May 31, 2005

Botanists Find Rare Grass Species

AVALON, Calif. (AP) - A species of grass not seen since 1912 has been discovered growing on Santa Catalina Island off the Southern California coast, botanists say.

The plant, California dissanthelium, had long been thought extinct until a botanist recently spotted the wispy, 7-inch-tall tufts while hiking in Cottonwood Canyon.

"I saw a little grass, and I thought, 'Hmm, that doesn't look familiar,'" said Jenny McCune, an assistant plant ecologist for the Catalina Island Conservancy.

McCune found the grass on March 30 in an area of the canyon hit by fire two years ago. Scientists confirmed the plant's identity last month.

"It's quite a thrill to have something you thought was gone forever come back to life again," said Lyn McAfee, president of the California Native Plant Society's Pasadena chapter.

The grass species was first identified on Catalina Island by botanist William Gambel in 1847. It was then noted on an island off the coast of Baja California in 1875 and on San Clemente Island in 1903. But after those sightings, no one had seen it since 1912.

"It's very serendipitous," McCune said. "It's about being in the right place at the right time and having an eye for things you don't recognize."

Earlier this month, student botanist Michael Park made a similar find while hiking at Mount Diablo State Park in the San Francisco Bay Area. He rediscovered Mount Diablo buckwheat, last seen in 1936.