The Plants That CNPS Doesn’t (yet?) Protect

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

Presumably I’m courting a jinx, but October was a fairly quiet month on conservation. Instead of an action alert, I thought I’d write a brief thought piece about the limits of CNPS conservation and science activities, and where we need to expand. 

One limit is that we don’t do marine species. Every once in a while someone asks why CNPS doesn’t get into protecting kelp forests. The simple reason is that kelp aren’t plants. To unpack this a bit, modern genomic biology has demonstrated conclusively that multicellularity arose multiple times in eukaryotic life, and that a bunch of those independent evolutions occurred in what we call algae. One lineage only (green algae) led to land plants, and kelps are on a very different branch of the tree of life. Indeed, they’re closer to the Phytophthoras, those notorious plant “fungi,” than they are to land plants. Phytophthoras aren’t fungi any more than kelp are plants, and convergent evolution sure is fun. 

However, there are marine vascular plants: the seagrasses, which are perfectly good monocots, sometimes nicknamed “vegetable whales” (family Zosteraceae). None of the four species are particularly rare in San Diego, but seagrass beds are a fairly rare plant community that is protected. 

Advice on Plant Selection

Photo: Chris Hendrickson

What recommendation do you have for choosing California native plants for a garden?

To assist you in selecting plants at the Sale this weekend, we asked co-chairs and members of the CNPS-San Diego Garden Committee to respond to this question with one paragraph. Here is what they said:

"My garden consists almost entirely of plants that grow within about 10 miles of my home. I love wandering through nearby open spaces just to see what grows here. The good news is that there is such diversity that there are many beautiful plants to choose from. Even though my garden is on a north facing hill, I am confident many of the plants growing there now would not survive on their own. The solution is monthly irrigation, each time with an inch of water. Many of our best looking plants grow on the relatively cool, wet north side of our hills, but these areas are cooler and wetter only in the winter. I bet these plants would grow well in hotter exposures by continuing irrigation during the winter and spring, even during rainy periods."
-Lee Gordon, Member CNPS-San Diego Garden Committee

"Each of us has our own individual style for our gardens. My goal in choosing California Native plants is to have it mimic what the surroundings of my neighborhood would have looked like before suburbanization took. Therefore-I am going for the wild garden look. Originally, our household chose plants that we thought would be nice specimens, but now, we are focused on what is locally native and are going for the Coastal Sage Scrub/Chaparral look. With some very small, scaled-down paths through our front yard for passers-by to meaner on, we are now choosing the basics to fill in and border our ‘trail’. Buckwheats, sages, manzanitas and bladderpods grace our garden. We fill in with California native wildflowers (that reseed every year with enough seeds to collect and share with others) to attract pollinators and we rejoice in seeing more birds, native insects and even 2 snakes (never before seen in the last 2 decades) that now call our wild, natural landscape home. Our home, their home."
-Judie Lincer, Co-Chair CNPS-San Diego Garden Committee

Photo: Chris Hendrickson

"When choosing native plants for your garden, there are some factors you should be aware of. First, what is the exposure - sun, partial shade, shade? What type of look are you going for? - naturally exuberant or highly structured, for instance. Remember to use a lot of evergreen groundcovers and shrubs to create year round backbone to your garden. Then finally you can use a couple of on-line resources to help you pick plants. Las Pilitas nursery has an excellent design tool called, in which you input your zip code, intended watering schedule, exposure, soil drainage, and the type of mulch you intend to use, and it will come up with a list of appropriate native plants for your site. You can then go back and tweak different parameters to see how it affects the recommended plant list. Calscape - Restore Nature One Garden at a Time is also a very powerful tool for design and plant selection as well. Look at the ultimate size of the plants you use to figure out spacing and therefore how many plants you should get. Finally, add colorful perennials like Seaside daisy, Hummingbird fuschia, Penstemon 'Margarita BOP', and Monkey flower to the edges for upfront, easily maintained color spots."
-Greg Rubin, Member CNPS-San Diego Garden Committee

