Important Plant Areas – Promoting Plant Species and Communities on Maps for Conservation in California

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Fremont’s tidy tip-blow wife vernal pool alliance, a rare vegetation type found at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Gary Zahm.

Over the 2016-2017 winter, the Conservation, Rare Plant, and Vegetation programs have initiated an effort to map Important Plan Areas (IPA) throughout California. With its diversity and endemism, the flora of California is unlike any other in the world, and CNPS is being proactive to protect and preserve its natural beauty and resources. The IPA initiative will produce tools that will aid and support decisions for local, regional, and statewide conservation planning.

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Goldfields blooming in an Alkali habitat at Semitropic Ridge, Kern County. Photo by Jennifer Buck-Diaz.

The Rare Plant and Vegetation programs are gathering data available through past survey efforts and fine-scale vegetation maps – including GIS map data that are publicly available, and survey data that are currently being compiled in a statewide dataset by CNPS and California Department of Fish & Wildlife. We are consolidating this baseline botanical knowledge for California, and will present it through digital maps that highlight the locations of rare plant species and vegetation that have high priority for protection. However, in order to have a comprehensive map we need help from local experts and citizen scientists who know their local areas best.

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Valley Oak Woodland at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, Stanislaus County. Photo by Gary Zahm.

California is such a large state and we have a lot of ground to cover. To start, we are focusing our efforts on regions where conservation planning is currently taking place, such as the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys. Our first pilot region is the southern San Joaquin Valley. Although much of this region has been urbanized or converted to agriculture, there are remaining natural areas that are unique or rare, including vernal pools and riparian and alkaline habitats. Identifying these areas is important so we can advocate for their preservation during conservation planning.

A map of the southern San Joaquin Valley, our pilot area for the Important Plant Area Initiative.

A map of the southern San Joaquin Valley, our pilot area for the Important Plant Area Initiative.

To gather additional knowledge for the southern San Joaquin Valley, we hosted an IPA workshop in Bakersfield this month. This workshop brought together a group of individuals to help contribute knowledge of rare and special plants and communities in that region. We will add the new knowledge gained during this workshop to the existing information we have to better define IPAs for the region. Next, we will then expand our efforts to other regions of California starting with the remaining areas of the Great Valley and ultimately reaching our goal of a map of IPAs for all of California.

The Important Plant Area initiative, funded in part by the Giles W. and Elise G. Mead Foundation and an anonymous donor, is fundamental to what CNPS has always done. We put together what we know about California’s flora, share the information with others, and protect places through science-based advocacy and our passion for plants and their natural habitats.

Watering Strategies from South Bay Botanic Garden

by Susan Krzywicki

Eddie Munguia, Horticultural Lab Technician South Bay Botanic Garden

Eddie Munguia, Horticultural Lab Technician South Bay Botanic Garden – Photo by Susan Krzywicki

After so much debate about how to water native plant gardens, you’d think it had all been said. Let me add some tips and techniques from Eddie Munguia, who is the Horticultural Lab Technician at the South Bay Botanic Garden, located on the campus of Southwestern College in Chula Vista. Eddie installed a native garden over four years ago and one of the key objectives of the botanic garden is to do just this sort of closely observed research and analysis.

Split Cycle Watering – preventing root zone waterlogging
Last July, after attending a professional workshop, Eddie decided to experiment with split cycling – taking the duration of watering proposed, and dividing it into two segments with a two hour gap in between. For example, instead of running a sprinkler zone for 10 minutes, he runs the zone for 5 minutes, in the early morning hours. This allows for absorption by the soil, while avoiding swamping the plant, which can lead to disease and plant death. Eddie has decided that his clear mandate is to “imitate rainfall” by providing supplemental irrigation that looks more like our natural pattern: gentle, sparse summer rains, not heavy storms. During Santa Anas, he recommends 2 minute spritz to cool the plants off. If the plant is suffering from summer stress, he doesn’t dump a lot of water on it, he just refreshes it.

The garden, which is well over 5,000 square feet, is mostly Diablo clay with native hybrid species originating in San Diego county and the Channel Islands.

