Arctomecon humilis Coville
Dwarf Bearclaw Poppy Conservation History
(also referred to as "Low bearclaw poppy," "Low bear-poppy*," and "Dwarf bear poppy")
(last updated 01/22/2021)

Utah Native Plant Society

*Low bear-poppy is technically the most accurate Latin translation of its name since Arctomecon translates to "Bear poppy" and humilis means "low" and not dwarf

This is a brief summary of primarily UNPS related but also other conservation history concerning the Dwarf Bearclaw Poppy. It is not comprehensive and is a work in progress. For questions about this page, contact

Arctomecon humilis from UNPS 1988 filmstrip To Save A Species

Promises and commitments made by the state of Utah were broken in connection with this species, and the state agency responsibile for managing its habitat, SITLA, has acted in a closed door fashion and in the nature of an aggressive real estate developer that largely ignores best management practices despite claims and statutory responsibilities to the contrary. Current or former state employees with knowledge relating to SITLA transgressions towards the environment are encouraged to contact Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

These are listed in chronological order. Links will open in a new browser window. Just close the window to come back to this page. Most images are in the 50-60K range and are sized to be able to print them to a laser printer.

First collection made in 1874 but not recognized as a new species until 1892
While not named until 1892 by Frederick Coville, the first collection of the species was made in 1874 by Dr. Charles C. Parry (during one of his few visits - and this his first - to Utah and while he and his wife camped from about April 5 through June 25 with the Joseph E. Johnson family of St. George). At the time of collection on May 8, 1874, Dr. Parry thought that the plant was the same species as collected by John C. Fremont some 30 years earlier (in 1844) in what would become the Las Vegas, Nevada area (but then a part of the California territory) and which had been named Arctomecon californica. In Parry's botanical observations however he noted that the southwestern Utah plants were different than A. californica in having less hairy leaves, four rather than six valved capsules, and being more cespitose in habit (Parry, 1875).
Just prior to Parry's encounter with the poppy, that day he had first proceeded in a southwesterly direction towards the Beaver Dam mountains (the ultimate destination) and had crossed the Santa Clara at its mouth which Parry describes as "flooded with melted snow and turbid from the dissolved mud of its lower alluvial banks." He then proceeded "up" a dry wash in the general direction of the mountains and on a sandy bed he noted the fragrant white flowers of Purshia mexicana. Parry commented on the adjoining uplands as being "composed of various colored clay and sandy knolls, often fantastically washed, and intersected by miniature ravines and deep basins," these slopes containing Larrea and Psorothamnus fremontii (Parry, 1875). He then observed the white-flowering poppy.
Parry initially describes the poppy occurrence as a "single locality" but then says, "In the two localities where found it grew in a loose marly soil, strongly impregnated with gypsum." (Parry 1875, pages 139 and 140). Parry also observed plants with fruit and described them as "forming a basket in which the shining black seeds lie loosely like so many eggs."
The Bloomington area southwest of St. George (and west of I-15 and the Virgin River) is most likely where Parry encountered the species.
Parry's discovery of what would be named Petalonyx parryi, also a gypsophile and which sometimes grows with A. humilis, did not happen until later in 1874 (June, Parry. no. 75) and was closer to St. George, and Parry noticed it only at one now destroyed location. The primary Utah habitat of P. parryi east of the town of Washington and once described as locally common has been largely and systematically lost as well.
While P. parryi occurs elsewhere, Arctomecon humilis only occurs in Utah growing within roughly about a 5 to 10 mile radius half circle around/below the city of St. George (west/south/east) and typically at about an elevation of 3,000 ft.
A. humilis was initially not realized to be a different species until Frederick Coville re-examined Parry's specimens (and the plant species was therefore not named until after Parry's death in 1890).
