Palmate-bracted bird’s-beak is an annual flowering herb in the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae). It can be found in seasonally flooded lowland plains and basins of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.
Historically, palmate-bracted bird’s-beak was documented at nine sites between 1916 and 1982 (in Alameda, Colusa, Fresno, Madera, San Joaquin and Yolo counties), but only three were known to be extant at the time the species was listed as endangered on July 31, 1986: two natural populations (Springtown Alkali Sink and southeast of Woodland, which is now known as Alkali Grasslands Preserve) and one transplanted population (Mendota Wildlife Area). As of 2009, the species was known to occur as a mosaic of small, isolated patches on approximately 1,500 acres of occupied habitat at eight sites ranging from the northern Sacramento Valley south to the San Joaquin Valley, two of which may now be extirpated.
Population sizes can vary greatly depending on rainfall, salinity and available host plants. A small population size one year can be followed by a much larger one the following year when conditions are optimal.
Threats to the species include agricultural conversion, intensive livestock grazing, urbanization and other activities that alter their habitat. Invasive non-native plants, loss of pollinators from use of pesticides,, increased ozone and dust are additional threats. Cattle grazing can be both beneficial and harmful depending on how this management tool is applied.
Like other members of this family, palmate-bracted bird’s-beak is partially parasitic, obtaining water and nutrients from the roots of other plants. The species grows on seasonally flooded, saline-alkali soils in lowland plains and basins at elevations of less than 500 feet in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.
Palmate-bracted bird's-beak plants are 4–12 inches tall and highly branched. The stems and leaves are grayish green and sometimes are covered with salt crystals excreted by glandular hairs. Pale whitish flowers, up to 1-inch long, are arranged in dense spikes tightly surrounded by leaf-like bracts.
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