The Holmgren milkvetch, Astragalus holmgreniorum, is an herbaceous, non-woody perennial plant that grows low to the ground and produces small purple flowers in the spring. As a member of the pea family, its leaves are pinnately compound (arranged on opposite sides of the stem in a row) and its flowers develop into pods containing the seeds. It is also endangered. Researchers estimate there are only about 6,000 adult plants existing within six populations, found only in Washington and Mohave counties in northern Arizona and southern Utah.
GSD Research Ecologist Susan Meyer, Provo, and researchers from Utah Valley University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to increase numbers of the endangered Holmgren milkvetch. In February, they planted Holmgren milkvetch seeds on property purchased by the Nature Conservancy, along Interstate 15 near the Utah/Arizona border, in order to augment the dwindling populations of the endangered species.
In an interview in The Spectrum, Susan and her colleagues explain the significance of the potential loss of this species. Desert ecosystems are actually quite fragile and there are so many disturbances affecting them, including development, off-road vehicle use, and grazing. Every species has a role to play in its environment and, especially in desert environments; they have specific adaptations for survival. If we don’t know what that role is, we don’t know how it will affect the environment once that species is gone.