Botanical expedition finds new species for the state of Colorado

June 14, 2022 Jennifer Ackerfield , Head Curator of Natural History Collections & Associate Director of Biodiversity Research

We have a goal at the Kathryn Kalmbach Herbarium of Vascular Plants to have a collection with a representative specimen of every species of vascular plant occurring in the state of Colorado. This collection is what is known as a reference collection and is an invaluable tool for anyone identifying plants (or writing a “list of flora” for the state!). Recently, a group of botanists from the Gardens journeyed to Canyons of the Ancients Monument in Montezuma County to help fill in some of the taxonomic gaps for this collection.

We were met by two volunteers for Canyons of the Ancients who graciously showed us the more floristically and archeologically interesting areas of the monument. Without their assistance, we never would have found half of the species we collected. While hunting for plants, we even saw the remnants of the ancient peoples who lived there long ago – pottery shards on the ground, ancient dwellings tucked into canyon alcoves and ancient rock art. Canyon country is truly a special place.

Despite the dry conditions, we made approximately 75 collections of plants for the herbarium, of which about 20 represented species for which we had no previous collections. During our expedition, we even discovered a new species for the state of Colorado – Aphyllon franciscanum, or yellow clustered broomrape. Broomrape is a parasitic plant, relying completely on a host plant for nutrients. Aphyllon franciscanum is distinctive in having bright yellow flowers and is usually found on Eriogonum hosts. This collection now represents the easternmost locality for this species.

We look forward to more botanical expeditions across the state of Colorado as we continue to build our reference collection of vascular plants for the Kathryn Kalmbach Herbarium and connect with other stewards of this incredible land.


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