CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Amsinckia carinata


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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Amsinckia carinata

Common Name: 
Malheur Valley fiddleneck
A. Nels. & J.F. Macbr.
Growth Habit: 
CPC Number: 


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 Fish & WildLife

Amsinckia carinataenlarge
Photographer: Kagan/Joyal/Yamamoto

Amsinckia carinata is Not Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
Edward Guerrant, Ph.D. contributed to this Plant Profile.

Amsinckia carinata

A case of mistaken identity could lead to the extinction of the Malheur Valley fiddleneck. In 1993, Amsinckia carinata was listed as a synonym of the rare, though not endangered Amsinckia vernicosa (the populations are separated by nearly 500 miles (800km)). The decision was based on the examination of a single specimen from a herbarium sheet, as the populations in Oregon were believed to be extirpated. In contrast, local botanists believe that the two species are taxonomically distinct. Since 1993, the discovery of 6 extant populations and more scientifically rigorous research has shown that they are indeed different. Unfortunately, the original case of misidentification continues to influence its status and Amsinckia carinata remains unprotected. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed this species from consideration from listing under the Endangered Species Act, as A. carinata was not recognized as a distinct species in the 1993 taxonomic publication.

While this rare Oregon endemic plant is listed as threatened in the state of Oregon, it is only found on federal property, where state plant conservation laws are unenforceable. Recently, mining claims for gold and other metals have proliferated in Malheur County. At least some of the populations are on potential mining sites, and mining activity would destroy the unique substrate that Malheur fiddleneck requires, potentially pushing this rare species to extinction.

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
State Range of  Amsinckia carinata
  Specific yellowish talus slopes and gravel accumulations (large particle size and deep substrate) at an elevation of around 980 ft (300m) in Eastern Oregon. It is commonly found growing with Amsinckia tessellata.

  OR: Owyhee Uplands, Malheur County.

Number Left
  Six population centers, ranging from one to a few acres, each with several scattered subpopulations. The total range is less than 12 square miles (30 sq km) (in Meinke a).

As of 1989 (last census), 1 site with 1 individual, 3 sites with 100-1000 individuals, 1 site with an estimated 5,800 and 1 site with an estimated 10,000 individuals. Because this is an annual species, numbers vary greatly between years depending on conditions (ONHDB 2000)


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Oregon S2 LT 10/27/1989  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  The genus Amsinckia contains some of the worst native weeds in the western United States, including A. tesselata (Devil's Lettuce), A. lycopsoides, and A. intermedia. Interestingly, this genus also includes many restricted endemics (Meinke b). Amsinckia carinata is a narrow edaphic endemic restricted to cobbly hillsides in eastern Oregon (Meinke a). It was believed to be extinct until relocated during general floristic surveys in the mid 1980's (Joyal 1985 in Meinke b).

The landscape immediately surrounding known Amsinckia carinata populations was once dominated by various species of bunchgrass, sagebrush, and numerous annual and perennial herbs. Today the habitats are primarily composed of annual grasses, the vast majority being introduced exotics such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and medusahead wild rye (Taeniatherum caput-medusae). This ecological change has been precipitated by a long history of domestic cattle grazing in Malheur County. As a consequence, the indigenous biodiversity of grasslands surrounding islands of Amsinckia carinata habitat have been severely depleted (Meinke a). Direct impact from cattle grazing is not extensive, since Amsinckia carinata is found on harsh, barren slopes that attract few grazers. Cattle grazing does impact A. carinata at the base of slopes by decreasing the quality of the talus substrate by creating smaller and shallower fragments (Meinke b).

Due to harsh conditions on barren slopes, there are few associated species. Amsinckia tesselata, a closely related species, most commonly co-occurs with A. carinata. Amsinckia tesselata is a widespread weed that ranges from Canada to northern Mexico. It is seldom present on rocky upper slopes, but is found with A. carinata at lower elevations. The prickly hairs on A. tesselata make it unpalatable to livestock, a feature that has likely contributed to its success. Additionally, lepidopteran (butterfly and moth) larvae have been observed feeding on A. carinata but not A. tesselata plants. Again, the prickly hairs on A. tesselata likely provide protection from this herbivory. The extent of larval feeding damage on A. carinata was not great at the time it was observed, but could vary from year to year (Meinke a).

Populations of A. carinata routinely overlap with populations of A. tesselata. In most cases there is a zone of 3-30 ft (1-10 m) where the two species strongly intermingle. The size of talus fragments and depth of talus slopes play a role in determining which species predominates at a given point along the hillside. As the slope extends away from the summit, the size and depth of the talus decreases and A. tessellata becomes more common. Amsinckia carinata is more vigorous in areas with deeper talus and larger fragments, but it is unknown if fruit production is also greater on deeper and heavier talus sites. (Meinke a).

