Discovering Plant Populations

While my work with US Fish and Wildlife has so far been primarily focused on fish and other animals, these past few weeks have involved plant surveys for a species called Applegate’s milkvetch (Astragalus applegatei). Applegate’s milkvetch is a small perennial plant in the pea family that grows close to the ground and has delicate pinkish-white flowers.

Applegate's milkvetch

Applegate’s milkvetch

Applegate’s milkvetch is only found in the Klamath basin and due to development and other disturbance of its habitat, it only exists in small populations around the basin. The plant was federally listed as endangered in 1993. Until this last week, only four populations of Applegate’s milkvetch were known around Klamath Falls. Last week we surveyed one of these populations, which happens to be at the airport. The parade of fighter jets taking off and landing made for an exciting day of surveying.

A field we surveyed for Applegate's milkvetch at the Klamath Falls airport.

A field we surveyed for Applegate’s milkvetch at the Klamath Falls airport.

Based on a reported sighting of Applegate’s milkvetch by some local botanists, we ventured to a nearby state park to look for the reported plants. Having expected at most a few hundred individuals, we were surprised when hours of crawling on all fours later we had found upwards of a thousand individual plants. Between our survey efforts last week and today (which exclude one of the largest areas of the park), we have found over 4,000 plants. This is likely one of the largest remaining populations of Applegate’s milkvetch, far exceeding the recovery plan’s call for 1,500 individuals. While continued monitoring will be required, the discovery of this population may assist in down-listing and potentially de-listing of Applegate’s milkvetch.

A small area at the state park where we surveyed for Applegate's milkvetch. Each colored flag indicates an individual plant.

A small area at the state park where we surveyed for Applegate’s milkvetch. Each colored flag indicates an individual plant.

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