CNPS is the voice for the preservation of California’s native flora. Many times, CNPS is the only party at the table negotiating for native plants and their places; too often, that seat is left vacant due to the fact that we have limited capacity to take on all the important conservation battles. Now, as the pace and scale of change across California increases and federal dynamics become more challenging, it is even more critical to maintain a strong voice for native plant conservation. We need to increase our capacity to do so, and Southern California is the first place to start. Continue reading
For those of us living inland from the coast of California, summer is the perfect time to make a trip to the western part of our state, where the fog lies thick and the natural air-conditioning seems to blow continuously.
In May and June 2017, CNPS Vegetation Program staff and hardy volunteers spent two weeks sampling coastal vegetation on the Point Arena-Stornetta unit of the California Coastal National Monument. This BLM-managed property in Mendocino County is the only accessible terrestrial component of this marine monument, which stretches over 1000 miles along our coastline. The 1600+ acres of land supports coastal prairie dotted by tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) intertwined with native California blackberry (Rubus ursinus) and sculpted riparian strips of red alder (Alnus rubra) and numerous willows (Salix spp.). Stands of shore pine (Pinus contorta ssp. contorta) and bishop pine (P. muricata) provide shelter from the wind, though you can also see planted and naturalizing stands of Monterey pine (P. radiata) and Monterey cypress (Hesperocyparis macrocarpa). The latter two conifers are classified both as rare plants in Monterey County, and as invasive in other parts of California and beyond, in an ironic twist of displacement.
Your boots can get quickly soaked while finding a surprising diversity of wetlands and saturated herbaceous plant communities in the area — including pacific reedgrass (Calamagrostis nutkaensis), coast carex (Carex obnupta), and common rush (Juncus patens). Scattered ponds support pondweed (Potamogeton sp.) and pond-lily (Nuphar polysepala). While much of the coastline between the mouth of the Garcia River and Manchester State Park is unfortunately dominated by European beach grass (Ammophila arenaria), you can find the native dune grass (Elymus mollis) and open sand supporting native dune scrub with beach morning glory (Calystegia soldanella), sand verbena (Abronia latifolia), and beach bur (Ambrosia chamissonis).
Rare plant and animal species are scattered throughout the monument, attesting to the importance of protecting these lands. With many National Monuments currently under review by the Trump Administration, now is a good time to visit and show your support for these magical public lands.
-CNPS Vegetation Program
In the northeastern corner of California along the California-Nevada border, between Mt. Shasta in the west and the Warner Mountains in the east, lies a massive volcanic plain known as the Modoc Plateau. Shaped by vast basalt flows, this landscape is covered by a sea of sagebrush and perennial grasses and is more typical of the Great Basin. Although this may be the most undeveloped region of the state, the ecosystems here are considered among the most threatened in North America. Threats include invasive species, over-grazing, woodland expansion, and altered fire regimes, amongst others. Until recently, we have had very little vegetation data from this region. Now, partners at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Natural Resources Conservation Service, and others are providing dedicated funding and support for resource-level assessment and mapping of vegetation.
With support from the BLM, the CNPS Vegetation Program spent 12 days sampling vegetation in the Modoc Plateau. The BLM selected three areas managed by the Applegate Field Office to be surveyed and mapped. Although these three areas are separated only by approximately 20 miles, and have dominant vegetation types typical for the Modoc Plateau, each one also has unique qualities. Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi) stands are common in the southwestern-most unit, with impressive displays of mule ears (Wyethia mollis) in the understory, and sometimes producing stands of its own in areas of recent burns. The centrally located site, near the Likely Tablelands, is strongly influenced by shallow soils on basalt flows with vast areas of low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula ssp. arbuscula) and various phases of western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) including old growth stands along the basalt rims. At the eastern-most site, along the east side of the south Warner Mountains is white fir (Abies concolor) and curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius) at the higher elevations, and low sagebrush and perennial grasslands dominated by Thurber’s needlegrass (Stipa thurberiana) at lower elevations. Basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. tridentata) is found at the lowest elevations near Lower Lake.
This June we collected 64 vegetation surveys across the three sites. The data, along with hundreds more collected by CDFW and Chico State’s Geographic Information Center at nearby areas, will be analyzed to create a vegetation classification for the region and will aide in future vegetation maps of the region.
The Modoc Plateau is a beautiful and unique part of California. Much of the vegetation here is at the edge of its range and more typical of our neighboring states to the north and east. The remoteness and lack of urban development give a sense that this may be a “forgotten” part of the state but also reminds us of the added diversity of California’s ecosystems and the importance of understanding and protecting these wildlands.
– CNPS Vegetation Program
This article has been adapted from the CNPS- Orange County Chapter‘s “Native Gardener’s Corner – Member’s Tips, Tricks, and Techniques” newsletter column, which offers chapter members and local experts a chance to share information on many things related to gardening with natives. The tips that follow were given in response to the question, “What advice regarding installing a new native plant would you give to a new native gardener?”
Have a Plan
Designing your CA native garden is a fun and rewarding experience! Start by asking yourself a few questions, such as “How will I use this space?” or “What does this space mean to me?” Once you realize the potential of your yard, you can really get creative! Plan out your pathways, seating areas, and rain capture swales first so that you know how much space you have for plants, and what types of plants will be fit best in your landscape!
Check out the CNPS article, “Have Space, Dirt, Water – Now What?” for a crash course in landscape design.