"After 6 years of trial-and-error native gardening, my recommendation for selecting plants is to aim for as locally endemic as you can. Unless you are experimenting with a botanic garden of California native plants from the various regions of the state or county (which is legit), you’ll have best success with plants that grow naturally in your immediate area. By immediate, I’m talking maybe a 40 to 50 square-mile radius. Know what plant community you live in. Is it Coastal Sage, Coastal Strand, Oak Woodland, Chaparral?… Both Calscape and Calflora offer terrific tools for discovering what grows around you. You can make lists on both these sites for reference. Keep in mind that some local plants, if they are completely situated in your direct area, may grow much larger than the specifications listed. White Sage and San Diego Goldenbush grow enormously tall in my Clairemont area garden. Pollinators adapted to these local plants, too, will find your plants much more readily. You can either keep a strict local list or add something from outside your area that you like and see if if thrives. But filling the backbone of your garden with very local plants will make it a success, I have found.”
-Joseph Sochor, Co-Chair CNPS-San Diego Garden Committee

Photo: Chris Hendrickson

"Since childhood, I have loved hiking in our beautiful Coastal Sage Scrub. As an adult, I’d always look up what I’d seen in my 1st (and 2nd and 3rd!) edition of James Lightner’s San Diego County Native Plants. Now when I hike, I observe with a different eye, seeing which local native species might thrive in my coastal garden. When I began native gardening, I consulted California Native Plants for the Garden, a wonderful book by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien, to see photos and descriptions of varieties of native species that do well in garden situations. I also went on the garden tours hosted by CNPS-SD to get design ideas. My initial plantings featured many Channel Island natives, as my garden has a similar climate. Since then, I now research more locally native plants on Calflora & Calscape (also and for information on soil type, water requirements, and climate zone. I have found that a native garden is an ever-evolving organism, where some things thrive and some things don’t—and not to be afraid to pull up those that don’t! I originally planted mostly to attract butterflies and birds but have been delighted to find that I now have many resident lizards and visiting insects. A real life-changer has been the iNaturalist app, which I use daily to help me identify all the native bees, wasps, hover flies, and bee flies that have found their way to my native garden. Every day is filled with the joy of discovery!"
-Bonnie Nickel, Member CNPS-San Diego Garden Committee

"Successfully selecting the best native plants for your garden is dependent upon many factors. One should first ask themselves, what style of garden do you want. Carefully selected plants with an emphasis on aesthetics, or less interest in aesthetics and more interest in habitat, restoration, wilderness. Then ask, how would you like the plants to function.. Are you seeking shade, privacy, wind break, birds, pollinators, fragrance, medicinal/edibles, lots and lots of color etc.? Once you have an overarching view of how you want your garden to feel & function you can get a better idea of the layout. Do you want hardscape such as boulders, do you want a sitting area, bird feeding/bathing station, stream bed, bridge, etc? All of those take up space, so calculate how big you want those areas to be and then think of what space is left over for planting. When selecting plants at this phase think sizes, shapes, colors. Then observe the sun/shade, moisture level, soil make up/drainage, steepness of slope/flat ground etc. for each area of the garden. Then finally, you can determine which native plants would be best suitable for each space. Remember, you can have the most beautiful plant in the world, but if it doesn’t survive it isn’t going to be so beautiful. Sometimes certain plants just don’t grow well in certain conditions, even if they’re native. Plants that are most likely to survive are usually those more wild and local to your area. Maintenance of the garden is important to consider. Many wild natives seed readily, grow very quickly, and are woody. All of these increase maintenance. Hybrids, selections, and cultivated native plants are useful in providing a neater and cleaner garden, but often come with more water requirements & less stability. A mix of both is useful. Ultimately, research the full size of a plant and plan ahead. Put that larger plant in as a foundation, then surround it with smaller perennials you’re not afraid to remove. And do not be afraid to remove them. Every plant provides a need at a given time, and there is nothing wrong with removing a native to help a native. An oak tree shading out other natives is not a bad oak. So use fast growing plants to fill in space quickly until a more prized/established plant can dominate the space. Avoid over planting however, as this causes frustration and soreness of back/wallet. Lastly, don’t be afraid to redo your work. Like anything else, gardening is a practice that takes time to learn. Also, humans are prone to make bountiful mistakes. Set aside fear of being wrong or messing up and remember that you’re doing a good thing, even if you have to remove something to replace it with something else."

-Vincent Bellino, Co-Chair CNPS-San Diego Garden Committee

Conservation Column

By Frank Landis, Conservation Committee Chair

On September 6, 2019, without much notice, the California legislature passed SB 632. This little bill said the following: 

“SECTION 1. (a) The Legislature finds and declares that many of the most destructive and deadliest wildfires recorded in California’s history have occurred in the last two years, and the proposed program environmental impact report for a vegetation treatment program serves as an important public safety component to reduce the risk of loss of life and property from high-intensity wildfires. 