The only three known species of Arctomecon (only one of which occurs in Utah) have therefore been named and known as such since 1892. All are gypsophiles.
Dwarf Bearclaw Poppy remains mostly obscure for decades
The species remained obscure having somehow been missed by Marcus Jones during his first full year (1880) in Utah and during the period March 26, 1880 until approx. April 19 of that year (prime time for bearclaw poppy flowering) and even though Jones botanized below the temple (where Parry found Petalonyx parryi) and on the Santa Clara River. Jones however did finally collect Arctomecon humilis during the period May 21-23 of 1918 near the end of his botanical career in Utah (Lenz, 1986 - see p. 373).
Ivar Frederick Tidestrom collected the species on May 5, 1919.
The May 9, 1940 collection of the species by Peebles and Parker that led to it being reported as occurring in Arizona in floras published there from 1942 to 1960 was almost certainly made in Utah, probably at White Dome in Washington County, Utah (Frates 2018).
Dwight Ripley and Rupert Barneby collected it on June 10, 1941 and again May 3, 1942; and with Noel and Pat Holmgren, Barneby would be a part of its collection again on May 26, 1979, some 37+ years later (one day prior to that, the Holmgrens and Barneby collected specimens that would form the type of Astragalus holmgreniorum, another rare plant and federally listed species).
Duane Atwood collected it in 1969 and in the 1970's (sometimes with others).
I-15 construction paves the way to federal protection
The Utah portion of I-15 construction to replace old US Route 91 south of St. George began with a contract to grade the road in November of 1960. The Utah section was completed in the early 1960's. This was followed by completion of the difficult section through the Virgin River Gorge in 1972.
There is little question that the original I-15 construction directly impacted dwarf bearclaw poppy habitat and split the populations.
As a result of I-15 construction, the population of Washington County doubled in the 1970's: "The new freeway was a significant factor in the doubling of the county’s population from 1970 to 1980. One of the first spin-offs of the new road was the development of Bloomington, a golf course community that attracted retirees, golf tourists and second home owners. The development established a pattern of real estate projects in which residential lots surrounded a common attraction, which in most cases was a golf course." (Quote is from a Washington County page on but no longer actively available.)
The dwarf bearclaw poppy once grew relatively prolifically in the Bloomington area just to the southwest of St. George, and in the hills to the west of Bloomington. (As noted above, the Bloomington area is most likely where C.C. Parry first encountered the species). The explosion of real estate projects in Bloomington in the 1970's following I-15 construction further significantly reduced the poppy's limited habitat and formed overwhelming obstacles to pollen transfer. (SunRiver construction which began in 1998 and which also adjoins I-15 and other projects/corridors continue to do the same). These developments and related impacts by an increasing population led to the need for federal protection.
Proposed to be listed as endangered, June 16, 1976
Citation page: 41 FR 24523 24572
1978 publications urged listing
Dr. Stanley Welsh of BYU in March 1978 Great Basin Naturalist recommends listing as endangered
Dr. Duane Atwood of the USFS in August 1978 Mentzelia indicates that unless this species is listed, it will become extinct
Later in the A Utah Flora series, Dr. Welsh stated (referring initially to the rare species of the genus Arctomecon):

As irreplaceable portions of our natural heritage they should be regarded as a national prize, as jewels of great price, and protected for future generations, whose advocacy this generation must represent.

The low bearclaw poppy is legitimately cited as endangered under stipulations of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. Despite that listing and attempts by concerned and state agencies and many private individuals, the habitat is being systematically impacted by off-road traffic. Only prudent preservation of the habitat will guarantee survival of this species into the future.

from Welsh, Stanley L., N. Duane Atwood, Sherel Goodrich and Larry C. Higgins, editors, A Utah Flora, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1987/2nd ed (p. 509), 2003/3d ed, (p. 473), and 2008/4th ed, (p. 544)

