Livermore Tarplant

Livermore Tarplant

The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) successfully petitioned for endangered status for the rare Livermore tarplant (Deinandra bacigalupii), a species known to exist in only three locations within Alameda County.

Two years after Heath Bartosh, Rare Plant Committee Chairman of the East Bay Chapter of CNPS, petitioned the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to list this rare endemic species as endangered, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to grant the Livermore tarplant endangered status. The Commission praised the thoroughness and sound science that CNPS presented in the petition, and in two motions moved to add it to the list of plants declared to be endangered in California.

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Oaks and Agriculture at Odds in SLO

Oaks and Agriculture at Odds in SLO

The drone of heavy equipment is not unusual in the rural community of Adelaida west of Paso Robles, where farmers regularly work the land to reap harvests of walnuts, barley, safflower and more recently, wine grapes. But the din coming from Sleepy Farm Road this spring didn’t sound like the ordinary tractor, and indeed it wasn’t. It was the sound of bulldozers toppling thousands of oak trees, many clinging to steep hillsides, to make way for a vineyard and a six million gallon agricultural pond.

slo-oaksThe owners of neighboring properties sprang into action to garner public support to stop the destruction. A flood of complaints to County officials resulted in the issuance of a stop work order on June 9th. The local press and social media picked up the story and it soon went national. Local residents descended on the County Board of Supervisors during public comment on June 16th and urged passage of an oak protection ordinance. The Supervisors scheduled a special meeting in mid-July to consider an urgency ordinance prohibiting clear cuts of oak woodlands. When the day arrived, the urgency ordinance passed with 4 of 5 supervisors in favor. In mid-August, the supervisors voted unanimously to extend it until April 2017. They also directed staff to bring back a permanent ordinance to protect oak woodlands by this date and report progress in January 2017.

The urgency ordinance requires authorization from County Planning for the removal of up to three trees on smaller properties and up to five per cent of the canopy on larger parcels in the unincorporated inland areas. Exemptions are provided for public utilities, public safety, fire clearance and conservation easements that include woodland management plans. Anything above these thresholds requires a permit and environmental review. A minor use permit is required for the removal of up to ten percent of the canopy. A conditional use permit is required for removal of more than ten per cent and an Environmental Impact Report is required for more than twenty-five per cent.

Meanwhile, the owners of Justin Vineyards & Winery and its parent corporation the Wonderful Company (a conglomerate which includes FIJI Water, Justin Wines, Landmark Wines, Hopkiln Winery, POM Wonderful, Teleflora, Wonderful Almonds, Pistachios, Halos and Scarlett grapefruits) issued a mea culpa, saying they were ashamed, sorry and “asleep at the wheel”. They offered to “make things right” by donating the denuded property to a local nonprofit and planting 5000 oak trees. The idea that such actions could offset the destruction of a mature oak woodland was met with considerable skepticism, as was the notion they were “asleep at the wheel” when it was revealed the company had cleared 100 acres of trees on a nearby parcel just four years earlier.

The San Luis Obispo chapter of the Native Plant Society has been actively working with County representatives, as well as concerned citizens, environmental and agricultural groups through this entire process. Chapter leaders quickly organized an adhoc committee to work on the issue and went on to meet individually with supervisors, submit written comments on the draft ordinance, provide interviews to local media, encourage CNPS members to make their voices heard and provide testimony in public hearings. In the months ahead, the chapter will continue to play an active role in the development and implementation of a permanent ordinance to protect our oak woodlands. The final result will inevitably represent a compromise between the goals of conservation, agriculture and property rights that is essential to win the support of adherents from all groups and secure passage.

–Holly Sletteland
CNPS San Luis Obispo Chapter

Saving the Lassics Lupine

Saving the Lassics Lupine

Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei)

Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei)

Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing the Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei) up close knows that it is among the most attractive of all the California lupines. The striking white, pink and rose flowers—contrasting with its silvery-white foliage on the barren rock slopes where it occurs—is simply magnificent. Endemic to less than four acres on the upper slopes of the Lassics Mountains in eastern Humboldt County, it depends on sufficient snowpack and shelter from summer heat to survive. The Lassics Mountains are widely known for their exceptional botanical diversity and rare species associated with the ultramafic (high in magnesium and iron) soils.

