Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Common Bearpoppy
Arctomecon humilis

Family: Papaveraceae (pa-pav-er-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Arctomecon (ark-to-MEE-kon) (Info)
Species: humilis (HEW-mil-is) (Info)

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Sun Exposure:
Full Sun

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Bloom Color:
White/Near White

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By Kell
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There are a total of 8 photos.
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1 positive
1 neutral
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive Kell On Feb 12, 2015, Kell from Northern California, CA (Zone 9b) wrote:

Per Jan Emming owner of the Destination:Forever Ranch and Gardens, a 40 acre desert botanical garden and sustainable living homestead in the Arizona desert with a nursery:

Touring the western edges of the expansive Colorado Plateau, one can come across some very interesting habitats for plants and animals. Among the most unusual of these are gypsum hills. This is a uniquely difficult environment for plants to survive in due to what is sometimes called "high ionic strength soil", aridity, poor nutrition, and rapid rates of erosion. In our recent tour of the region, we more or less stumbled across a critically endangered and beautiful plant on these gypsiferous hills named the dwarf bear claw poppy, Arctomecon humilis. Not knowing what it was at the time of discovery but recognizing it for the rarity it is, online research a day later inspired me to decide to feature this fascinating plant and its unique environment in this album.The rare and federally endangered dwarf bear-claw poppy (Arctomecon humilis) lives only in a handful of scattered populations in Washington County, Utah, in the far southwestern corner of the state very nearly upon the Arizona border.

The city of St George, Utah can be seen from the hills where the dwarf bear-claw poppy and several other rare species manage to survive. A fenced-off preserve has been created for these plants to protect them from off-road vehicle abuse and mining which destroys their only habitat.

Showy white flowers with yellow stamens and a green ovary appear in late April and early May. Plants stand only about 8 inches/20 cm tall and 12 inches/30 cm wide, but the dense hemispheres of flowers are quite noticeable on the landscape since there is little else that can survive the habitat they live in, leaving the ecological niche open for the poppies. A rare solitary bee has evolved to be a primary pollinator of this poppy, further isolating this plant from the wider landscape and ensuring its limited presence.

In the 3rd photo of mine, if you look closely you can see where the bear-claw poppy gets its name from. Three-toothed leaves somewhat resemble a cartoon version of tulip blooms in outline and are supposedly reminiscent of the imprint of a bear's paw. (I see them as similar to three-toed dinosaur footprints that are found fossilized in nearby geological strata in southern Utah.) This small plant has many charms.

The gypsiferous hills of this region are derived from what is known as the Moenkopi Formation, a type of muddy or silty substrate that was laid down in oxygen-poor, slow-moving waters such as prehistoric swamps or shallow lakes. The Moenkopi frequently contains fossils such as petrified wood, and is often quite colorful in shades of red, purple, pink, yellow, white, or gray based upon which minerals predominate in that section. The gypsum-bearing sections near St George Utah tend to be white or gray, although other exposed portions elsewhere in the region are a pleasing lavender color. In no case does much vegetation grow upon the Moenkopi, and many of the few species that do are rare and restricted to living only upon it. Note the white globes of the endemic dwarf bear-claw poppy (Arctomecon humilis) dotting the hills in the distance. The poppies do not live anywhere else, only upon these few hillsides within 10 miles of St George.

Of great importance to the rare dwarf bear-claw poppy is the presence of the cryptobiotic crust community that coats the surface of the hills. This crust is up to two inches (5 cm) thick if undisturbed and contains a diverse variety of lichens, algae, cyanobacteria, mosses, and fungi, as can be seen here in this close-up image. The microorganisms that comprise the crust weave together into a mat that helps stabilize the soil, drastically slows erosion, and fixes nitrogen and other important nutrients into the poor soils of the Moenkopi Formation for use by the rare plants that grow here. It also provides a seed bed for the poppy, retaining moisture after rains for long enough that the seedlings can develop and grow large enough to prosper.

A term I have heard used for gypsum-rich soils, limestone, and other difficult environments is "high ionic strength". This nifty-sounding phrase describes the chemical characteristics of the soil, with elevated levels of salts, minerals, and other ion-producing molecules that bind up critical nutrients, increase water stress, and generally complicate basic functions of plant physiology. The white segments of this landscape view are places where gypsum, a calcium sulfate dihydrate molecule, is the dominant soil component. High gypsum soils are notoriously difficult for plants to survive in, especially in dry deserts, since the point of water stress is reached much sooner than in more normal soils due to the soluble ions inherently present. It is so significant a barrier to most species that many plants simply cannot tolerate it, leaving the niche wide open and often sparingly occupied. The few plants that can overcome the challenges found by growing upon gypsiferous soils are frequently stunted from normal appearances, or conversely can grow only here and do not compete well in more typical situations. If you are a botanist, naturalist, or ecologist you will usually come to understand that some of nature's most interesting plants (and animals for you zoologists and entomologists) live in the difficult, marginal environments such as these.

Since the White Dome Nature Reserve was created by the Nature Conservancy and the Utah Division of Wildlife in 1979 the dwarf bear-claw poppy's habitat has been 95% preserved out of private property that had once been slated to be mined for gypsum, a mineral used in construction drywall and other industrial products. Off-road vehicle use was banned since the trails were ruining the fragile cryptobiotic crust the poppy requires for seeds to germinate and grow in, and adult plants were being mashed under careless tires. The ORV tracks are still visible decades later, although the poppies are successfully growing again in some of them and the crust is gradually reappearing.

Efforts to artificially propagate the poppy in captivity have to date failed. Whatever complex conditions required for successful germination and seedling growth have not yet been deciphered, and therefore protecting the wild habitat of this plant is mandatory for its survival.

For now, the White Dome Nature Reserve appears to have reasonably secured the future of the dwarf bear-claw poppy, although there will always be significant threats to a naturally rare species such as this one. But this can for now be considered a conservation success story.

Neutral balvenie On Feb 22, 2005, balvenie from Marysville, WA (Zone 7a) wrote:

"Arctomecon humile Colville. Small desert poppy
Plants form small rather dense tufts of grey green leaves.These are roughly spatular shaped,with a lobed,often 3-lobed,apex and narrowed gradually below into a slender petiole.The foliage is rather sparsley hairy and without the fuzzy appearance of the other two species.The small white flowers,2.5-5 cm(1-2 in )diameter are borne on branched astems just clear of the foliage,with the lower branches bracted.There is a rather small boss of yellow stamens in the centre of the flower,surrounding the greenish-yellow ovary.
One of the rarest poppies in the world that is restricted to a single site in Utah close to both the Nevada and Arizona state lines.Unffortunately,the only known site iswithin the boundaries of the rapidly developing site of St George and although the site is offered some protection,the species may ultimately succumb to town planners and the need for further industrialisation.Local conservationists might be well advised to try and establish another colony from seed in a safer locality.Signs along the roadside margin of the site proclaim the fact that it is the only place in the world where this little gem grows and plead for no damage or off-the-road vehicle activity.The site is roughly 1.6X3.2 km (1X2 miles)in extent and is generally barren gypsum-based soil dominated by Creosote Bush (Larrea)at an elevation of about 800m (2625ft).A.humilis makes a little multi-bloomed posies in the ground." from Christopher Grey-Wilson's "Poppies",pp227-228

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