CNHP botanist Bernadette Kuhn recently reported on her summer field work. If you think botany is boring, think again!
BLACK CANYON GILIA: CLIFF HANGER
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is home to the cliff-dwelling Black Canyon gilia (Gilia penstemenoides). Working with the National Park Service, we recently conducted surveys for Black Canyon gilia in the Park and the Curecanti National Recreation Area. In order to reach the plants, we roped up and rapped down onto the cliffs that tower nearly 2,000 feet above the Gunnison River.
Mike Schneiter rappels off of the South Rim of the Black Canyon in search of Gilia penstemenoides. Twenty plants were found on the cliff faces directly below him.
Bernadette Kuhn scanning the small crevices for the elusive Black Canyon Gilia.
Black Canyon gilia is a Colorado endemic that grows in small cracks on vertical rock faces. A spotting scope and climbing gear proved necessary for spotting Black Canyon gilia. We documented new occurrences on the North Rim, and relocated many old occurrences of this cliff-dwelling plant.
Cheatgrass towering over a tiny gilia
We were excited to locate so many individuals, even though the plants were not yet flowering.
The Gunnison River, at peak flow for 2011, snaking through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
After a week of field surveys, we concluded that Black Canyon gilia has a broader range in the Black Canyon than previously documented. However, most of the cliff faces we accessed with climbing gear contained fewer than 30 individuals. More surveys are needed to fully document the extent of the plant in the canyon. Furthermore, there have been no life history, demography, or longevity studies conducted for Black canyon gilia, so much work remains to be done before we will know the full story of this little plant.
Special thanks to NPS ecologist Danguole Bockus for partnering with CNHP on this project.