Listed as an endangered species November 6, 1979
Listed throughout its entire range; known only from Utah.
Citation page: 44 FR 64250 64252
Bearclaw poppy appears as one of only a handful of plants in a 1981 UNPS coloring book
Arctomecon humilis drawing by Kaye Thorne
Arctomecom humilis illustrated by Kaye Thorne as it appeared in Utah's Colorful Natives (1981) click for larger image
UNPS initiates action in early 1983
UNPS conservation chair Tony Frates initiates contacts with various state and federal agencies as well as with botanists in March of 1983 after the poppy is identified as the "most endangered" species in the Utah flora. Activity is continuous throughought 1983 and Dr. Duane Atwood, the rare plant committee chair, plays a vital role.
State of Utah Dwarf BearClaw Poppy Recovery Plan (approved by land board 12/83)
(this document was the culmination of UNPS efforts with respect to working with the state of Utah in gaining their cooperation and as outlined/recommended in the federal recovery plan)
Sept 30, 1983 application - page 1/main application
State Of Utah (Natural Resources & Energy, State Lands & Foresty) letter of October 5, 1983 signed by Kevin S. Carter (then Land Specialist) to the Galen Buterbaugh, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Denver)
Page 1
Page 2
Note in the first page Kevin Carter states:

We feel a need to demonstrate that we can effectively manage lands on a "School Trust" basis and still consider and protect other environmental factors.

We feel that we will be able to manage and provide as much protection to this endangered species as any federal agency could provide.

SL Tribune article by Jim Woolf dated 11/8/1983: Utah Plans Steps to Save Endangered Poppy
Part 1
Part 2
State of Utah/Matheson letter to BLM of 2/3/84 affirming state concept of ACEC's
Letter (one page)
USFWS recovery plan approved in 1985
Recovery plan was approved December 31, 1985 (it however has never been funded by the USFWS).
Monitoring efforts begin in 1985
In 1985 Kevin Carter (State Lands & Forestry) initiated some informal monitoring studies. This was the beginning of an effort that later led to UNPS initiating a full scientific study to better understand the populations. Prior to President's Day, 1985, materials were prepared and provided to Kevin Carter for his possible use in patroling (President's Day is a heavy use/ORV day at the White Dome site).
UNPS field trip - early May, 1985
Dave Wallace of UNPS set-up a field trip after hearing a talk by Larry England and various UNPS/local Sierra Club Chapters met with Kevin Carter and signs at White Dome were re-posted.
UNPS The Endangerd Dwarf Bearclaw Poppy brochure written/designed by Tony Frates in early 1986
Side 1
Side 2
State efforts continue in 1986
Two days prior to President's Day, 1986, signs at White Dome were re-posted. An organized motorcycle event was again this year held and the state assisted in monitoring activities.
UNPS sponsored field trip on 4/26/86
(photos by Tony Frates)
Kevin Carter (State Lands & Forestry) and Dave Wallace (UNPS) survey various flattened signs
UNPS volunteers (Dave Wallace and others) help to re-post state of Utah signs
Kevin Carter inspects a poppy near a criss-cross of ORV tracks
UNPS establishes a bear poppy study committee
Chaired by Dick Page, UNPS initiates a proposal for the study of the species which an ad hoc study committee reviews and provides input; input from the academic community is sought.
Desert News article dated 4/13/1987 by Joseph Bauman: ORV drivers crushing rare poppies in S. Utah
Larry England, USFWS botanist, was quoted as saying that, "A significant proportion of the population has been ground into oblivion by these ORVS."
UNPS produces the filmstrip To Save A Species: Dwarf Bearclaw Poppy (1988)
Attempting to fulfill its mission and as recommended by the draft recovery plan, a filmstrip is prepared, completed and distributed to schools and libraries primarily in the St. George area by UNPS volunteers.
Here are some scans of some of the 45 slides from that presentation:
Cover page that accompanied kit
Slide 3 (R. Marzec April 1986 poppy closeup)
Slide 5 (plant in bloom)
Slide 6 (leaf)
Slide 7 (R. Marzec April 1986 leaves/dwarf habit)
Slide 8 (buds)
Slide 18 (buds and blossoms)
Slide 19 (habitat)
Slide 22 (poppies in biological crusts)
Slide 23 (trails crossing habitat)
Slide 26 (urban encroachment)
Slide 31 (poppy near trail track)
Slide 32 (heavy ORV use and destruction of crusts)
Slide 38 (flower closeup)
Slide 45 (poppy head shot)
Citation and library card:
Utah Native Plant Society. 1988. To save a species: dwarf bear claw poppy [46 fr. col., cassette].
The survival of this endangered plant, growing only in Washington County, Utah, is dependent upon the cooperation of the people of Utah.
CONTENTS: -filmstrip, cassette tape, photo, script and information materials for the teacher.
Harper/Nelson letter of 3/6/1989 to USFWS
Page 1
Page 2
BLM letter letter of 3/30/1989 in reply to Harper/Nelson letter above
Threatened Bear Claw Poppy Receives Help from The Nature Conservancy's GreatBasin newsletter, fall 1990
Page 1
SL Tribune article by Jim Woolf dated 5/19/1991: Program Surveys Rarest Plant in Utah: Dwarf Bear-Claw Poppy Near St. George
Part 1 (Ben Franklin/poppy pictured; documents ongoing ORV damage)
Salt Lake Tribune article dated 6/02/1996 by University of Utah botanists Michael D. Windham and Loreen A. Woolstenhulme: Bull-Headed Humans Threaten to Stamp Out Rare Bear-Claw Poppy
Part 1
Part 2
Deseret News article by Lucinda Dillon published 7/1/1998: Poppies, soil, other quirks pose natural hurdles to development
Quote from a BLM official with respect to building on the habitat of gypsiferous plants like Arctomecon humilis:

