Discovering Brodiaea Insignis (May 5, 2012 post)

In the early 1980s, I got a call from Larry Norris who was conducting a Biological Assessment of the area below Terminus Dam on the Kaweah River for the US Army Corps of Engineers who were in the early stages of exploring alternatives to increase storage of Kaweah River runoff. Over the phone, Larry was trying to obtain permission to access a flat area of about 300 acres in Section 26 that, according to the maps he was given, belonged to the USACE where he had found a large population of Kaweah Brodiaea, a species that had been presumed extinct since the 1920s. We agreed to meet and go to the site together.

In the late 1950s, my father and grandfather were embroiled in a condemnation action with the Feds over the initial construction of Terminus Dam in which they prevailed, requiring the USACE to revest some of the condemned property back to the family. Larry Norris had been given one of the old maps for his survey. As was typical of Corps projects in those days, the take was more than needed for the clay core of the dam.

Since Norris’ discovery, the Kaweah Brodiaea has been found elsewhere in the Kaweah River watershed, especially in the Three Rivers area, where it halted or slowed both private and public development and construction, even home remodeling. Though most people could not identify the wildflower, or distinguish it from the plentiful Harvest Brodiaea, Brodiaea Elegans, it was an unpopular species in the Kaweah River watershed nonetheless.

It was early summer when Larry and I went to the site and the Brodiaea had already gone to seed, which he identified for me, scratching through the dead debris of fillaree and foxtails, the details of an exercise I can no longer remember. But to have a large population of a rare and endangered plant listed by the California Native Plant Society and the State of California on the ranch, I thought it important to be able to identify it, but it wasn’t until the first of May in 2011 that I actually found and photographed it, aided by the memory of where Larry Norris had found its seeds. Though the Jepson manual cites livestock grazing as a threat to the Kaweah Brodiaea, its seeds survived the Drought of 1977 when Section 26 was grazed down to the dirt.

Part of the difficulty of finding the Kaweah Brodiaea is that it blooms prior to the Elegans or common Harvest Brodiaea and that its blooming period is much shorter, depending on temperatures in the first week in May. In 2011, the bloom period for the Insignis was ten days, where as the Elegans can last over a month, quite showy over dry grasses. Secondly, its on a much shorter stem and oftentimes difficult to find or see among all the other grasses.

I have included photographs below to help distinguish the Insignis from the Elegans. Noticeable differences are the flat petals and convex stamen of the Insignis.

Kaweah Brodiaea (Insignis) – May 4, 2012

Kaweah Brodiaea (Insignis) – May 4, 2011

Kaweah Brodiaea (Insignis) – May 4, 2012

Kaweah Brodiaea – May 8, 2012

May 11, 2012 post: I’m attempting to document my unsubstantiated thesis that the bloom period for the Kaweah Brodiaea is extremely short, making it pretty tough to find and identify. Additionally, I’ve found it blooming in the canopy of other grasses. I could only find the wildflower in one place this morning, the number in bloom substantially decreased, no evidence at all in the other three locations I’ve been visiting. Temperatures have been in the mid-90s. I suspect in a day or two, their bloom will be over. Meanwhile the Harvest Brodiaea is popping up everywhere.

Kaweah Brodiaea (Insignis) – May 11, 2012

Kaweah Brodiaea (Insignis) – May 11, 2012

May 12, 2012: Near the end of bloom

Kaweah Brodiaea (Insignis) – May 12, 2012

Kaweah Brodiaea (Insignis) – May 12, 2012

May 13, 2012 Few and far between, there are some Insignis left still blooming.

Kaweah Brodiaea (Insignis) – May 13, 2012

Kaweah Brodiaea (Insignis) – May 13, 2012

Kaweah Brodiaea (Insignis) – May 13, 2012

Section 26 – Area of Kaweah Brodiaea (Insignis) – May 4, 2012

Harvest Brodiaea (Elegans) – May 4, 2012

Harvest Brodiaea (Elegans) – May 12, 2012

May 21, 2012

Note: My current hypothesis regarding the bloom period for Brodiaea Insignis is not only that the bloom period for the species is short, 10 days or so, but also that each individual flower blooms only for a day or so, as opposed to the bloom of the Elegans that may last weeks. I am not a botanist, but few people have ready access to such a large tract of Kaweah Brodiaea. My plan is to journal my observations with photographs next year, flagging individuals to prove, or disprove, my theory. I might even learn a little botany in the process, if not before.

6 responses to “Discovering Brodiaea Insignis (May 5, 2012 post)

  1. Pingback: Kaweah Brodiaea 2014 | drycrikjournal

  2. I remember reading somewhere that when the endangered species act was in its infancy scientists rushed to include plants and animals that hadn’t been thoroughly investigated, thinking they could make changes later, after they’d done the science. It’s little wonder that they ended up at odds with people actually living on the land.


    • Sharon, I think all that’s true, including your conclusions, but I tend to differ with most of my neighbors, and the majority in the livestock culture, believing that the existence of these rare and endangered species on ground that’s been grazed for generations, since the 1860s in this area, demonstrates that our activities do not threaten their survival, especially when these species don’t exist elsewhere. I’d like to think that each endangered species that thrives on this ranch is a card to play later to keep this ground intact, to impede the real threat of development. My unscientific documentation, the journaling within this blog, is our educational hedge towards that bet. I appreciate your comment that may have opened a can of worms, a dialogue I welcome, anytime, anywhere. Thank you. Have an exceptional spring day!


  3. No one knows the land better than the person working the land. If fire can benefit the land, why not grazing? And whose to say whether those seeds pass right thru the animal.


  4. Sharon’s pass-through question is a good one. Distribution of the species, even its survival, may be a result. Pre-grazing with cattle, there were native ruminants grazing and browsing

    And, the botanical environment has changed dramatically since 1850. A number of introduced grasses and forbs now considered important (and having almost native status) were non-existent then.


  5. Pingback: KAWEAH BRODIAEA | drycrikjournal

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