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Rarest Wildflowers Flourishing on Cliff

November 03, 1987|GORDON GRANT | Times Staff Writer

Small clumps of one of the world's rarest wildflowers, known to grow no place on Earth except in certain portions of the San Joaquin Hills in Orange County, are flourishing on a steep cliff in South Laguna.

The plants, called the "Laguna Beach Live-Forever" ( Dudleya stolonifera ), appeared on the face of a 100-foot bluff overlooking Aliso Canyon, below several homes and above the Aliso Creek Inn and golf course, inland from Coast Highway.

The plant "is so rare it should be on all endangered species lists, but they just haven't gotten around to it," said Lynn Lozier, a director with the California Nature Conservancy based in San Francisco.

Lozier said some of the plants have also been found in Laguna Canyon and three nearby sites in the San Joaquin Hills, but "that's as explicit as I want to get--for the protection of the flowers."

Each of the succulent plants consists of a small circle of shiny green leaves, sometimes tinged with purple.

In late spring, they produce bright lemon-yellow flowers that stand out against the gray cliff rocks. But the flowers are vulnerable to encroachment by domestic plants such as ivy and ice plant.

Lozier said the conservancy had known of the Aliso Canyon crop for some time but only recently brought it to the attention of the people who live near the steep slope so that they would be "aware of its needs."

In return for a simple promise to protect the plants as best they can, each owner has received a plaque from the conservancy's Landowners' Contract program. The program is "a new approach" to preventing the inadvertent destruction of rare species, Lozier said.

Many sites in California could harbor a single rare species, she said, and "their number and distribution make outright purchase by the conservancy unrealistic and often impossible."

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