The CNPS North Coast Chapter has been active in conservation efforts aimed at the lupine for more than 20 years, including several cost-share agreements with the U.S. Forest Service, and assistance in inventory, monitoring, and other tasks. Based on annual monitoring conducted since 2005, the population of mature Lassics lupine has declined from more than 600 in 2014 to roughly 130 in 2016. An estimated 580 seedlings germinated this year but, based on historical data, 95 percent of those are not likely to reproduce.

Extensive research by US Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service scientists has indicated a variety of factors responsible for this decline, including seed predation by small mammals due in part to and forest and chaparral encroachment into its open habitat. Since 2003, most of the physically accessible reproductive plants have been caged to prevent seed predation. A population viability analysis conducted in 2012 suggested the caging was critical to stabilizing the species in the short term.

Changing climate, however, poses a new threat to the species. Drought over the past five years, the virtual absence of winter snowpack, unusually high summer temperatures in 2014 and 2015, and the Lassic Fire of 2015 have pushed the Lassics lupine to the brink of extinction.


In habitat.

Virtually the entire distribution of the species is within the 7,000-acre Lassics Wilderness, managed by Six Rivers National Forest, which—in this area of the forest— is surrounded by either private or National Forest timberlands; this severely limits the feasibility of allowing lightning-caused fires to burn naturally. After decades of fire suppression, manual treatment followed by routine prescribed fire is needed to restore and maintain much of the Lassics lupine habitat. Unfortunately, that same habitat offers the species the best available refuge from climate extremes.
Although multiple policies allow and often mandate the Forest Service to take specific action to conserve this species, Six Rivers National Forest has not implemented habitat restoration nor aggressively pursued recovery actions. Over the past decade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CNPS have repeatedly asked the Forest Service to give priority to saving this species. These requests have been ignored, ostensibly due to conflicts with wilderness values and forest priorities or lack of funding. As a result, a petition to list the lupine as Federally Endangered was filed in January 2016. This would force the survival of the species to be considered in any actions taken by the Forest Service, and would require development of a formal recovery plan for the species.

To help spur the Forest Service into action, we petitioned for State listing in July. Not only could this lead to increased potential for funding from the State, but Federal guidance on management of wilderness areas recognizes an important role for state decisions affecting fish and wildlife resources in wilderness. As the trustee agency for fish and wildlife resources statewide, we believe the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a shared responsibility for saving the Lassics lupine.

-Dave Imper
CNPS North Coast Chapter

What can you do to help the Lassics Lupine?

Creating a Native Wildflower Meadow

By Greg Rubin

A small portion of a 1.5 acre wildflower meadow created by the author in Fallbrook in 2011. Flowers include Tidy Tips, California poppies, Desert bluebells, Owl’s clover, and Chinese houses. Photo by Greg Rubin.

A small portion of a 1.5 acre wildflower meadow created by the author in Fallbrook in 2011. Flowers include Tidy Tips, California poppies, Desert bluebells, Owl’s clover, and Chinese houses. Photo by Greg Rubin.

Few things evoke magical memories like spring wildflowers. Whether it is a desire to recapture a serendipitous discovery of a color-laden flower field from our past, or simply re-living that scene from the “Wizard of Oz”, nothing stirs our passion for nature like a beautiful field of flowers. California was once celebrated for its annual floral shows; unfortunately, these delightful events are becoming a thing of the past.  The great Kate Sessions lamented that wildflowers were disappearing from San Diego’s foothills by the early 1900s. Even her attempts to include wildflower displays at Balboa Park repeatedly failed. Why?

The answer is that European settlement in California altered our delicate ecology so profoundly that it was lost at all levels. Nothing is quite so fragile as a wildflower meadow. These annuals serve as pioneers that help re-establish ecology should a disturbance wipe out climax shrubs and trees. Being so low in lignin, they disappear after dying, returning all of their nutrients back to the ecology. Additionally, they fill holes not occupied by shrubby plants, and persist in places inhospitable to anything with deep roots, such as in the shallow soils of true native grasslands. What the Europeans brought were non-native weeds: competitive plants unhindered by native bio-controls while putting all of their life energy into reproducing themselves.  These non-native seed banks now reach 10-100,000 dormant seeds per cubic foot! The wildflowers never stood a chance.

