Environment

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

A tiny pink wildflower thought to have gone extinct 69 years ago has just been rediscovered in a California state park. It is the Mt. Diablo buckwheat. It was found by a grad student at UC, Berkeley. And you can actually see pictures of this flower right now at our Web site. Go look at it: npr.org. Click on the program key at the top and go down to DAY TO DAY. And you can listen to this report from Elizabeth Arnold.

ELIZABETH ARNOLD reporting:

It's less than a foot tall and looks like a pink version of baby's breath, the filler florists use with roses. The last person to ever see it is botanist Mary Bowerman, who's now 90, in a hospital bed and said to be thrilled. Researchers and enthusiasts have been looking for the Mt. Diablo buckwheat for decades. Michael Park stumbled on it in the course of an intensive plant survey and didn't believe it at first. He says he was sleep-deprived and hungry, common for a first-year grad student. Park's still in the field, trying to complete his work in spite of the hoopla, but Barbara Ertter, the curator of western North American fauna, who sent Park out to do the survey in the first place, confirmed the discovery. Recounting the sighting, she said she was overjoyed, but the tiny flower could easily have been trampled.

Ms. BARBARA ERTTER (Curator of Western North America Flora Collections, University of California, Berkeley): `Where is it?' Mike says, `It's right there.' `Oh, yeah! Don't put your foot there!'

ARNOLD: Park found at least 20 of the flowers in full bloom, thrilling conservationists who've worked for years to protect the same area from development. Seth Adams is the director of land programs for the non-profit Save Mt. Diablo, which has helped add 87,000 acres to the park, a central landmark of the San Francisco-East Bay area.

Mr. SETH ADAMS (Director of Land Programs, Save Mt. Diablo): We've been looking for this plant for years, and always with the sinking feeling that maybe it had vanished from the Earth. I mean, when you read about the Mt. Diablo buckwheat, the term that's always used is `presumed globally extinct.' And so now the number of extinct species has dropped by one, and we've got a chance to turn back the clock and try to do it right this time.

ARNOLD: Adams says like last month's discovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, also thought to be extinct, interest has been overwhelming and provided a much-needed boost for conservation efforts. The plant's exact location is being kept secret as state and federal agencies determine how best to stabilize the population, collect seeds and cultivate more. UC, Berkeley's Barbara Ertter says the goal is to create a backup in case the wild version is, quote, "loved to death" by the publicity. She calls the buckwheat the Holy Grail of the East Bay--so many students have searched for it--and says in part the discovery is vindication.

Ms. ERTTER: There's been a lot of land acquisitions and management efforts in that part of the county in which it was said, `Well, maybe there's--this extinct species could still be here.' And up to now it had been a good phrase, but it was just words.

ARNOLD: To have found a wildflower recorded only seven times since it was first discovered in 1862 is one thing. The fact that it's growing just miles from a busy interstate and sprawling housing developments is quite another. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Arnold.

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