who you are and the area you live, what areas you are interested in surveying and what experience you’ve had (no experience is an acceptable answer).