Build a house on it when wet and the ground will shrink and collapse beneath the structure. Build when it's dry, and "it's literally strong enough to split houses in half when it expands," . . .

These warnings however have largely gone unheeded.
Bearclaw Poppy Then and Now - A 20 Year Retrospective
Dave Wallace photos documenting severe state of habitat decline on the White Dome (state owned/SITLA managed) and Atkinville (primarily state owned and nearing complete extirpation) lands comparing how they looked in the mid-1980's compared to how they looked in May of 2004
Dwarf Bear Poppy Day declared in St. George (May 3, 2007)
From the May 3, 2007 St. George City Council Minutes:

PROCLAMATION: Marilyn Davis advised that Washington County is the only place in the world the Dwarf Bear Claw Poppy grows, and it is in full bloom now.

Mayor Pro Tem Orton read a proclamation declaring the second Saturday in May as Dwarf Bear Claw Poppy Day in the City, and presented the proclamation to Ms. Davis.

The Nature Conservancy Congratulates St. George on Dwarf Bear Poppy Day (May 4, 2007 article)
Saturday May 12, 2007 was the first Dwarf Bear Poppy Day in St. George.
TNC Announces Preserve Purchase (June 25, 2007)
The Nature Conservancy announces the purchase of a 55 acre reserve at White Dome as part of an overall plan to acquire 800 acres. Some limited habit for Pediocactus sileri (also a federally listed plant species) is included.
In the September 2007 edition (vol. XXXII No.3) of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Endangered Species Bulletin, the article Conserving a Natural Utah Treasure by Elaine York, TNC's Western Regional Director, provides additional details.
TNC White Dome Preserve Survey May 2008
According to a report from The Nature Conservancy, a May 2008 survey on its new 55 acre survey in the beleaguered White Dome area revealed an above-average bloom this year and above normal seed production. 2007-2008 was an above average water year, or at least better than what still seems to be an extended drought. These "better" years are essential for the species to have any hope of longer term survival since its seeds are known to be long-lived.
Construction begins on new St. George Aiport (10/17/2008)
This project may mark the beginning of the end for dwarf bearclaw poppy and other rare plant species in the St. George area.
Human-mediated pollination may be required to ensure the survival of the species (2014)
Researched published by Tepedino et al (2014) predicts that human intervention in assisting cross-pollination may be necessary in light of the fact that "the polinator community appears to have changed dramatically" over the past two decades.
New population found in 2016
A small (so far, under 100 plants) was found on private property in 2016 that should have already been designated as critical habitat based on Nelson and Harper (1991). In that article they indicated that:

For purposes of habitat protection, portions of the Purgatory Flat area should receive status similar to A. humilis sites.

