For Immediate Release, December 3, 2020
Quinn Read, Center for Biological Diversity, (206) 979-3074, QRead@biologicaldiversity.org
Endangered Species Protection Sought for Rare Oregon Wildflower
Presumed Extinct Until 2008, Tall Western Penstemon Clings to Life in Five Locations
PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Native Plant Society of Oregon submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to protect the tall western penstemon (Penstemon hesperius) under the Endangered Species Act. The species is one of the rarest vascular plants in the Pacific Northwest and is threatened by development, habitat degradation, climate change and competition from non-native species.
The tall western penstemon exists today in just five known populations, narrowly distributed from southwestern Washington to northwestern Oregon. The species is part of a genus of plants commonly known as “beardtongues.” Its vivid purple-blue flowers, perched high atop its unusually long stems, makes the tall western penstemon a distinctive and beautiful presence in the region’s rare, ecologically intact wet prairies.
“This beautiful and rare plant has managed to cling to life in a handful of urban refuges,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center. “It’s a humbling thing to look at a species and know you’re looking at one of the last of its kind. Without Endangered Species Act protection, the tall western penstemon may finally succumb to pressure from development and climate change.”
The species’ historic wetland habitat was almost completely lost or severely degraded due to extensive agricultural and urban development throughout the Portland-Vancouver metro area. It was presumed extinct until 2008, when local botanists rediscovered the species on the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.
“The story about the rediscovery of this species at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is fascinating,” said Jason Clinch, rare and endangered plants committee chair at the Native Plant Society of Oregon. “It was presumably extinct for some 75 years but to find it hanging on in wetland habitat that has been through 150 years of cattle grazing, agricultural production and hydrologic manipulation is astounding.”
Since its rediscovery in 2008, the tall western penstemon has been observed in the metro area on both sides of the Columbia River. Today this rare plant remains threatened throughout its range by ongoing urban and suburban development.
The tall western penstemon is designated as endangered in Washington by the Washington Natural Heritage Program. In Oregon the plant is categorized as threatened with extinction throughout its range by the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center. But these designations do not confer any formal legal protection.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Native Plant Society of Oregon is dedicated to the enjoyment, conservation, and study of Oregon's native plants and habitats. Founded in 1961, the Native Plant Society of Oregon has 10 chapters across the state and was instrumental in establishing an Endangered Species Act for the state.