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On two steep rocky slopes west of Soldier Summit, a rare plant is on the verge of extinction.

In searches this spring, only eight clay phacelia (Phacelia argillacea) plants have been found.At one point, only one plant was found on the shale-covered slopes. A second search uncovered what appeared to be about two dozen plants.

"It's just plain bleak now, not horribly bleak," botanist Larry England said at the time.

But England, a member of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species team, later found some of those plants were not clay phacelias but mentzelias. The plants look like seedlings but are easily differentiated after the phacelias' purplish-blue flowers bloom in late May.

"Eight is not nearly as unmanageable as one, but eight is severe," England said.

The flowers will shed seeds through early August. The seeds' ability to germinate and take root will determine how many plants reappear next spring.

England hopes to collect enough seeds to grow clay phacelias in a protected environment, such as the state arboretum, and to study the plant more closely.

Advice also has been solicited from experts with various organizations, including the arboretum, the Harvard-based Center for Plant Conservation, and Native Plants Inc., a private Salt Lake-based company.

The Great Basin field office of the Nature Conservancy is attempting to purchase the clay phacelia's limited habitat to reduce the threat posed by sheep that have grazed on the land in recent years.

A winter annual, the plant is one of about 20 species of phacelia found in Utah. A member of the water leaf family, the clay phacelia sometimes has been called a scorpion plant. It was discovered just 10 years ago and probably always has been rare, England said.

England has placed wire cages around many of the plants to protect them from animals. That effort is the most basic part of a 6-year-old recovery plan that has not been implemented because of a lack of money.

"It's embarrassing to say the least," England said. "A species like this suffers at the hands of other, more famous endangered species . . . . It's not that that money is ill-spent, but nothing is spent here. A few thousand dollars would go a long way to help this species out."

Preventing the plant's extinction is important philosophically and practically, he said. "It has an inherent right for continued existence. Who knows what value it could have?"