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October 21, 2003

ARCHIVE: Nevada Flora


Most states know just about every plant that's growing in their soil and they are written in something called a Flora. Nevada is among 15 states that does not. KNPR's Ky Plaskon follows a professor who's counted, collected and recorded plants to put Southern Nevada's vegetation on the botany map.


Track 20 :12 (sound of Class)

In the Cell and Molecular Biology class at the CCSN Cheyenne campus, a dozens students listen to professor Doctor Patrick Leary pick apart the parts of plants and explain how they work.

Class :20 "That's why in the laboratory . . ."

And they watch this film

Track 22 :48

"How does a living cell overcome . . . so that it's metabolic reactions can recover quickly . . ."

There are a lot of tools like this to show how plants work, Leary also wants people outside the classroom to have the tools to enjoy Nevada's diversity of plants. Until now that has been confined to teaching in the field like he is today near Blue Diamond w.

Track 24 :36

"Mina Giovanitti, I am just here to observe the nature today . . ." "We are going to walk around in this wash area, take a look at the plants and we are going to talk about which ones are the most conspicuous and dominant and Mina is going to pick those out for me . . ."

Track 31 :00 Sound of walking and talking

There are more than 3-thousand species of plants in Nevada - and unlike most states Nevada doesn't have a current book listing all of them the Spring Mountains is one area lacking a list.

Track 32 :00 (Sound of walking and talking)

:18 "Without any botanical training, what's common around here, what do you see?" "These Bushes that just come straight up like that." "And these bushes, and botanists call them shrubs, 'bush' is kind of like a swear word its like if you have a well trained botanist, that is kind of like fingernails on a chalkboard, but that's okay, these shrubs are called seep willow . . . those are the old ones . . . "

For the past 7 years Leary has been wandering around in remote creekbeds and canyons than this one, off trails and on mountain slopes . . . recording the different species of plants in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area and Spring Mountains too.

1:42 - 1:53

"This is a plant that is the northern most member of a tropical family and we have it growing here in our washes of southern Nevada and that is just a real treat."

Much of this area has never been explored for rare plants.

Track 42

In the distance there, I don't know if you can see those, there are some thistles, they have purple flowers, some of them are rather tall, that's actually quite a rare plant. It is sersium vverginence which is located just here in southern Nevada, a very sparcely distributed plant. So we get to enjoy those here as well.

Not surprisingly, over 7 years of searching the nooks and cranies Leary's made some discoveries.

TRACK 26 :55

"In fact the most remarkable one is that there is an ash tree that grows in the canyons of the southern spring mountains that unless I had done that field work we would have never known it was there, so I've been doing a little extra field work to try to bring this whole thing up to date and so now we are beginning to write this in earnest."

He's been writing everything down too.

(sound of scribbling)

With the information he's collected he's writing the first comprehensive book listing all the known plants of the Spring Mountains and Red Rock canyon. He'll call it the Flora of the Spring Mountains and it'll more than 1-thousand species of plants here - 12 to 15 are endemic - only occurring in the Spring Mountains. According to what is already known, Nevada ranks in the top 6 of states for abundance of endemic plant species - species that occur nowhere else in the world. The fact that Nevada does not have a Flora yet frustrates some because it's a gap in the botany map of North America.

"You have a very old landscape . . . ,"

Larry Morse, North American Botanist for NatureServe, an international conservation group, says most other state's landscapes were wiped out by the ice age - Nevada's wasn't and so that's what makes it unique - and even more of a reason to categorize what's here.

"It's very important information. The scientific baseline of what is known about plants ultimately goes back to these books and to scientific publications and museums but these books are the first place I tend to go to look for information about the plants of a place."

Morse says that publications like the one Leary will produce is useful to government officials and conservationists who make decisions on and monitor development.

"Development decisions if you have the right information ahead of time you can still go ahead with development. For instance there is a place called ash meadows that has several kinds of plants that occur no where else in the world . . . so obviously not the best place for development."

But he says knowing what's growing is valuable in other ways too.

"Some of these plants are very important economically, of course timber plants and farm crops, using native plants in a particular area and finally just enjoyment of being out in nature."

(sound of walking and talking)

Back in the field, he says these days, people like Mina, interested in learning about native plants can benefit from a Flora by knowing what native plants will survive in their neighborhood yards. Mina says she's had a tough time not knowing what plants grow here and a book could help.

Track 35 1:03

"If I had a list of plants that would grow with a very small amount of water I would have gone and picked those out verses the plants that I did that are in my back yard, they are all dead right now . . . ha ha ha."

Flora author Patrick Leary, admits that his book categorizing plants will probably put average people to sleep but he hopes that the information will filter down and ultimately help everyone learn about native shrubs and trees in the back yard of Las Vegas.

Leary expects to finish the Spring Mountain Flora by summer 2004 and then start on a Flora for all of Southern Nevada including Lincoln, Nye, Esmerelda and Clark Counties. For KNPR, I'm Ky Plaskon

See discussion rules.


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