In the greenhouse, seed viability, germination phenology and seedling growth rates are essentially identical for A. carinata and A. tessellata. Although relative timing of germination and growth in nature has not been determined, examination of flowering phenology in the field suggests similar emergence times (Meinke a). Both plant species are self-compatible, and insect-mediated pollination is not necessary for ample seed set. However, cross-pollination appears to be common and is facilitated by native bees, which visit both species of Amsinckia. The elimination of pollinators by pesticides could reduce gene exchange that takes place during out-crossing (Meinke a).

Suspected hybrids appear immediate in form, but are consistently larger than the putative parents. Hybrids also produce more flowers per plant, possibly demonstrating heterosis ("hybrid vigor"). Apparent hybrids, however, produce fewer fruits per flower, and it is unknown if seeds are fertile, as it is known that hybrids produce largely sterile pollen (Meinke a).

If surface disturbance takes place in A. carinata habitat, it will likely be to the advantage of A. tesselata, because disturbed sites cannot be rehabilitated to match the unusual talus required by A. carinata. It is probable that mining disturbance would be so extreme that restoration of talus substrate would be impossible or at least economically prohibitive. There is also a clear connection between low quality talus (small and shallow) and a higher incident of hybridization. Cattle activities might exacerbate the potential for hybridization. Hybrid plants could potentially be a serious problem, facilitating loss of microsites, wasted pollinator visits, and pre-emption of nutrients and other resources along lower the boundary of A. carinata populations (Meinke a).

  • Mining, which destroys the talus substrate (Meinke a).
• Grazing and range improvements (Meinke, 1982).
• Agricultural conversion (Meinke, 1982).
• General surface disturbances (Meinke 1982).
• Hybridization and competition from Amsinckia tessellata (Devil's Lettuce)

Current Research Summary
  • Morphological measurements, cytological studies and molecular comparison were used to determine if Amsinckia carinata and A. vernicosa are taxonomically distinct. While molecular studies could not be finished due to limited funding, both morphological and cytological comparisons indicate that A. carinata and A. vernicosa are indeed distinct species. They have different chromosomes numbers and experimental cross-pollination between species resulted in no seed set (Meinke b).
• Investigation of Amsinckia carinata and A. tessellata reproductive biology revealed that the species are indistinguishable in terms of flower production, seed set, germinability of seeds, and seedling growth rates through eight weeks. Both species are fully self-fertile, but do outcross in nature and are pollinated by native bees (Osmia spp. and Megachile spp). These pollinators lack plant fidelity, and hybrid Amsinckia forms between the two species occur (Meinke a).

Current Management Summary
  • State listing by Oregon Department of Agriculture as a Threatened taxa
• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed species from consideration for listing under Endangered Species Act because it did not meet the Act's definition of "species." However, now that the taxonomic status has been verified, it may be reconsidered for listing (Meinke b).
• Seed from 2 of the 6 known populations centers banked at Berry Botanic Garden

Research Management Needs
  • Exclude cattle from sites.
• Analyze the genetic variability within and among populations (Meinke a)
• Study the extent of hybridization with A. tesselata (Meinke a)

Ex Situ Needs
  • Collect and store seeds from across range. Attempt to collect seed from plants not in vicinity of A. tessellata.
• Determine optimum germination conditions.
• Determine optimum propagation methods and reintroduction protocols.


Books (Single Authors)

Meinke, R.J. 1982. Threatened and Endangered Vascular Plants of Oregon: An Illustrated Guide. Portland, Oregon: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Region 1. 326p.

ONHP. 2001. Rare, Threatened and Endangered Plants and Animals of Oregon.

Books (Sections)

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the U.S., Canada, and Greenland. In: Kartesz, J.T.; Meacham, C.A., editors. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden. Chapel Hill, NC.

Electronic Sources

ONHDB. (2000). Oregon Natural Heritage Program Database. Portland, Oregon.

Journal Articles

1916. (Original Publication). Bot. Gaz. 62, 145-146

Joyal, E. 1984. The rediscovery of Amsinckia carinata. Bulletin of the Native Plant Society, Oregon. 17, 9: 6-7.

Joyal, E. 1985. Noteworthy collections: Oregon. Madroρo. 32: 124-125.

Kelley, R.B.; Seiber, J.N. Pyrrolizidine alkaloid chemosystematics in amsinckia. Phytochemistry (Oxford). 31, 7: 2369-2387.

Lantz, L. 1992. Tiptoe Through the Talus: A Look at Amsinckia carinata, A Malheur County Endemic. Bulletin of the Native Plant Society of Oregon. 25: 43-44.


Meinke, R.J. a. Environmental factors affecting the local distribution of an endemic and widespread species of Amsinckia: reproduction and substrate requirements of Amsinckia carinata in relation to range management and potential surface mining. Unpublished report. Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Meinke, R.J. b. Is Amsinckia carinata (Boraginaceae) a good species? A taxonomic re-evaluation of A. carinata and A. vernicosa. Unpublished report. Oregon Department of Agriculture.

  This profile was updated on 7/8/2010
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