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Health, Science & Environment

Native Plants List Grows, As Does Tally of Plants At Risk

Utah’s Native Plant Society has just updated its catalog to create a new listing that isn’t just comprehensive but also speaks volumes about how our world is changing.

The Native Plant Society’s latest research, published in its journal,  Calochortiana, gathers observations from botany hobbyists and professionals dating back to before the pioneers settled Utah. New ways of collecting data have helped the tally climb to 3,200 species and varieties of vascular plants considered native to Utah. It’s a number you might expect from one of the nation’s most botanically diverse states.

But it doesn’t explain why, in just four years, there’s been a 20 percent jump in the types of plants at risk.

“We’re seeing an increase not only because we’re seeing more and we know more, but also because there are increasing threats,” says Tony Frates, co-chair of the society’s conservation committee and rare-plant-guide coordinator.

Those threats, he says, include climate change, sprawling communities and energy development. Meanwhile, about 400 species – many in southern Utah – appear to be unique to the state, and are somewhat rare to begin with just because of that uniqueness.

Frates makes it clear that cataloging plants like this is more than a quaint hobby: plant life has profound implications for the environment and people.

“The health of the world we live in is dependent of the health, really, of our plants,” he says. “We exist because of plants. We wouldn’t have oxygen to breathe. We wouldn’t have food to eat. We literally would not exist if not for plants.”

The plant society has determined that nearly one-third of Utah’s native flora is rare and "of conservation concern." And that count doesn’t even include the state’s lichens, mosses and mushrooms.

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