Dissanthelium californicum treasure hunt, to rediscover the formerly "extinct" grass on San Clemente Island.


No. 19- July 2005

Edited, published and Photos Copyright © 2000 by Craig Dremann of The Reveg Edge (sm). P.O. Box 361, Redwood City, Cal. 94064. Phone (650) 325-7333
The URL of this issue is: http://www.ecoseeds.com/juicy.gossip.nineteen.html or http://www.ecoseeds.com/extinctgrass.html

Index at http://www.ecoseeds.com/juicy.html

Copyright © Associated Press: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 9:36 PM PDT
Special Reports: Science & Technology

Grass species not seen since 1912 found on Catalina Island

AVALON -- A species of grass not seen since 1912 has been discovered growing on Santa Catalina Island off the Southern California coast, botanists say.

The plant, California dissanthelium, had long been thought extinct until a botanist recently spotted the wispy, 7-inch-tall tufts while hiking in Cottonwood Canyon.

"I saw a little grass, and I thought, 'Hmm, that doesn't look familiar,"' said Jenny McCune, an assistant plant ecologist for the Catalina Island Conservancy.

McCune found the grass on March 30 in an area of the canyon hit by fire two years ago. Scientists confirmed the plant's identity last month.

"It's quite a thrill to have something you thought was gone forever come back to life again," said Lyn McAfee, president of the California Native Plant Society's Pasadena chapter.

The grass species was first identified on Catalina Island by botanist William Gambel in 1847. It was then noted on an island off the coast of Baja California in 1875 and on San Clemente Island in 1903.

But after those sightings, no one had seen it since 1912.

"It's very serendipitous," McCune said. "It's about being in the right place at the right time and having an eye for things you don't recognize."

Earlier this month, student botanist Michael Park made a similar find while hiking at Mount Diablo State Park in the San Francisco Bay Area. He rediscovered Mount Diablo buckwheat, last seen in 1936.

Rediscover the Dissanthelium on San Clemente Island. By Craig Dremann

California has 300 or so native grasses, and Dissanthelium californicum was the only one presumed extinct until it was rediscovered on Catalina Island in May, 2005. This annual grass was first described by Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) in 1848 from collections made by Dr. William Gambel (1823-1849) in 1847 on Santa Catalina Island.

"A smooth, many jointed, annual, small grass, without branches, about a foot high; leaves linear and attenuated into long points; ligules membranaceous, small; panicle narrow with the small branches appressed. Glumes green, and smooth, very long, extending beyond the included spikelet...anthers whitish. Nearly allied to Poa, but with the glume almost of Danthonia...Hab.Island of Santa Catalina, Coast of California"

The San Clemente Island populations were first collected by the naturalist BlancheTrask (1865-1916) in the spring of 1903, and I believe the grass still occurs on the island and may be in the northern third. This would be an interesting treasure hunt.

When I was working for the Navy on the island in 1996, and studying aerial photos of the island, I chose five locations as potential Dissanthelium sites on San Clemente Island:

1.) The Isthmus, 1000 feet southwest and northeast on either side of the light.

2.) Northwest Harbor, along the drainage that leads to the landing field and then the half mile along the northern edge of the field where the drainage crosses.

3.) Wilson Cove, along the stream that leads to the 'Wall' horizontal control station, especially the portion of the drainage below the 198 meter benchmark.

4.) Malva-2, the triangular portion formed by the landing field to the south and the two roads to the west and east, especially along the drainage.

5.) The Landing Strip's western edge, and then following southwest 1.5 miles between the 220 and 260 meter contour lines, especially where drainages begin out of the Pleistocene sand deposits.

If anyone finds the San Clemente Island populations of Dissanthelium at any of the five suggested sites listed above, please consider to include me as a co-author of your paper. Dissanthelium may or may not be found at any of these five sites, but these locations may yield unique or unusual vegetation communities, archaeological sites, etc.

