Biologists working for the developer of a proposed 21,700-home project near Santa Clarita have found a sunflower on the site not seen since 1937 and thought to have been extinct.
The same developer, Newhall Land & Farming Co., on Friday was charged with a misdemeanor on suspicion of altering a streambed in the area.
The 10-to 12-foot Los Angeles sunflower was found on a boggy bank along the Santa Clara River. It produces large yellow blossoms much like the standard sunflower, prefers marshy habitats and was once found in San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties.
It was forced into apparent extinction by urbanization and the channelization of many Southern California waterways, said Steve Boyd, curator of the herbarium at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont.
Newhall Land & Farming Co. this week wrote to the state Department of Fish and Game, requesting that the flower be added to the state list of endangered and threatened plants.
Plants and animals thought to be extinct have no protection under state laws, said Mary Meyer, a plant ecologist with Fish and Game.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office had been investigating whether the company has disturbed the habitat of the endangered San Fernando spineflower. The office would not say what the result of that investigation was.
But on Friday, it filed a misdemeanor complaint against the company alleging destruction of the streambed.
The complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court's Newhall branch alleges that the company changed "the banks, bed and channel of an unnamed tributary of the Santa Clara River" south of California 126 and west of Interstate 5.
Newhall Land spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer said she did not know details of the complaint and could not comment on it.
However, any activity on the land "absolutely wouldn't have been related to development. We are still farming portions of the land and have been doing that for more than 100 years," she said.
The streambed site is not far from the bank where fewer than a dozen Los Angeles sunflowers were found.
After the spineflower and the Ventura marsh milk vetch, the Los Angeles sunflower is the third plant formerly thought to be extinct that has turned up in the county, said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for Fish and Game.
"There's all these places being developed now that were private property, tucked away," Martarano said. "We're just starting to find out what's on them."
The housing project, now undergoing environmental review, is to be considered by the county Board of Supervisors in January.