Scientific Name: Arctomecon humilis
Zone: Native to southern Utah from 2,700 to 3,300'
Arctomecon humilis, commonly known as the dwarf bear-claw poppy, is a gorgeous, short-lived perennial herb. This delicate poppy species, found only in southwestern Utah, may be the most endangered species of poppy in North America. The future of this species remains uncertain, as the remaining seven populations occur close to the growing metropolis of St. George, Utah.
Arctomecon humilis is found on gypsum soils that are derived from outcrops of the Moenkopi Formation. It is called the bear-claw poppy because of its claw-like leaf tips. This highly endangered poppy plant is low-growing, with heights ranging from 4-6 inches above ground level. Despite their short stature, individual plants may display as many as 200 delicate white flowers in late spring and early summer.
The bear-claw poppy was formally protected as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service beginning in 1979. In the late 1980’s, the Utah Native Plant Society, in collaboration with researchers from Brigham Young University, began to study this species. More recently, the Nature Conservancy of Utah purchased a plot of land with the specific aim to protect one of the seven remaining populations.
Threats to the bear-claw poppy include housing developments and off-road vehicle (ORV) use. As well as damaging the few remaining plants, ORVs disturb the cryptogamic soil, which is critical to harboring the long-term seed bank and providing germination sites for seeds.
Red Butte Garden and other groups have attempted to germinate this species in the greenhouse. The ability to propagate this species in the greenhouse would enable us to study the feasibility of reintroduction projects that would aid its survival. Unfortunately, germination and propagation of this species has met with very limited success, probably due in part to the unusual process that these seeds undergo for final development in the soil. At present, we have very little understanding of what intrinsic and environmental factors influence this process.
In 2002, Red Butte Garden in collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management and CREW (Center for Reproduction of Endangered Wildlife in Cincinnati, Ohio), attempted tissue culture propagation using plant material from living plants. Unfortunately, this attempt was unsuccessful. The tissues browned in culture and CREW was not able to establish good shoot-producing cultures. We will make another attempt at tissue culture propagation in the Spring of 2004. If successful, this would eliminate the immediate need to replicate the natural seed maturation process. Our anticipated work with the bear-claw poppy highlights Red Butte Garden’s continuing commitment to developing methods for conserving the rare and endangered plant species of Utah.