Presumably this area was previously carefully looked at and plants most likely became re-established due to seeds in the soil bank.
Five year review published on 9/29/2016 by USFWS
The review is available here: Dwarf Bear-Poppy 5-Year Review
The review however was overdue by almost five years.
It barely mentions some of the disruptive occurrences created by SITA development and the road through White Dome.
Pollinators of Arctomecon humilis are in trouble (2017)
As was also discussed at this year's rare plant meeting (held on March 7, 2017 at the Natural History Museum of Utah on the University of Utah campus) and based on research published in September of 2017, the invasion of Africanized honey bees has had a deleterious impact on the native pollinators of A. humilis including Perdita meconis which now may be absent, as well as the native Eucera quadricincta. The abstract concludes: "Arctomecon humilis now appears to depend mostly on an invasive species for pollination." (Portman et al, 2017).
St. George News article features research and conservation concerns (May 2, 2018)
An article written by Jeff Richards of the St. George News entitled What to do if you see bear claw poppies on the trail outlined the work of Dixie State University's Dr. Erin O'Brien and her students over the past several years to learn more about the poppy's phenology and conservation status. Dr. O'Brien has also been a regular participant in annual Washingon County rare plant meetings organized by the USFWS.
White Dome Nature Preserve audio tour goes live on TravelStorys (April 11, 2022)
Provides information about the site, what grows there, and more.

Selected references:
Allphin L, Windham MD, Harper KT. 1998. Genetic diversity and gene flow in the endangered dwarf bear poppy, Arctomecon humilis (Papaveraceae). American Journal of Botany 85:1251-1261.
Frates T. 2018. Does the dwarf bearclaw poppy occur in Arizona? Sego Lily 41(3):10-13. See: Summer 2018 Sego Lily
Harper KT, Van Buren R. 2004. Dynamics of a dwarf bear-poppy (Arctomecon humilis) population over a sixteen-year period. Western North American Naturalist 64:482-491.
Lenz L. 1986. Marcus E. Jones. Claremont, California: Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. 486 pp.
Johnson RD. 1961. J.E.J. Trail to Sundown. Deseret News Press. 514 pp. plus photo pages.
Nelson DR. 1989. Demographic and seed bank biology of Arctomecon humilis (Papaveraceae), a short lived perennial. Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.
Nelson DR, Harper KT. 1991. Site characteristics and habitat requirements of the endangered dwarf bear-claw poppy (Arctomecon humilis Coville, Papaveraceae). Great Basin Naturalist 51(2):167-165
Parry CC. 1875. Botanical observations in Southern Utah. II. American Naturalist 9:139-146.
Portman ZM, Tepedino VJ, Tripodi AD, Szalanski AL, Durham SL. 2017. Local extinction of a rare plant pollinator in Southern Utah (USA) associated with invasion by Africanized honey bees. Biological Invasions 19(11):1-14. doi:10.1007/s10530-017-1559-1
Tepedino VJ, Mull J, Griswold TL, Bryant G. 2014. Reproduction and pollination of the endangered Dwarf Bear-poppy Arctomecon humilis (Papaveraceae) across a quarter century: unraveling of a pollination web?. West North Am Nat 74(3):311–324. doi:10.3398/064.074.0306.
Welsh SL. 1988. Utah botanical explorer Charles Christopher Parry (28 August 1823-20 February 1890). Great Basin Naturalist 48(1):9-18

CSE name-year style citation for this article: Frates T. 2008-2022 [cited {access date}]. Dwarf bearclaw poppy conservation history [Internet]. Salt Lake City, UT: Utah Native Plant Society.