Showy Indian Clover
Trifolium amoenum (Flowering Plants)
A member of the pea family, the Showy Indian Clover is a wonderfully beautiful species: growing up to two-feet tall, the plant has sage-colored leaves and round, dense flowers that bloom from April to June. The white-tipped purple petals can be about an inch in diameter. Its beauty is matched by its usefulness: like many other species of clover found in northern California, indigenous populations had long gathered the Showy Indian Clover for food and medicine, and the species is also an exceptional nectar plant for bees and butterflies.
Historically, the Showy Indian Clover could be found in a wide variety of habitats throughout a broad swath of California: from Mendocino County south to Sonoma, Marin, Alameda and Santa Clara counties, and east to Napa and Solano counties.
Unfortunately rampant development destroyed each of the 24 historically known locations of the plant by the 1970s. Rapid urbanization, intensive agricultural practices, and competition from non-native invasive weeds all played a roll in this decline. In 1976, the Smithsonian Institution petitioned the government to protect this species under the Endangered Species Act, but no protective actions were taken at that time.
Nearly 20 years later, scientists presumed that the Showy Indian Clover was extinct. But early in the summer of 1993 Dr. Peter Connors came upon a single plant growing on private land in Sonoma County. He was able to protect the plant from imminent development until its seeds could be gathered the following fall. Half of those seeds were sent to a federal depository in Colorado for safe-keeping, while Dr. Connors successfully cultivated 18 plants from the remaining seeds in his lab.
However, the plant Dr. Connors rediscovered was lost and the site subsequently developed. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally proposed protecting the Showy Indian Clover as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1995, the species was considered extinct in the wild.
Fortunately, Dr. Connors found a substantial population of Showy Indian Clover in 1996, this time in Marin County. Over 200 plants were found, but again on private lands at risk of development. Finally in 1997, the Showy Indian Clover was protected as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The private landowners are so far cooperating in the conservation of this species.
The Showy Indian Clover is known in the GGNP from a single recording, over 100 years old, noting that the species was found “near Stinson.” It has not been recorded within the Park since. But as Dr. Connor’s discoveries show, declaring something extinct is trickier than it sounds. In the hope of protecting the species’ seed bank—wherever it may be within the GGNP—and to encourage a reintroduction of the species, the National Park Service considers the Showy Indian Clover present in the GGNP, at least for now.
The good news is that the Showy Indian Clover was reintroduced to Point Reyes in October 2006 by scientists with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. In June of 2007, it appeared that more than half of the seeds had germinated, and by the end of the growing season seventy-six plants had flowered. They are expected to produce nearly 1000 seeds. The last population on private lands and Dr. Connors’ plants also still survive.
Conservation Action Item
Call public officials:
Ask them to provide equal ESA protection for plants
The Showy Indian Clovers’ last wild plants on private lands are still threatened by a loop-hole in the Endangered Species Act. While the Endangered Species Act prohibits the killing of endangered animals on private lands, today it is still perfectly legal for a private person to kill endangered plants on their own property under most circumstances.
Moreover, endangered plants generally receive far fewer resources from federal agencies than animals: while nearly 60% of all endangered species are plants, these plants receive only about 3% of the overall funding for endangered species.
Conservation organizations are working to fix this loophole by making a minor amendment to the Endangered Species Act while directing more resources to endangered plants. Support this campaign: call your public officials and ask them to provide Equal Protection for Plants so that the Endangered Species Act will provide endangered plants with adequate funding and full protection on private lands.
For more information about this Conservation Action Item:
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