Discovering a New Species?

FUNDED: $10,000

Grown without cultivation, Zion’s wildflowers are native plants that thrive despite harsh desert conditions. The penstemon family of wildflowers are found throughout North America with 270 known species. The fuchsia penstemon is an extremely rare wildflower, found only in Zion National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The distinguishing feature of this wildflower is its vibrant shade of amaranth purple. Up until now, it was broadly accepted that the fuchsia penstemon was a hybrid of two other penstemon flowers. Recent research by a penstemon expert at Brigham Young University suggests that Zion’s fuchsia penstemon might be a new, undiscovered species.

A team of plant scientists from Zion and Brigham Young University will conduct a two-part study. Horticulturists will attempt to cultivate the fuchsia penstemon by crossing the two penstemons believed to create this rare flower. Through collected samples, scientists will also evaluate the flower’s DNA to see if the sequence is previously unseen. This engaging research allows Zion to embark on the process of discovery. As protectors of rare plants, Zion scientists will be equipped with documentation needed to create the best strategies for conserving not only the fuchsia penstemon, but the other 1,100 known wildflower species found throughout the park.