Arne Johanson

Arne Johanson, from the San Diego area, has been an active “weed-whacker” – last year he was one of the San Diego area “Cox Conserves Heroes finalists.”

When Arne Johanson retired from project managing large software installations, he had two goals: get away from the keyboard and be around kids. He has met both of those goals in the Greater Rancho Bernardo open spaces.

That one man could do so much: it is staggering! Arne Johanson is one of my heroes. For years he has been doing incredibly important work with very little fanfare. Arne is so modest, in fact, that few know of the significant contributions he is making to the health of our local ecology.

As he said recently, “ With very little money we are bringing back all kinds of wildlife. When the Gnatcatcher, Least Bell’s Vireos, and Harrier Hawks show up, then I know that the right things are being done.” I’ll write more about his projects in the future. For now, here are some of his thoughts on native plants and fire risk:

Fire prevention is the number one reason I give people for using native plants in open space. For a garden it can be similar. The advantage of some native plants is that they retain moisture. The state fire consortium at UC Riverside has shown that retained plant moisture is the best indicator of fire resistance in vegetation. There are caveats.

Dead or dormant vegetative matter poses fire risk and should be removed from within 100′ of structures in fire prone areas (say anywhere in the western US). Many non-native species appear to be safe but are anything but. Some examples:

Ice plant has succulent leaf structures. However, the green growth overrides dead material which acts as a fuse when ignited by embers.

  • Many other ground covers help spread fire, such as ivy or Myoporum.
  • Many palms are little more than torches in wildfire conditions (fire safer exceptions are the self shedding palms with smooth trunks like the King Palm).
  • Confers native or non-native are considered fire risks.
  • Blue Gum and Red Gum Eucalyptus are considered fire risks at all times.
  • Acacia pose a fire risk from dry leaves and dead twigs. The growth habit results in a fire ladder.
  • Any vegetation should be kept away from buildings.
  • All vegetation should be spaced in such a way that fire will not spread.

While some native species are relatively fire-safe, some should be avoided. Buckwheat and sage brush are examples of plants with small leaves that are easily ignited. Lemonade Berry and Sugar Bush are examples of particularly fire resistant plants with thick leathery leaves.

Brendan Monroe New York Times

illustration by Brendan Monroe from the New York Times Letters to the editor page

Daniel Fink, longtime Theodore Payne Foundation supporter and past board member, wrote a short and snappy letter to the editor of the New York Times which was published the other day.

I don’t read the New York Times, but one of my old technology buddies does get it, spotted the mention of native plants, and passed on the link to me. Thanks, Kevin!

The gist of the Times article was that we weren’t conserving as well as we could under voluntary rules. Here is the link to the full article: “Forceful Steps Amid a Severe Drought” (news article, Jan. 16).

And Daniel’s response was, in part, “…developed land in California should be planted with native plants appropriate to each of the many soil zones and climate conditions in our large and varied state.”

Yes, please.




Courtesy Suzanne Schettler: Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo) on Telegraph Weed (Heterotheca grandiflora)

Linda Brodman has invited me to speak at the Santa Cruz Chapter‘s monthly meeting and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve got lots of Banana Slugs in the family so: love being near their alma mater. But even better, there are lots of great CNPSers that I can hardly wait to see. And the Arboretum, if I get there early enough.

I’ll be talking about how we are getting our message about native plant gardening out to the wider community: what messages are resonating, what images stick in our collective consciousness. And, of course, I’ll be showing pictures of beautiful gardens. If you are nearby, please stop in.

General Meeting
July 14
Meeting 7:30 pm
UCSC Arboretum Horticulture Building
Santa Cruz





Al Kyte at the East Bay Wilds Nursery talking about his long-standing love of native plant gardening

Al Kyte at the East Bay Wilds Nursery talking about his long-standing love of native plant gardening

Al and Barbara Kyte are long-term native plant gardeners. CNPS Horticulture Director Susan Krzywicki met Al recently at Pete Veilleux’s East Bay Wilds Nursery and was delighted to hear that he was so involved in this garden tour as well. She shared photos from Al’s garden on an earlier blog post, so you can see his own accomplishments.

‘Garden Host’ Perspective to 2014 ‘Bringing Back The NativesTour
Al Kyte

In my nine years as “garden host”on the Bringing Back The Natives tour, I consider this year’s tour as most closely approaching the “ideal”tour experience I have seen yet. Continue Reading »

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I saw this note from Nancy Heuler, Orange County CNPS chapter member: “All, I came across this survey of residential landscape architects in the April issue of Landscape Architect and Specifier News. The third and fourth categories mention the popularity of native plants and drought-adapted plants. We’re making some headway!”

Here is a bit from that article:

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Tomorrow is California Native Plant Day at the San Diego County Fair. Betsy Cory, our Outreach volunteer in the San Diego chapter has got her event all lined up: when you get to the Fair, look for the display just inside the gates – near the statue of Don Diego.

I’ll be speaking at 1:30 in the Paul Ecke Garden Stage area – in the middle of the demonstration gardens near the Pat O’Brian building. Stop by and say hello, then stay for the presentation and the “Questions and Answers” session. At 4 PM, Greg Rubin will be speaking as well.

I’ve heard from several sources that there will be some partially-native demonstration gardens on display. It promises to be a fun event.




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From the Suncrest Nurery home page – Arctostapylos 

This announcement is from Suncrest Nurseries, a supplier of native plants to native nurseries in the Bay Area. It was brought to my attention by Patrick Pizzo and is reprinted here with the permission of Nevin Smith.

Some of you have asked us about the use of neonicotinoid pesticides at
Suncrest Nurseries, usually because your customers have demanded to know
whether they have been applied tothe plants you sell. This, in turn, is
related to widespread recent publicity about the potential  toxicity of
these chemicals to honeybees and other pollinating insects.

We have made very limited use of these chemicals during the past few years,
largely as drenches for mealybug on Phormium, certain succulents and
bamboos, and have avoided their use on flowering plants that might be
visited by pollinators. However, recognizing current public concern over the
neonicotinoids, we have decided to stop using them altogether at Suncrest,
beginning July 1, 2014.

We do this with somewhat mixed feelings. The neonicotinoids were developed
as part of a search for  materials less toxic than traditional
organophosphates and others to mammals, birds and fish. Also, they are by no
means the only common pesticides toxic to honeybees, despite the recent
focus of public debate. Yet avoiding chemical control of insects altogether
is impossible under commercial nursery conditions, where pests can multiply
at astounding rates and ruin whole crops.

We have been committed for over twenty years, and remain so today, to
finding and using the safest, least intrusive means of both pest and disease
control at Suncrest Nurseries. Thank you for your support of this effort.


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