Fulfilling a court order won by the Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued proposed rules to designate and protect 22,054 acres of critical habitat for the purple amole (Chlorogalum purpureum) on 11-8-01 and the Kneeland prairie penny-cress (Thlaspi californicum) on 10-24-01.

The amole, a member of the lily family, occurs in oak woodland and grassland habitats in Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties. It is threatened by military training, off-road vehicles, fire suppression, cattle grazing and invasive non-native species. “Amole” is an Aztec name brought to the U.S. by Spanish explorers from Mexico. It is also sometimes called a “soap plant” because Native Americans crushed the underground bulb into a lather with which to glue arrows together. The fibers of the bulb jacket were used to make brushes.

The penny-cress, a member of the mustard family, is endemic to serpentine soil on the outer north coast range of Humboldt County. It has declined by 48% since 1997 with only 5,100 plants remaining today. It is threatened by habitat fragmentation and destruction, primarily in the form of roads and helipad construction.

The penny-cress and amole are two of 181 California plants protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Most of these plants, including the amole, were first petitioned for federal protection by the Smithsonian Institution in 1975, but languished in bureaucratic limbo for decades until the Center and CNPS filed suit to protect them. Center initiatives have led to the listing of 84 California species, including 69 plants, and over 5.8 million acres of protected critical habitat.

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