A view of South Bay Botanic Garden

A view of South Bay Botanic Garden – Photo by Susan Krzywicki

Results: longer bloom times, good growth
Within two weeks of implementing this strategy in July, everything was flourishing. Coast sunflower (Encelia californica) now blooms two months longer. Bladderpod (Isomeris arborea) now produces flower for him all year round. Showy penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis) is blooming later in the year. Bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida) species doubled in size. The garden stay a little greener into summer. And Eddie even observed a third flowering cycle for San Miguel Island buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens).

Advice: Experiment and adjust
Eddie says, “Don’t be afraid to experiment with your watering cycles. As long as you are not bogging them down, or the root zone is getting drenched, they will do OK.” He says he got lucky on the first try with his split-cycle low-impact changes. So, if you follow his method, note garden changes over at least a month, then adjust again.

Would you consider this for your native garden? Please let us know your thoughts, and, if you try this method, please do keep us up-to-date with your progress and observations.

This article was first published in the San Diego Horticultural Society October 2016 newsletter.

Susan Krzywicki is a native plant landscape designer in San Diego. She has been the first Horticulture Program Director for the California Native Plant Society, as well as chair of the San Diego Surfrider Foundation Ocean Friendly Gardens Committee, and is on the Port of San Diego BCDC for the Chula Vista Bayfront.

A Wild Cyclamen from California

by Carol Bornstein

This article, first published in the January/February 2011 issue of The American Gardener, is reprinted with permission of the American Horticultural Society.

Since leaving Michigan almost 30 years ago, I have made the acquaintance of many fine California native plants. My list of favorites keeps changing but Cleveland’s shooting star (Dodecatheon clevelandii, now called Primula clevelandii) is always among them.

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Primula clevelandii ssp. insulare – Photo by Dylan Neubauer

SHOOTING STARS
California is home to eight of the dozen or so species in the genus Dodecatheon, which is predominantly native to western North America. The lone representative of the eastern United States is eastern shooting star (D. meadia).

The genus possesses a list of evocative common names: American cowslip, rooster combs, bird-bills, mosquito-bills, mad violets, sailor caps, prairie pointers, and wild cyclamen. The last is particularly apt, because cyclamen are the Asian and European relatives of Dodecatheon.

In California, shooting stars comprise two basic categories: high-elevation species that bloom in the late spring or summer and occur in moist habitats, and lowland species that bloom in late winter or spring and grow in the winter-wet, summer-dry Mediterranean climate regions of the state. They share easily recognizable flowers, whose slightly askew, reflexed petals are indeed reminiscent of cyclamen. Borne in loose umbels, the nodding white to magenta flowers seem to dance atop leafless stalks, stealing the show from the rather plain basal foliage.

Cleveland’s shooting star (D. clevelandii, USDA Zones 6-9, AHS Zones 9-5) is one of the most appealing members of the genus. Found throughout much of California’s Mediterranean core, this clove-scented perennial grows wild on grassy slopes and flaps in chaparral, foothill woodland, and valley grassland communities from central California south into Baja California, Mexico. The most commonly cultivated form, D. clevelandii ssp. insulare, is found in southern California and the offshore Channel Islands.

Emerging in fall, shortly after the rainy season begins, the plant’s light green, somewhat succulent leaves signal the end of its summer dormancy period.

Soon thereafter, the flower stalk elongates, reaching eight to 16 inches tall. Once the buds open, the upswept petals of lilac, rose, magenta, or white appear poised for flight. Later, the ripening seeds within the tan seed capsules rattle in the slightest breeze.

GROWING REQUIREMENTS
Although widespread in nature, Cleveland’s shooting star isn’t as easy to find in commerce. Yet gardeners who successfully track down seeds or plants will be amply rewarded if they follow a few simple guidelines. Place them in a sunny or partly shaded location and keep them well watered from autumn through spring. Then allow them to dry out completely in summer, otherwise their delicate, fleshy roots will rot. The succulent leaves and roots attract snails, slugs, and gophers, so protect the plants from these pests. Seeds germinate fairly easily and plants reach flowering size in about three years.

There are many ways to appreciate shooting stars in the garden. Growing them in containers is the most reliable method, whether nestled into established plantings while in flower and whisked away as the foliage yellows, or combined with other compatible plants in a trough garden. Rock gardeners can tuck a few among bulbs, succulents, and other diminutive companions.

