Documenting Natural Phenomena

Kids need nature, and we as parents, educators, and caring adults, need to provide access to it for them. It’s a simple statement, but one that has become harder and harder to achieve in the world of standardized tests, electronics, and organized sports.

To help kids get out and enjoy nature more often, CNPS worked with nature educator John (Jack) Muir Laws a few years ago to publish his nature journaling curriculum. The book guides kids through a combination of art, writing, and science-based activities.

For years, Jack has been developing his curriculum to engage students of all ages in sharpening their observational powers through sketching in the field. He has found that this combination of visual and kinesthetic learning reaches even students who had given up on their artistic abilities long ago.
More recently, the Language Arts component completed the experience. Jack began to work with Emily Breunig, an English and writing instructor, to incorporate exercises such as writing haikus, creating narrative stories, and formulating hypotheses to complement the outdoor observational activities.

This interdisciplinary combination of art, science, writing, and observation exemplifies the California Native Plant Society’s goals in creating educational programs: to engage students of all ages in the incredible natural world of California, to inspire them to keen observations of the wild places in their own backyards, and to foster a desire to protect these unique habitats.

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Advice for a New Native Gardener

Transforming your yard into a native plant oasis need not be a daunting task! Here’s an example of a small front yard’s native landscaping by Pete Veilleux of East Bay Wilds.

 

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. 

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Annual Wildflower Tests Challenge Conventional Wisdom

Lee Gordon, CNPS San Diego Gardening Committee

Wildflower seeds sown in June 2016 and left uncovered produced a nice bloom of wildflowers in April 2017: Eschscholzia californica (poppies), blue Gilia capatita, yellow Camissoniopsis bistorta (sun cups), and white Cryptantha intermedia (popcorn flower).

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.

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Collaborative BioBlitz in the Milpitas Special Interest Area

Arroyo Seco bushmallow (Malacothamnus palmeri var. lucianus, CNPS List 1B.2). Photo by Mike Splain.

On April 15, 2017 the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA) partnered with CNPS Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz chapters for its first-ever BioBlitz in the Milpitas Special Interest Area (SIA). This area was designated by the Los Padres National Forest in 2005 to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the upper Arroyo Seco and San Antonio watersheds.

The Milpitas SIA is located on the eastern slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains where one can find the largest valley oak savannah on public land. Surrounding ridges feature diverse chaparral, five tree oaks species, and six conifer species. The regional diversity is nurtured by numerous springs, wetlands, seeps, and streams which complement towering rock outcrops. This abiotic complexity facilitates a wide range of plant habitats—and much more.

Humans have occupied this area for thousands of years and evidence still remains in the form of rock art, midden remnants, and bedrock mortars. Over this time of Native America occupation, plant assemblages were shaped, in part, by active Salinan management including seed and bulb harvesting and the ignition of periodic fires that promoted the growth of food and fiber plants.

To adequately understand and better protect this diverse and sensitive place, land managers and scientists continue to collect data on the variety of habitats. We contributed to this data with our recent BioBlitz.

Goldfields and owl’s clovers on Wagon Cave Plains. Photo by Amy Patten.

Naturalists from VWA and CNPS joined forces to documented as many species in the SIA as possible. While the scenery was grand the search was challenging—including looking for insects under logs, scrutinizing mammal tracks for species ID, and scrambling steep hillside to photograph wildflowers. All challenges aside, participants were treated to a “superbloom” that included carpets of goldfields (Lasthenia sp.), owl’s clover (Castilleja sp.) and sky lupines (Lupinus nanus). VWA/CNPS members Mike Splain, Deanna Giuliano, Dave Nelson, Kate Cunningham, and John Libby helped participants track down rare endemics, including Arroyo Seco bushmallow (Malacothamnus palmeri var. lucianus, CNPS List 1B.2), Butterworth’s buckwheat (Eriogonum butterworthianum, CNPS List 1B.3), and Santa Lucia fir (Abies bracteata, CNPS List 1B.3). Other unusual sightings included naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora), harlequin lupine (Lupinus stiversii), dwarf brodiaea (Brodiaea jolonensis) and bitter root (Lewisia rediviva var. minor).

