SM MOUNTAINS — A recent flora survey of the Santa Monica Mountains near Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the region at 3,000 feet, revealed a species of plant not known to inhabit the area.
Tony Valois, a biological field technician with the National Park Service, discovered the small flower during a routine examination of the area, though he was quick to point out that the plant is not far out of its expected region.
“The species is a native,” Valois said. “It’s not really out of its range; it’s fairly widespread. It’s just that we’ve never come across it here before.”
Valois explained that the plant, called the whisker brush (Leptosiphon ciliatus), is typically found in considerably higher elevations, ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 feet and is not common in Southern California.
The plant poses no harm to any native species, Valois said, but its discovery does raise questions about how exactly the plant came to inhabit the Santa Monica ecosystem.
“Because this plant is very widespread, it has probably just been overlooked during past surveys,” Valois said, “If you wanted to be dramatic you could say it’s a shock. We think we know the range and we go out and look for certain things, but we sometimes find species we had never seen here before.
“One of the things it tells us, though, is that there is stuff going on in our ecosystems that we just don’t know about.”
Valois also explained that the discovery is not necessarily due to any change in climate, stating that the migration of the plant likely happened with the help of a bird or other animal. The survey work that Valois and others with the park service do in the area serves the mission of the national organization, developing an understanding of the different species in the region so that measurements of ecological change can eventually be made off of the data set.
“Things like global warming and development of lands are having a huge impact on the ecosystem,” he said. “But in order to know how much of an impact this has, we need to know what is there now.”
Helping to assemble such a data set is UCLA Professor of ecology and environmental biology Arthur Gibson, who, along with colleague Dr. Barry Prigge, is working on what will become the fourth revision to the Santa Monica Mountains/Simi Hills flora.
The flora, a list and description of all the plants growing in a specified area, was first prepared in the 1960s by botanists at UCLA and was revised once in 1977 and once in 1986, Gibson said, adding that the current revision is actually a complete reproduction of the flora data set and has been in progress since 2000. The team hopes to finish and publish findings sometime next year.