For a captivating effect, plant drifts in a grassy meadow or beneath the dappled shade of trees or tall shrubs such as redbuds or manzanitas (Arctostaphylos ssp.). Be sure to retain the showy, dried inflorescences long enough to release the next generation of shooting star seeds.

Carol Bornstein is Director of the Nature Gardens at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. She co-authored California Native Plants for the Garden and Reimagining the California Lawn. For 28 years, she was a horticulturist at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Exploration of Fens in Carpenter Valley

by Jennifer Buck-Diaz

p1010141The rattling calls of three sandhill cranes echoed across Carpenter Valley as ecologists from the CNPS Vegetation Program investigated a large fen/meadow complex last August. Soon, in lower Carpenter Valley, north of the town of Truckee, more than 1,000 acres of lush meadow and forest will be protected through ownership by the Truckee Donner Land Trust and a conservation easement held by The Nature Conservancy.

img_0181Carpenter Valley is perched more than 6,000 feet above sea level and includes a large meadow surrounded by patches of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) and conifer forest dominated by lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). Lemmon’s willow (Salix lemmonii) lines the banks of the North Fork Prosser Creek which meanders through the site. With funding provided by The Nature Conservancy, CNPS assessed and delineated fen habitats within the meadow and adjacent forest. Fens are groundwater-fed, peat-accumulating systems with perennially saturated soils. You know you’re standing in one when the cool water begins to slowly seep through your shoes and into your socks. You may even feel a floating sensation as you walk, or feel the ground move beneath if you bounce.

img_0187We mapped about 30 acres of fen habitat in this area by a process of identifying wetland plant species, sampling the vegetation, digging soil cores, identifying saturated peat soils, and using a soil probe to delineate the habitat edge. A soil probe slips easily through the thick layers of peat in a fen, and you can feel the edges of this habitat by a gritty sound and the resistance of the probe as it hits mineral soil. Numerous mosses and liverworts were sent off for expert identification and small soil samples were analyzed to confirm the necessary levels of organic carbon content (>18%). We identified more than 130 vascular plants and 9 bryophytes/lichens; some of our favorites included gentians (Gentiana newberryi, Gentianopsis simplex), hooded ladies tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana), and marsh grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris). A new plant to us was star duckweed (Lemna triscula), an almost translucent triangular-shaped floating leaf that accumulates in the thin channels that braid through the meadow.

p1000008Five rare taxa were found in Carpenter Valley, and only a few non-native grasses were detected during two visits on the site including cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), Kentucky blue grass (Poa pratensis) and timothy (Phleum pratense). The fens of Carpenter Valley are highly rated for conservation significance because they are relatively undisturbed, and they support rare taxa and vegetation types. Additional surveys of fen vegetation in this region will contribute to a better understanding of these rare natural community types and augment additional data regarding the statewide diversity of fen/wetland vegetation.

To learn more about the Campaign to Conserve Lower Carpenter Valley click here: http://northernsierrapartnership.org/carpentervalley/. If you’re interested to know more about fen habitat, contact Jennifer Buck-Diaz at jbuck@cnps.org.

Why would anyone in their right mind keep a collection of dead plants? A visit to the herbarium at UC Davis.

Student assistant Mayra Huerta shows off the type specimen of Lycianthes jalicensis, a species described by Curator Ellen Dean in 1998. Type specimens are the most valuable specimens in a herbarium, because they represent what an author means by a species name that they publish. Photo: D. McNair.

by Ellen Dean

In natural history museums around the world are collections of dead plants that are curated by scientists called plant taxonomists. These collections are known as herbaria (in the plural) – a single collection is called an herbarium. If you go to see a bug museum, you say you are going to an entomology museum. If you go see the collection of dead plants, you say you are going to the HERBARIUM! This is generally confusing, because the name makes people think that it is a collection of living herbs – like oregano. But no, it is dead and flattened plants.

A flattened plant is an excellent representation of its living three-dimensional counterpart, and once glued onto sturdy archival paper, it becomes a herbarium specimen that can last for centuries (the oldest specimens are about 500 years old). Each specimen has a label that details who collected the plant and where and when they collected it. The label can provide all sorts of information about the habitat where the plant was collected, the elevation where it was found, the height of the plant, the color of the flowers, or whatever else the collector noted down.