Seed was spread to create overlapping drifts of color, which is essential to maintain drama in such a large planting of wildflowers. Photo by Greg Rubin.

Seed was spread to create overlapping drifts of color, which is essential to maintain drama in such a large planting of wildflowers. Photo by Greg Rubin.

Fortunately, knowledge is the best tool, and we have ways to turn back the clock. Eliminating weeds is foremost. It is usually not sufficient to clear a space and drop seed, as Ms. Sessions learned. Instead, the seed bank must be addressed, either through repeated watering and killing of emerged weeds, or the use of chemicals called pre-emergents that kill seed in the soil when watered in. This must be done months in advance of planting. Solarization with clear plastic can also be used, but the effect is usually temporary. After treatment, seeds can be spread and either gently raked in or covered lightly in decomposed granite (this avoids disturbance and deters birds). Wildflower seeds can be purchased at most garden centers and online; however, be sure that the word “NATIVE” is somewhere in the title, and that the species are native to your locale, or you will end up with a mix of weedy introduced flowers, the worst being Alyssum. (ED note: You can check the local appropriateness of your chosen seed mix ingredients by entering your address in CNPS’s Calscape app, available at or on CNPS’s homepage.) Common native mixes include California Poppies, Lupines, Goldfields, Desert Bluebells, Gilia, Baby Blue Eyes, Tidy Tips, and Farewell-to-Spring. You can add Owls Clover, Five Spot, and Thistle Sage if available. Keep the plot lightly moist until germination, continue watering twice a week if rainfall is lacking, and CONTROL WEEDS! The outcome will be thrilling!

CNPS Member Greg Rubin is the founder and owner of California’s Own Landscape Design, Inc. ( and a popular speaker. A specialist in the use of native plants in the landscape, he is responsible for over 700 native landscapes in San Diego County and co-authored (with Lucy Warren) two books on native landscaping: The California Native Landscape: the Homeowner’s Design Guide to Restoring its Beauty and Balance and The Drought Defying California Garden: 230 Native Plants for a Lush, Low-water Landscape, both on Timber Press.

“The Good Guys”

by Nancy Bauer

Salvia leucophylla 'Pt. Sal' in Nancy Bauer's garden - Photo by Nancy Bauer

Salvia leucophylla ‘Pt. Sal’ in the garden – Photo by Nancy Bauer

We have so many reasons to love our native plants—their beauty, the way they make gardening so easy and so rewarding, how make themselves so at home in our gardens. They are the plants that are thriving without summer water, the ones I don’t have to maintain, and can just enjoy. And they bring a great deal of pleasure to the birds and insects that are also part of my garden landscape.

I am always amazed at the variety of insects that hover around the buckwheats in my garden (Eriogonum latifolium and E. grande var. rubescens). I’ve seen many tiny native bees, honeybees, and other pollinators, plus at least a half dozen of the smaller butterfly species. Buckwheats are also caterpillar food plants for the Acmon Blue, the Blue Copper, and other butterflies.

One of the most sought after nectar plants in my garden from mid-summer into fall is California aster (A. chilensis ‘Pt. St. George’). It gets barely any water at all, forms a low-growing carpet, and blooms for months with small lavender flowers that feed a host of butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. In early spring, the whorls of flowers on the native salvias—brandegee sage (S. brandegei), black sage (S. mellifera), and purple sage (S. leucophylla ‘Pt. Sal’)—are a welcome sight to native bees that have just emerged, Anna’s hummingbirds, and the early butterflies. They, too, receive no summer water.

