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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wyoming Endemics

If you haven't met Bonnie yet, you're in for a botanical treat.  Bonnie Heidel is the Head Botanist at the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (sound familiar?  It should, that's also where Joy works!) - and also a very talented photographer.  She wrote the piece below about Wyoming endemic plant species - and is open to your questions!  Comment at the bottom of this article or email to learn more about Wyoming's native plants.


Wyoming endemics are the elite plants and animals of the Cowboy State found nowhere else. Exactly 34 of the 2800 vascular plants in the most current flora are known only from our state, including two that grace the Green Roof: Laramie columbine (Aquilegia laramiensis) and Devils Gate Twinpod (Physaria eburniflora). 

Laramie Columbine (Aquilegia laramiensis)
Photo by Bonnie Heidel

Devil's Gate Twinpod (Physaeria eburniflora) blooming in the Berry Prairie

Biological Borders

Endemic refers to species that are restricted to a particular area and found nowhere else in the country - or world for that matter. The tally of state endemics (above) refers to an area defined by political boundaries.  But what do plants and animals know about state lines? 

Laramie Columbine habitat
Photo by Dennis Horning
Therefore, biologists may also refer to species as endemic to an ecological region, like the Greater Yellowstone region, or the sand dunes of Lake Michigan which transcend boundaries between Michigan and Indiana.  There are compelling arguments for using the term “endemic” to apply to biological regions rather than political ones. By biological standards, Wyoming has many hundreds of plants endemic to northern, central and southern Rocky Mountains or to the Wyoming Basin, Intermountain Basin and Great Plains regions. Many such endemics are extensive within their respective areas of the state, locally common, and stable. 

There are also compelling arguments for size standards to endemism rather than drawing direct comparison between the endemics of Rhode Island and Texas or between those of Appalachian caves and midcontinental shortgrass prairie.  No matter how what definitions are used, conservationists usually prioritize the endemics that have the narrowest geographic distributions, greatest threats, and greatest declines in numbers as species of greatest concern. 

Desert Yellowhead: Super Endemic

If you haven’t looked closely at the Berry Center’s logo, you might not notice that it highlights one plant species endemic to the Sweetwater River Plateau in Fremont County, central Wyoming: the Desert Yellowhead (Yermo xanthocephalus – say that 10 times fast!).  This species is like a super-endemic; it only occurs in two locations… in the entire world, and it’s right here in Wyoming!  

Desert Yellowhead (Yermo xanthocephalus) in bloom.
Photo by Bonnie Heidel

What does the presence of Laramie columbine and Devils Gate Twinpod at the Berry Center mean for their conservation? Their viability remains linked to the fate of their native habitat, but their presence on the green roof is a major educational contribution!   

Written by Bonnie Heidel, WYNDD, and Brenna Wanous, Berry Center


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