Oakland students help protect rare flower

TIBURON, Calif. (KGO) -- With its rustic church and windswept trails, the Old St. Hilary open space is one of the jewels of the Bay Area. It's also home to something found nowhere else in the world but here on the Tiburon peninsula -- the rare and lovely Tiburon jewelflower.

Biologist Dr. Sarah Swope is on a mission to study the delicate jewelflower, and perhaps, save it from extinction. She says the jewelflower, with its dark purple blooms has been threatened, both by development and years of drought.

"So basically, the population has to kind of restart from seed every single year, and seeds need water to germinate. So the drought has been particularly hard on this plant," she says.

With the population dropping, Swope recruited students like Geneva Lee from her biology program at Mills College in Oakland and set off looking for answers. The students compared current plants to samples collected decades ago to learn if they might be adaptable to climate change.

"And looking at genome between individuals and comparing them to establish the genetic diversity in these populations," says Lee.

The team raised their own jewelflowers at the campus greenhouse, transplanting them to a new area in the Tiburon Hills where they'll test potential survival factors like soil make up and pollination. Now the project has just received more than $60,000 in seed money, put up by both the college and Marin County, in hopes of preserving the jewelflowers.

"So we're working with all of these plants that exist in the entire world," Swope says.

And along the way, they've developed a protective attachment to a unique little flower fighting to survive in a scenic corner of the Bay Area.

"It's an absolutely classically California species," says Swope.

Written and produced by Tim Didion
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