“(b) The Legislature therefore intends that the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection complete the proposed program environmental impact report for the vegetation treatment program as soon as practicably feasible and that the report be used to complete priority fuel reduction projects to protect communities vulnerable to wildfires. 

Field Notes from the Coast: August

By Juergen Schrenk, Chapter Member

When the temperatures in the inland valleys and our local mountains soared into the 90s, we, like many San Diegans, fled to the coast. We began with a walk into the Tijuana Estuary from the Visitor Center on Caspian Way, just south of Imperial Beach Blvd. The trail first led through planted Baja Bush Snapdragon (Galvezia juncea) in full bloom, not a local plant but a near-native from adjacent Baja California, and then headed into the preserve with its original vegetation. The most conspicuous flower there was San Diego Goldenbush (Isocoma menziesii var. menziesii ), but the humble Salt Heliotrope (Heliotropium curassavicum var. oculatum) was also blooming, as usual ignoring its CalFlora-assigned flowering period of May and June. A surprise, however, was that Coast Cholla (Cylindropuntia prolifera) still sported a few flowers, which we are accustomed to seeing in June or earlier.

We continued to Imperial Beach and walked from the southern end of Seacoast Dr. along the shore towards the mouth of the Tijuana River. The high trail on the dam had the last Beach Evening Primroses (Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia), and upon a closer look the mats of Beach-bur (Ambrosia chamissonis) still revealed a few fresh inflorescences. On the beach, bees were busy visiting Red Sand Verbena (Abronia maritima) which blooms virtually year-round along the foot of the dunes. Back at the car we finally discovered the botanical highlight of the day, the uncommon Salt-marsh Bird’s Beak (Chloropyron maritimum, right), fairly close to the sidewalk but out of reach. All of which confirms one more time that in our area with its range of options from seashore to mountains to desert you never have to go without wildflowers, whatever the season and the temperature might be.

All photos by Juergen Schrenk

Fun with Munz’s Mariposa Lily (Calochortus palmeri var. munzii)

By Fred Roberts, Chairperson Rare Plants Committee

Following up on a piece I wrote last summer (Rare Plant Hunting in a Dry Year, CNPS San Diego Chapter Newsletter, August 2018), I wanted to report on one of the species mentioned, Munz’s mariposa lily (Calochortus palmeri var. munzii, right), a California Rare Plant Rank 1B.2 plant. As I related last summer, in early June 2018, Jenny Moore, at the time the staff botanist for the Cleveland National Forest, had found an interesting mariposa lily near Buckman Springs south of I-8. It certainly looked a good deal like splendid mariposa lily (Calochortus splendens) but something was off and she wondered if it represented a hybrid 8 (you can see Jenny’s original plant on iNaturalist, it is the only record oniNaturalist south of I-8).

I’ve been looking for this species in San Diego County for about seven years so when she sent me her image that clearly showed yellow hairs at the base of the petal, not white, I knew exactly what it was (interestingly, there was a parallel conversation in the comments under her iNaturalist post where the commenters had come to the same conclusion). Jenny took me to the site in the first week of July 2018. Unfortunately, the plants were not in the best condition and there were too few plants present to collect a voucher specimen. We vowed to follow-up on this rare plant in 2019.

I’ve been quite interested in this plant as it occurs in San Diego County. When it first was added to the San Diego plant lists, it was known from about a half dozen sites, and with the exception of two collections from the Chihuahua Valley and near Warner Springs from 2010 and 2009 respectively, all the collections were old. It was almost absent from the San Diego Plant Atlas. Clearly it was not an abundant plant.

Why Plant Only Native Milkweeds

Photo: Derell Licht

Gordon Pratt, High Country Conservancy

For years I have heard that the perennial Mexican milkweed (Asclepias currassavica) is bad for monarch butterflies, but that seemed to be like an old wives’ tale since no one could explain why. Recently I found out from a friend that a protozoan parasite (Ophryocystis electroscirrha) hangs out in milkweeds (perhaps in the sap) and at high concentrations the protozoan kills monarch caterpillars. This interaction is natural and has probably been going on for some time. It seems that the caterpillars pick up the parasite from eating the infected milkweed leaves.