Student Margaret Starbuck demonstrates how to use a plant press. Plant samples are placed in folds of newspapers, placed between blotting paper and cardboards and then placed in the wooden press which is tightened with straps. Photo: E. Dean.

Student Margaret Starbuck demonstrates how to use a plant press. Plant samples are placed in folds of newspapers, placed between blotting paper and cardboards and then placed in the wooden press which is tightened with straps. Photo: E. Dean.

Herbarium specimens can provide information on flower shape, leaf shape, leaf arrangement, seed structure, pollen structure… and much more! They can even be used as a source of DNA for sequence analysis. Plus, because the specimen label provides detailed information on when and where the plant was collected, herbarium specimens are an historical record of where and when plant species have grown. They are the basis of much of the information that is published on plant species in floras and guide books.

While herbarium specimens are not as beautiful as living plants, dead specimens do not need to be watered, fertilized, or repotted. They also take up less space than living plants. The largest herbarium in the United States has over 8 million specimens! The herbarium at UC Davis as over 350,000 specimens and is a very busy place. It is housed in a museum called the Center for Plant Diversity. Herbarium staff identify plants for the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory, as well as Farm Advisors, and Master Gardeners around the state.

Student Assistant, Tina Ku, mounts pressed plant samples onto archival paper creating herbarium specimens. Photo courtesy of UC Davis News Service.

Student Assistant, Tina Ku, mounts pressed plant samples onto archival paper creating herbarium specimens. Photo courtesy of UC Davis News Service.

Anyone can use the herbarium. Students and faculty with many types of research projects bring in plant samples for identification. Some students are looking at changes in grasslands or forests in various parts of California, others are studying the variation in just one type of plant or are looking at insect-plant relationships. Vegetation ecologists who work for the state of California and the California Native Plant Society use the herbarium to identify plants that they collect at their study sites; by putting accurate identifications on their plant samples, their vegetation data is much more accurate. Consulting botanists from many different companies use the herbarium to familiarize themselves with the rare plants of particular areas before they do field surveys. The herbarium’s staff and students have also been involved in many projects to provide plant lists for parks and reserves throughout northern California (available on the herbarium website http://herbarium.ucdavis.edu/plantlistsandfloras.html).

Some specimens are not flat enough to mount onto paper and are kept in a bulky items area. This large Coulter pine cone, held by Assistant Curator Daniel McNair, is one such specimen. Photo: J. Shepard.

Some specimens are not flat enough to mount onto paper and are kept in a bulky items area. This large Coulter pine cone, held by Assistant Curator Daniel McNair, is one such specimen. Photo: J. Shepard.

People often ask how the herbarium was compiled – where did the specimens come from? Many of the specimens were donated by researchers associated with UC Davis. Wild and cultivated tomato specimens were collected by tomato breeders in South America and wine grape specimens collected throughout the world by wine grape breeders. Valuable high elevation and high latitude specimens were collected by the eminent vegetation ecologist Jack Major. The specimens he collected while describing the vegetation of his high elevation study sites represent species that will be greatly affected by climate change, and they will be a valuable record of how those areas looked fifty years ago. Specimens were also donated by the California Native Plant Society Vegetation Program; those specimens represent species they assessed in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The herbarium is a valuable record of the research that has taken place in California and continues to be a valuable resource for the botanists of today.

The herbarium also trains students in curation and plant identification, including a herbarium plant collecting internship and a herbarium internship. In most years, a dozen or so paid student assistants work in the herbarium. One of the current undergraduate assistants at the herbarium, Mai Xong, has become interested in our collection of Hmong culinary and medicinal herbs – a collection that was made as part of two research projects at UC Davis. Mai is of Hmong heritage and has helped us label and mount some of the specimens, and now she has been inspired to make a plant collection of her own in her mother’s garden. Mayra Huerta, another undergraduate assistant, is assisting with a herbarium specimen-based study of two species that grow in Mexico and Central America. Are they one species or two? A simple, but complex question that she will answer by making detailed morphological measurements on dozens of specimens.

So, if you need help with a plant identification, you know where you can find help! The herbarium website is easy to find: http://herbarium.ucdavis.edu.

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 calscape.org 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. (www.calown.com) 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.