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Helping a Native of the Canyons: Macfarlane’s four-o-clock

At the end of May, a GHCC volunteer and I travelled down the lower Imnaha River canyon to help a threatened plant species. The mission was to dig up invasive weeds near the unique plant known as Macfarlane’s four-o-clock.

Macfarlane’s four-o-clock is an unusual plant. It only grows in Hells Canyon country, in the lower canyons of the Salmon, Snake and Imnaha Rivers. You will only find Macfarlane’s four-o-clock at an elevation near one to two thousand feet above sea level, and there are only thirteen known sites. Most of the known plants are within the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

When you visit the canyons in May, you are greeted with the special shade of green that

seems reserved for the canyons in springtime. As we hiked down to a site where the Macfarlane’s four-o-clocks grow, the slopes were covered with the new growth of another year’s foliage. The flowers of the Macfarlane’s four-o-clocks were in bloom, and their rosy-purple blossoms appeared between clumps of bluebunch wheatgrass. Phlox and penstemon flowers were also in bloom, and a few prickly pear cactus poked out between the bunchgrasses.

We soon found some non-native thistles, bur chervil, and bindweed in the area. Pushing our shovels into the rocky soil, we carefully dug up the roots of the invasive plants and piled them up for removal from the site.

Mac Farlane’s four-o’clock is listed as a threatened species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We used the utmost caution near these threatened plants and were very careful not to disturb them in any way. If you should encounter this plant, please be very careful as well. Appreciate them from a distance.

By removing the invasive, non-native plants we expect to reduce their rate of spread and reduce the potential for the weeds to compete with the Macfarlane four-o-clocks. We also reduce the likelihood of herbicide use in the area. The Forest Service has built a fence around the plants to protect them from humans and livestock. With these protections, the Macfarlane’s four-o-clock population seems to be stable and we even spotted a few small clumps that looked to be new sprouts. Let’s hope that this special native of the canyons keeps on growing!

Special thanks to volunteer Sandy Coulson for excellent weeding services and to the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area for collaborating on this partnership project each year since 2008.

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