Birds forage not only on seeds and fruit, but on the many insects our California natives attract. One outstanding example is coyote bush (Baccharis piluaris), which attracts over 200 insects, which in turn feed many songbirds, bats, and other creatures. White-crowned sparrows, finches, and other seed-eating birds feast on the seeds, though they too supplement their diet with insects when seeds are in short supply. If you don’t have room for the shrubs, the prostrate form B. pilularis ‘Pigeon Point’ makes a neat bright green carpet only one foot high but up to six feet wide. Plant it in full sun or part shade with occasional water if needed.

Honeybee on Asclepias speciosa photo by Harmina Mansur

Honeybee on Asclepias speciosa photo by Harmina Mansur

Our native milkweeds are not only caterpillar food plants for the monarch butterfly and a nectar source, they also provide seeds for small mammals and birds. Ladybird beetles and the larvae of lacewings and other beneficial insects hunt the orange oleander aphids associated with milkweeds. Two species of beetles and two species of true bugs are milkweed specialists.

Douglas Tallamy (author of Bringing Nature Home) discovered in his own garden that many of our native insects “cannot or will not use alien plants.” “So many animals depend partially or entirely on insect protein for food,” he points out, “that a land without insects is a land without most forms of higher life.” Our native plants are not just pretty faces; they, as Tallamy so aptly states, “have the critical role of sustaining, directly or indirectly, all of the animals with which we share our living spaces.”

Nancy Bauer is a wildlife habitat gardener and author of The California Wildlife Habitat Garden (UC Press, 2012) and The Habitat Garden Book: Wildlife Landscaping for the San Francisco Bay Region (2001, 2008). She has been teaching and writing about wildlife habitat gardens for over 10 years.

California Native Plants on the Op-Ed Pages

By Steven L. Hartman

A photo of the Hartman front yard. "Palo verde trees attract birds such as nesting bushtits, hooded orioles, flycatchers, and mockingbirds...not to mention thousands of insects during blooming season." - Photo by Steve Hartman

Palo verde trees attract birds such as nesting bushtits, hooded orioles, flycatchers, and mockingbirds…not to mention thousands of insects during blooming season. – Photo by Steve Hartman

There has been a flurry of editorials and commentaries in the local Los Angeles newspapers about issues that CNPS has been focusing on for years. A Los Angeles Times main op-ed warned, “Don’t gravelscape L.A.”, with a bold color graphic. The same day, the Daily News trumpeted in their main editorial, “Turf removal programs could do much more,” arguing, “This transformative step to redefine the California landscape with at least half a billion dollars in incentives needs to do more than just eliminate thirsty lawns that gulf up about 50 percent to 70 percent of residential water use. It should help build a natural, native habitat in every yard that will adapt to the soil and feed the butterflies and birds that migrate and live in the region.”

Wow. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Los Angeles Times said, “Los Angeles would no doubt be better off with less turf. But not if we replace it with gravel or plastic.” This is an important point. A few years ago a friend mentioned that he was going to replace his lawn with plastic grass. Incredulously, I asked why. He said, “Low maintenance, no watering.” I explained that covering his yard with plastic was by no means a benign environmental action. I mentioned the lack of groundwater infiltration, elimination of habitat for native animals, and the reality that the plastic lawn will begin to look tawdry in no time and will have to be replaced- with all that plastic ending up in a landfill.

Marketers have developed the term “California Friendly” to describe xeriscape with drought-tolerant plants. Unfortunately, most of the “California Friendly” plants on sale at the large commercial outlets include Mediterranean or desert plants, and not too many California natives. It is important to remember that our native fauna (in particular, birds and insects) evolved with native plants of California, and that while “Friendly” plants may satisfy the need to reduce water consumption, they don’t necessarily provide food or shelter for our native fauna. There is a big difference between “California Native” and “California Friendly.”

Speaking of the birds and the bees, in an editorial titled, “Don’t give native bees short shrift,” the Los Angeles Times states that, “If the goal [of a proposed beekeeping ordinance] is to strengthen the bee population…the best strategy is to give residents incentives to grow more flowers and avoid treating them with pesticides.” The editorial goes on to state that, “Research has shown that farms would need to make only modest changes to attract healthy numbers and varieties of the local pollinators.” They suggest hedgerows of native plants.