Lee Gordon, CNPS San Diego Gardening Committee
Conventional wisdom says that the best time to sow annual wildflower seeds is in the fall, just before the rains, and that seeds should be covered with a thin layer of soil to protect them from predation. This conventional wisdom may be wrong. Tests in Scripps Ranch and Poway (San Diego County) suggest that it is better to sow wildflower seeds months in advance of the fall rain, and that covering seeds may actually prevent them from germinating.
The first test was in my friend Bob’s back yard in Poway. I mixed packets of seeds, and he sowed them in three adjacent areas in July, September and early November. He covered half of each area with a thin layer of soil and left the other half uncovered. The worst results were in the November area covered with soil. The best were from the half of the September sowing that was left uncovered.
I tried a similar test in a small Scripps Ranch open space, dubbed the “Canyonito” by CNPS member Sarah. I sowed seeds in three adjacent areas in June, September and November, leaving them uncovered. Workmen later covered the last two areas with a thick mulch to suppress weeds. No wildflowers grew in these areas at all. However, the area sown in June was left alone, and this area had a beautiful spring bloom. This test shows that you can get good results from sowing seeds early.
In a third less formal test, I sowed wildflowers on a hillside brush management zone in Scripps Ranch in October. This is an area of trimmed chaparral with considerable bare dirt. Two of the species behaved differently here compared with how they grow in the wild. While some plants grew to a normal size, many more grew late and stunted. Plants that grow stunted like these are uncommon in the wild.
In early May, a team from the Rare Plant Program went down into the urban wilds of the greater Los Angeles area in search of plants presumed to be extinct. Amidst the piles of trash, stealthy homeless encampments, fields of invasive weeds, cookie-cutter stucco houses, and mining lands, it could seem like a search for a needle in an inhospitable haystack. Yet, the CNPS De-extinction Project is far from that.
Conceived in 2015, the goal of the De-extinction Project is to locate populations of plants that have not been seen in many years, whose habitats may have been significantly altered or destroyed, and now have been given a California Rare Plant Rank of 1A in the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory (Plants Presumed Extirpated in California and either Rare or Extinct Elsewhere). These plants are only presumed to be extinct, as some factors— such as the viability span of the seed bank for a particular plant and the vicissitudes of weather patterns over time—contribute to the possibility of regrowth and thus, rediscovery. There is also simply a lot of ground to cover to effectively search for these plants in possible habitats so that locating these plants can become an issue of sheer person power available for the search, as well as good old-fashioned luck!
CNPS is no stranger to rediscovery. In 2009, our Executive Director Dan Gluesencamp rediscovered the Franciscan manzanita (Arctostaphylos franciscana) on a traffic island near the Golden Gate Bridge. In 2016, Steve Schoenig, currently a Rare Plant Treasure Hunt (RPTH) volunteer and former Coordinator of the RPTH, rediscovered the Serpentine Canyon monkeyflower (Erythranthe pericaulis) deep in the heart of the Plumas National Forest. In the early days of the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory, rediscoveries were more common as the Inventory itself helped catalog which plants most needed searching for. Over the years, as more habitat has been destroyed, rediscovery has become less common and the need to fine tune our searches more essential. Once a species is rediscovered, our state has another chance to conserve and protect it, and the plant will often be given a ranking of 1B.1—rare in all of its range and still vulnerable to the highest degree of threats.
In order to enhance our chances of locating these plants, CNPS Rare Plant Botanist Aaron Sims did extensive research on the historical occurrences of all 1A plants in the Inventory as of 2015. He did analyses of which plants were the most likely to be found, based on factors including intactness of habitat near or around historical occurrences as well as dates last seen, and created a prioritized list of targets for rediscovery. With each plant target, Sims also generated exact locations around which to centralize our search, concentrating our resources to focus on the greatest possibility of success.
With this data in hand and more than just a little hopefulness, Rare Plant Program botanists scoured several sites in the greater L.A. area for two 1A plants the second week of May. We can’t divulge details of the outcome just yet, but the hunt was successful in many ways. Several areas of semi-intact habitat were found for these species, despite the ubiquitous sprawl. We will report back as soon as we know more.
The CNPS De-extinction Project is currently seeking out other 1A plants in other areas of the state. We also hope to return to the L.A. area throughout the summer to continue our search for these plants and deepen our search to include other elusive plants presumed to be gone in this densely-developed place. Interested to join in the hunt? Let us know by sending us an email!
Catherine Curley, Assistant Botanist/Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Coordinator
We have had the benefit of a wonderful rain year, and watering may be the furthest thing from our minds. But knowing when and how to water native plant gardens is a key to success.
A new Tree of Life Nursery publication, Watering Native Plants, by nursery co-owner Mike Evans, covers important factors to keep in mind while planning – particularly for rain capture, and for decisions about irrigation methods. Mike is an advocate for bringing back the human factor in watering gardens and in irrigation of commercial landscapes. The concepts and practical recommendations in this guide apply equally to commercial landscapes and home gardens.
The guide covers the essentials of watering a healthy, natural garden, including the why, when, how much, how frequently, and how to water, both new and established gardens. For those ready to plant, the book also includes helpful instructions and an illustrated guide to creating a secondary watering ring. (For more information on planting natives and initial watering, check out the related video tutorial.)
Article and photos by Laura Camp.