Camatta Canyon Amole

Chlorogalum purpureum var. reductum

Photo courtesy California Native Plant Society.

The Camatta Canyon amole is a type of lily that is endemic to the La Panza Range in San Luis Obispo County, and grows nowhere else. The plant is so rare that it’s found in only two locations in and around the Los Padres National Forest.

The amole is a perennial herb with long, linear leaves that sprout from the base of the plant. The plant arises from an underground bulb each year, with purple flowers with curved-backwards petals. It blooms in the spring, typically April-May. It’s the only member of the Chlorogalum genus with purple flowers (all others have white or pink flowers).

The amole comes in two varieties, easily distinguished by their sizes and geographic occurrence; var. purpureum (the variety commonly called “purple amole”) grows up to 16 inches tall and var. reductum (the Camatta Canyon amole) reaches only 8 inches in height. Most (90%) of the amoles are of the purpureum variety and are found in the Santa Lucia Range of Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties.

The Camatta Canyon amole (var. reductum) occurs in two locations in the La Panza Range in the center of San Luis Obispo County, near State Highway 58. Most of these plants are on the Los Padres National Forest (LPNF), the rest (less than 2%) is on nearby private lands or alongside the highway. Together, the Forest Service estimates that all Camatta Canyon amole plants are restricted to an area of only ten to twelve acres, where the plant thrives on a unique soil type found nowhere else.

The Camatta Canyon amole grows extremely slowly and requires years to mature and produce seeds according to the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG)–twelve years after they began a research project with 360 newly planted seeds only ONE plant had reached maturity and produced seed itself!

In addition, the amole appears to grow in association with cryptogamic crusts – cyanobacteria, lichens, mosses and fungi that form a layer on the soil surface. These crusts help to stabilize the soil, retain soil moisture, provide nutrients, and inhibit weed growth.

Threats

Both amole varieties were classified as “threatened” in 2000 and continue to receive formal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, the Camatta Canyon amole occurs in an area that is heavily used by off-road vehicles, is grazed by livestock, and is bisected by several Forest Service roads, all of which have adversely affected amole populations here.

In 2009, the Forest Service installed new barriers to discourage illegal ORV trespass in amole habitat, an informal vehicle staging area was closed, and ranger patrols of the area were increased.

Most of the Camatta Canyon amole population is located within a grazing allotment on the Los Padres National Forest. Livestock grazing there is allowed from February through May (the same time that the amole is flowering). In reviewing the status of this plant in 2007, the US Fish & Wildlife Service concluded that “cattle grazing is likely adversely affecting the taxon by trampling, soil compaction, and possibly herbivory.”

In addition, the Forest Service has acknowledged that road maintenance activities have destroyed amole habitat by unnecessarily widening the road that cuts through the area.

Wildfire may actually result in a favorable response from the amole if competing plant species are removed, but the tiny distribution the species can also mean total devastation if lost in a wildfire.

Conservation Efforts

Critical habitat was designated in 2002, making it illegal to adversely modify the habitat of the amole on national forest land. In 2005, the Forest Service revised its management plan, establishing a 55-acre “Camatta Special Interest Area.” The plan requires preparation of a management plan, implementation schedule, and monitoring protocols for the area, but to date, no thorough population study has been conducted and no species management plan has been completed.

Population estimates range from “thousands of individuals” (U.S. Forest Service) to over 100,000 by CDFG and The Center for Plant Conservation. CDFG has not observed this population of amole to be decreasing over the past decade, but again no scientific study has been conducted to back up that statement.

ForestWatch will continue to track the management of the Camatta Canyon amole, and will work to ensure this rare flower gets the proper protection that it needs.

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