Once back from the field, all of our team’s observations (including 179 plant species) were entered into iNaturalist, a publicly accessible database of natural history observations. Once in the database, citizen scientists in the iNaturalist community review observations to generate research-grade data.

Citizen scientists collecting data on Santa Lucia Fir, Abies bracteata. Photo by Amy Patten

BioBlitz observations provided a valuable snapshot of regional biodiversity, phenology, locations of species of concern, and data on the spread of invasive plants. These data will be shared with the US Forest Service to guide research and management decisions. Plans for future BioBlitz events and targeted monitoring are already in the works.

Interested in participating in future citizen science projects? Contact me!

Amy Patten
CNPS Santa Cruz Chapter and Ventana Wilderness Alliance

Bryophytes Get Growing Respect

During its 50 years, the California Native Plant Society has advanced the protection and celebration of the vascular plants of California. Lo, the myriad flowers and ferns! Today, naturalists are expanding our view of nature beyond vascular plants and vertebrates toward smaller, under-appreciated organisms, often requiring a hand lens to see.

Much to my excitement, the newest issue of Fremontia is devoted to lichens and bryophytes, which will undoubtedly bring a bit more attention to our under-appreciated CNPS Bryophyte Chapter. Our mission is to increase understanding and appreciation of California’s mosses, liverworts, and hornworts—and to protect them where they grow.

As naturalists, we live in happy times in which we look forward to plant conferences and lichen symposia. Attendees to these events can expect to engage with a rich social network of people supporting an increasingly wide-range of natural diversions.

I hope in my lifetime, Californians will move toward supporting the protection of a diversity of organisms—big and small—while also supporting professionals who will study and manage them for conservation. With place-based collaborations including experts and amateurs sharing their passions, I believe one day liverworts will be recognized and appreciated as much as vascular plants are today.

It is paramount that biological consultants be obliged to inventory organisms of all sizes and while also producing comprehensive manuals for other non-experts to read and enjoy. For now, revel in this wonderful issue with a cryptogram focus.

—Paul Wilson
CNPS Bryophyte Chapter, President
Bryophytes-Lichens-Liverworts

Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Update: the CNPS De-Extinction Project

LA_with_Calochortus_for web.jpg

Our L.A. de-extinction search rewarded other rare plant citings as well:  here is a beautiful Plummer’s mariposa lily (Calochortus plummerae— CRPR 4.2) growing amidst Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) in the Jarupa Hills.

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

Get Outside and Lead a Solo Walk

Lead a solo walk!

What’s the loudest animal on Earth? This is one of my favorite questions to ask students. Initial responses often include anything from whales to elephants to monkeys. Few suspect that human animals are the loudest. This then becomes the challenge: can we stay quiet while on a hike in nature?

A quiet solo walk can be an important and impactful event for nurturing a child’s connection to the natural world. Observations from a walk along a nature trail can last a lifetime and those are enhanced by time walking alone-listening to sounds, watching for colors, or the movement of birds. This provides an opportunity for deeper connection. It also offers time for self-reflection and asking questions about the world around us.

Along a card walk.

Download our student and field-tested cards from the CNPS website. They are designed to enhance a child’s wonder, connection to, and understanding of, plant life in the natural environment. This guided walk can further develop a child’s connection to native plants. Depending on the target age groups, cards can be as simple as indicating the presence of a nearby flowering plant, or as detailed as having the participant find a fallen woody female catkin from an alder and then take time to examine it.

Design your own cards that fit the specific environment you will explore, focusing on the native plants in your area and share them with us!

Denise Newman and
Allison Poklemba
CNPS North Coast Chapter