Of course, this strategy works in the residential setting too.

"Gravel-covered yards with a few plants poking out epitomizes the recent spate of lawn conversions. Where is the habitat?"

Gravel-covered yards with a few plants poking out epitomizes the recent spate of lawn conversions. Where is the habitat? – Photo by Steve Hartman

As a Los Angeles resident who has been driving around and seeing the results of various interpretations of “turf replacement”, I am concerned with the cactus gardens and gravel front yards that have only a few plants poking out. Importantly, as Thomas D. Elias in an editorial in the Daily News pointed out: plants help combat climate change by pulling carbon out of the air and facilitate the recharge of ground water.

Further, as pointed out in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, plants act “as air conditioning for LA., which is only getting hotter with climate change. Plants and trees provide shade and transpire moisture to cool the air; gravel and artificial turf don’t. In fact, they create the opposite…fewer plants means more heat, and more heat means faster evaporation from watering.”

With all the newspapers jumping on the band wagon supporting the use of native California plants, it seems that CNPS has won an important battle – native plant landscaping is no longer a fringe activity; indeed it may be one of the important tools that will help Los Angeles cope with drought and climate change. However, the war has not been won until heavily watered lawns and landscapes have been replaced, not with gravel and plastic grass, but with native gardens filled with birds and pollinators.

Steven L. Hartman is a native plant enthusiast, avid gardener, desert fanatic, and President of the California Native Plant Society. He has been a CNPS member since 1974 and a CNPS Fellow since 2005.

Plant Exploring: Mendocino County

Plant Exploring: Mendocino County

Sensitive Plants of the Jug Handle

Sensitive Plants of the Jug Handle

Throughout the Pleistocene, as the climate fluctuated, sea levels rose and fell in conjunction with the size of the polar ice caps. This process allowed oceanic wave-action to cut coastal terraces around the world. Subsequent tectonic forces then slowly pushed these terraces upward. Through other dynamic processes, beach materials like sand, gravel, clay and other rock have been deposited on the terraces at varied depths. What we now witness in coastal Mendocino County is the best preserved example of marine terraces in the Northern Hemisphere.

Directly adjacent to the Pacific Ocean on the first step, wind sculpts coastal scrub and grassland on coastal bluffs or “Bonsai” beach and bishop pine forests (Pinus muricata). Further up the staircase-out of reach of the salty air-ample precipitation, Pleistocene and Holocene sand dunes, and the deposition of conifer needles nurture trees with deep roots and tall shoots. However, the most amazing staircase story begins just to the east of the ancient dunes.

In the mid-section of the second step, and upward on each subsequent step, ancient dunes have cut off surface drainage, flushing perennial moisture onto the step. Via seepage and springs, moisture has created pooling basins that ever-so-slowly drain. Prolonged seepage leaches nutrients like calcium and potassium from the Pleistocene beach deposits, leaving behind sterile hard-pan soils. The year-round leaching, coupled with summer dryness and heating, nurtures an inhospitable layer called a Podzol Horizon (podzol is a Russian word meaning “ash soil”). This unique soil layer creates edaphic microsites.

Exploring the Pygmy Forest.

Exploring the Pygmy Forest.

Certain hardy plant species–some now endemic–survive in spatial isolation on these podzolized terraces. Mendocino cypress (Hesperocyparis pygmaea), Bolander pines (Pinus contorta spp. bolanderi), and Fort Bragg manzanita (Arctostaphylos nummularia ssp. mendocinensis) are just a few of the unique plants that can be found on these staircases.

The California Native Plant Society has had a long history of working to preserve these botanically unique areas. In fact, the Dorothy Young King Chapter (formerly the Gualala Chapter) formed in 1966 when citizens of coastal Mendocino and Sonoma counties joined together to dig up native plants that were going to be bulldozed in the region. Later, in 2006, with pygmy forests designated an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area within the California Coastal Zone the chapter presented litigation against clearing pygmy forest for development.

Take a journey to coastal Mendocino County and visit, what Hans Jenny called the best preserved ecological showplace of coastal landscape evolution in the Northern Hemisphere.

Aricle previously published at