Park Plant Inventory

Friends of Bidwell Park are proud to be working with renowned California botanist and plant collector Lowell Ahart to conduct an inventory of the plants of Bidwell Park. Although partial floras of Upper Park have been completed in the past, the approximately 1,457-acres of land acquired on the southern side of Big Chico Creek in 1993 and 1995, and the approximately 225-acres of Lower Park have never been inventoried for plant species. This project will include these newly added areas, and we hope to address documentation of mosses, lichens, and mushrooms. Lowell Ahart has been granted a special collecting permit from the City of Chico.

photo of Lowel Ahart Lowell Ahart, Northern California Plant Collector, preparing voucher specimens of Spreading Rush (Juncus patens; Ahart # 15,418) and Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirons; Ahart # 15,417) at the old Plant Introduction Center in Lower Bidwell Park. Objectives of this project include documenting the presence of native species as well as the non-natives that have spread from historic introductions.

Mr. Ahart is recognized by North American plant scientists for his meticulously-collected and prepared plant specimens; many resemble fine works of art. He emphasizes the importance of collecting specimens by stating "without a specimen, a claim of a plant species on a plant list is just a rumor." A number of plants have been named in honor of his contributions, including Ahart's Paronychia (Paronychia ahartii), Ahart's Dwarf Rush (Junus leiospermus var. ahartii), Ahart's Sulfur- flower ( Eriogonum umbellatum var. ahartii) and most recently Ahart's Rose (Rosa pisocarpa var. ahartii).

History

Annie Bidwell loved the natural setting that blesses our Chico community. She was so impressed with the natural beauty of Big Chico Cheek and associated canyon that she deeded over 2,250 acres of John Bidwell's Rancho Arroyo Chico to the City of Chico in 1905. This parcel extended from downtown Chico approximately eight miles northeastward into the Cascade foothills. She was also an amateur botanist, having collected several "type specimens" (first specimens used to describe a plant species). Her contributions to California botany include Bidwell's Knotweed (Polygonum bidwelliae) and Johnny Tuck (Tryphysaria eriantha ssp. eriantha) which was first described as Bidwell's Johnny Tuck (Orthocarpus bidwelliae).

Many people from around the world travel to Bidwell Park to enjoy the setting and marvel at the amazing diversity of native plants. These have included relatively distinguished persons, including naturalists and botanists like William Brewer, Asa Gray, Joseph Dalton Hooker, Joseph Le Conte, John Muir, and Alice Eastwood. For more than a century, thousands of students have gone to Bidwell Park to learn about plants, their life histories, and their habitats.

In 1986, Vernon H. Oswald published "Vascular Plants of Upper Park, Chico California" through Studies from the Herbarium-California State University, Chico, with help from a grant from the Altacal Audubon Society. Vern's flora built on the 1st flora of Upper Park, which was prepared by a Chico State graduate student in 1976. The unpublished Master's Thesis listed 444 species. Unfortunately no specimens from this study were deposited in the Chico State Herbarium and 109 of these plants were not located during Oswald's study. Some of these unconfirmed species were very likely misidentifications (Rumors by definition!).

photo of Lowel Ahart Lowell Ahart with Josephine Guardino and Steve Green, searching for the diminutive Small-flowered Tonella (Tonella tenella) at a location from which it had been purportedly seen years ago. This project will record the presence of previously undocumented plant species, as well as species previously collected, but now perhaps "missing".

Oswald's 1986 flora of Upper Park documented 98 vascular plant families, 384 genera and 748 species and sub-specific taxa. Of these, 525 plants (70.2%) are native to California and 223 (29.8%) are non-native.

Dr. Vern Oswald hoped this flora of Upper Park would "provide a better understanding of a valuable natural resource and encourage its future conservation." Unfortunately the Oswald flora is no longer in print. We hope by updating the flora of Bidwell Park and making the results available, it will help those managing the park and foster more efforts to protect this unique and irreplaceable natural heritage for all to enjoy.

Documentation of the flora is the first step in understanding and conserving Chico's portion of California's native biodiversity. The updated flora will document the biological resources entrusted to our care and management. Distribution information accounts for what is present, and also serves as baseline information in the inevitably changing natural world. How many species are present? How many species are unique, or "Rare"? Which species are most likely to be encountered in the different settings? Which areas are "native diversity hotspots"? Which places support mostly non- native species? Which introduced species are invasive and threatening the native plants and animals? Answers to some of these questions will result from this study!

If you would like to contribute or volunteer for this project, or just meet Lowell Ahart while he collects plants from Bidwell Park, please call Josephine at (530) 384-1774 or e-mail joguardino@sbcglobal.net.