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Never-Before-Photographed Rare Plant Discovered in California

Botanists found the Santa Ynez groundstar living on Vandenberg Space Force Base.


An extremely rare plant species was found on a southern California military installation — and photographed alive for the first time.

Botanists recently obtained permits to explore Vanderberg Space Force Base near Lompoc, the only known place where the Santa Ynez groundstar is known to have existed, according to the California Native Plant Society and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

The search was a success and marked the first time the tiny, flowering plant has been documented in the wild since it was classified as the new species Ancistrocarphus keilii in nearly 30 years.

Santa Ynez groundstar
(Credit:Kristen Nelson, California Native Plant Society)Kristen Nelson, California Native Plant Society

Kristen Nelson, manager of the CNPS Rare Plant Program, snapped a picture of the groundstar dwarfed by a penny stuck in the ground behind it.

"A truly thrilling find!" Nelson said in a news release posted online last week.

"No photos of live Ancistrocarphus keilii existed until now."

The search was based on "old records and primary sources," including Dieter Wilken, an associate with the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, according to the CNPS.

Wilken is the only person to have seen the groundstar since it was recognized as a distinct species and among the few living botanists who saw it in the wild before then.

The plant was classified as unique based on an analysis of dried specimens.

It's described on the CNPS website as an annual herb that blooms in March and April and thrives in sandy dirt at elevations of 130 to 425 feet above sea level.

The groundstar "apparently has no effective method of biological dispersal" and there are just an estimated "180 individuals left in existence," according to the CNPS.

"Plants such as this are or could be on the brink of extinction and we can only confidently say they are doing OK once we get eyes on the ground and find them,” said Aaron Sims, director of the CNPS Rare Plant Program.

“Even though this species has been found, the population is extremely limited and it’s important that land use changes do not occur.”

A representative for Vandenberg Space Force Base didn't immediately return a request for comment.

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