About ten years ago, Dr. Alan Beetle told me about his travels around California in the mid-1940s to write his paper in the journal Hilgardia (April 1947, V. 17, N. 9, pages 309-357) "Distribution of the Native Grasses of California."

Dr. Beetle wanted to prove that none of California's native grasses had gone extinct, and wanted to search for the Dissanthelium on San Clemente, but couldn't get permission to do so from the War Department during World War II. Apparently Dr. Beetle was proven correct, that no California grass has gone extinct, with the rediscovery of the Dissanthelium on Catalina Island in the spring of 2005.

There is a very interesting aspect of Dissanthelium, at least regarding the original populations on San Clemente Island, that nobody has ever written about. There is a penciled note on the Blanche Trask specimen at the US National Herbarium--- the word "Common"--- which indicates there is a good chance that even 100 years later, someone will rediscover the grass on that island?


Missouri Botanical Garden - w3TROPICOS Nomenclatural Data Base - 15 July 2003 and CATALOGUE OF NEW WORLD GRASSES (Poaceae) July 8, 2005.

Dissanthelium californicum (Nutt.) Benth., Hooker's Icon. Pl. 4: 56, t. 1375. 1881.

TREATED BY: Soreng, R. J.

BASIONYM: Stenochloa californica Nutt.

Type Protologue:
USA: California: Catalina Island, Gambel s.n.
Protologue Distribution: USA

Type Specimen:
1 of 1. USA: California: Santa Catalina Island, Gambel s.n. [Holotype Type: GH; Isotype: US (fragm. ex GH & rough drawing)], hb. label for drawing has Nuttal script, and header Coll. NUTTALL, Presented by Elias Durand, 1866.

Published in:
Hooker's Icones Plantarum 4: 56, t. 1375. 1881.
{Hooker's Icon. Pl. ; BPH 420.26}

Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 4: 25. 1848.
{Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia ; BPH 723.22}

Annotation: also in J. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, ser. 2, 1: 189 (Aug, 1848)

Stenochloa californica Nutt.
Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 4: 25. 1848.

Synonyms of Dissanthelium californicum (Nutt.) Benth. - Stenochloa californica Nutt.

Family - POACEAE - Grass Family


Author(s): Swallen, J. R. & O. Tovar

Date: 1965

The grass genus Dissanthelium
11(6): 361--376
Author(s): Gould, F. W. & R. Moran

Date: 1981

The grasses of Baja California, Mexico
Memoir San Diego Society of Natural History
12: 1--140
Author(s): Espejo Serna, A., A. R. López-Ferrari, and J. Valdés-Reyna

Date: 2000

Monocotiledóneas Mexicanas: una Sinopsis Florística
10: 7--236 [and index]


Collection index key: NUTTALL s.n. -- specimen id {01780177}

Current det -
Dissanthelium californicum (Nutt.) Benth.
Det by - G.D. Wallace, 1982

Collection Information: United States, California
Collector(s): Nuttall
Collection number: s.n.
Collection date:
Herbarium: MO


Specimen ID: 469621
Collection Information: United States, California
Vicinity: San Clemente Island
Elevation: not stated on herbarium label.
Coordinates: not stated on herbarium label.
Collector(s): Blanche Trask
Collection number: 324
Collection date: June, 1903
Herbarium: US
Herbarium label notes: "Common"

UPDATE: In 2010, two populations were found on San Clemete Island.

Three of the photos below show the specimen's detail natural sized, with a quarter coin in two photos for scale; and two pictures of the seeds with cm scale, the first is natural sized and the second enlarged 7.5X. Photos copyright © 2000 by Craig Dremann.

Dissanthelium californicum

Dissanthelium californicum

Dissanthelium californicum

Seeds photgraphed from the specimen's pocket material, natural sized >>>> Dissanthelium californicum

and enlarged 7.5X >>>
Dissanthelium californicum

Updated December 23, 2022 - The Reveg Edge Ecological Restoration services.