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Extremely Rare Monterey Clover Discovered in Mendocino County


Press this link for pictures of the Monterey Clover (Trifolium trichocalyx)

Local botanist Kerry Heise and Geri Hulse-Stephens recently discovered  an extremely rare native plant, never before identified in Mendocino County and now unknown to exist anywhere else in the world.

Kerry and Geri had just completed the botanical survey they had been hired to do on timber lands east of the town of Mendocino. Their survey involved mapping all plant species in the study area while driving down logging roads and hiking on foot where the roads disappeared. As the team headed off the property on an old logging road, Kerry Heise spotted a peculiar patch of clover, so they decided to investigate.

They have seen other rare clover on the sides of logging roads in the past so they definitely wanted to take a closer look. Usually the plants turn out to be non-native species, but just to be sure, they collected a sample. The next day, they studied it under a dissecting microscope. The examination revealed the possibility that the clover was either a completely new species or a very rare species, living far outside its known geographic range and habitat range in the Pebble Beach area of the Monterey Peninsula.

Their next step to authenticate the plant, was to send samples to clover experts, both of whom judged the plant to be the rare and endangered Monterey Clover. One of 300 known clover species, this particular one has not been seen in its Monterey habitat since 1995, raising concerns that it might be extinct. 

The botanist to gain proof positive in cases like this through DNA testing. So another sample was sent to New Zealand. An analysis of the leaves by a molecular phylogeneticist there to confirm in fact, that it was the rare and endangered, Monterey Clover, now known to exist only here in western Mendocino County.

The Monterey Clover was discovered  and named by botanist Amos Arthur Heller in 1903. Mr. Heller, who published a journal of botany collected the plant in the sandy pinewoods near Pacific Grove. He described it in his publication as “an inconspicuous plant” with “small few-flowered heads along grass-grown roads and trails in the woods”.

The Mendocino patch discovered a century later and 200 miles away, follows the pattern that Mr. Heller describes. Other than natural disturbances, such as fire and wind storms, we now have man-made disturbed areas where these native annuals can survive. With logging and road carving, or where the ground has been scraped by heavy machinery, we have essentially changed the structure of the natural forest, reducing shade and competition, which has increased the chances for this clover to grow here.

The two Mendocino botanists counted 5,000 individual plants in a 124 mile area. Documenting trends in population size, habitat condition, and threats, known as ecological monitoring, will help assure long term survival of this newly discovered Monterey Clover. The botanists will happily take the challenge to preserve and monitor the Monterey Clover in Mendocino.

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