Those plants with high concentrations of the protozoan are more likely to kill monarch caterpillars or chrysalises. Since the non-native Mexican milkweed is perennial and does not die back like most of our native milkweeds, it builds up high concentrations of the protozoan. So, for this reason native milkweeds have lower concentrations of the deadly protozoan and are less likely to kill monarch caterpillars. It seems that you can reduce the protozoan population in the Mexican milkweed by cutting them back in the fall and not allowing them to store high concentrations of the protozoans over the winter. It is best to plant milkweeds that are native to our area, like narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis).

You can find more information at these websites:

Conservation News for the Fall

By Frank Landis, Conservation Committee Chair

The next eight months are going to be a bit of a rocky ride for everyone, as the political din of the 2020 election season drowns everything else out. Here’s a round-up of major events from the last two months and what to, erm, look forward to. And more importantly, what to act on.

First off, CNPS has joined Endangered Habitats League, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Chaparral Institute, and Preserve Wild Santee in suing to decertify the County’s 3-2 approval of the Otay Ranch Village 14 development, now renamed Adara. We’re specifically partnering with EHL on a suit. Along with Newland Sierra, that makes two cases our society is involved in.

Second: on August 5, the San Diego City Council voted 6-3 to approve The Preserve at Torrey Highlands, a 450,000 square foot office building on the eastern edge of Del Mar Mesa. I and two other CNPSers were there, along with 52 other environmentalist speakers. We are deeply disappointed with the result. Kudos to Councilmembers Gomez, Bry, and Montgomery for voting against it, and brickbats to Ward, Campbell, and Moreno for voting for it. Protect Our Preserves ( spearheaded the fight against The Preserve, and if you want to help them, go to their websiteand donate. I’ve been actively involved helping them. Since The Preserve property didn’t have any listed plant species onit, CNPS won’t litigate. That doesn’t mean the project won’t further trash Del Mar Mesa, which is why I’m personally fighting it, but state CNPS, the organization which actually sues, has fairly strong guidelines for when we do and do not get involved in cases. In any case, Protect Our Preserves needs your help.

Black Mountain Rare Plant Survey

By Tom Oberbauer, Botanist and Past President, CNPS-San Diego

Time was drifting by and the summer of rare plant surveys was getting close to the end. The season for surveys and the project financing were almost past in 2015. Margie Mulligan and I were originally supposed to visit the top of Black Mountain, northeast of Sutherland Reservoir, but other commitments prevented her doing it. So, Jim Rocks was interested and Margie made arrangements for us to contact each other. The result was that Jim was going to be able to drive and I would meet him at his office in the Clairmont/Mission Bay area.

I drove there quite early one morning, arriving by 7:30 am. We loaded into his Honda Ridgeline 4X4 and drove out through Ramona and up Magnolia Avenue and then down into Pamo Valley. The vegetation was not completely toasted because of one interesting July rainstorm, the remnants of a tropical storm. It dropped quite a bit of rain in a number of places in San Diego County including 4 inches in Ramona where it flooded some streets.

The plant that appeared to benefit the most from the July rain was Salsola kali (Russian thistle). It was green and growing profusely in all of the open fields. However, the rain would have also assisted the native chaparral shrubs and oak trees during a very dry time of year. The road climbed gently up into the hills north east of Ramona and then dropped down into an oak and sycamore lined canyon, shaded by the larger trees but providing a view of a narrow valley as it lay before us.

Birdscaping Your Garden Using Native Plants: A Q&A with Teresa Everett

Teresa Everett.jpeg

Teresa Everett, California Native Gardening Specialty Presenter and Featured Gardener on the CNPS-SD Garden Tour 2018, will present “Gardening is for the Birds: Birdscaping Your Garden Using Native Plants” at 9:00am on September 14 at the full-day workshop:

The Resilient California Native Garden

Teresa, why should we plant native plants for birds?

Our California native flora have been coexisting and evolving with our native fauna for tens of thousands of years. Native vegetation provides the right food in the right packaging at the right time for our local birds. The food provided by plants can be in the form of tender flower petals and leaves, seeds, fruit, and nectar. Since these plants have co-evolved with our birds, they provide the most appropriate nutrition and a much greater selection and for the birds in your garden than non-native plants. Native plants are always better than bird feeders as bird feeders tend to be filled with “cheep” seed that is more equivalent to a meal at a fast food restaurant.  Insects and spiders that are attracted to our native plants provide protein for our insectivorous feathered friends. 

Native plants support a much greater array of insects than non-natives. This is particularly true of caterpillars which are a main source of food for baby birds. These foods are packaged for the birds in ways that have evolved to benefit both the plants and the birds. Nectar is stored in tubular flowers for hummingbirds and orioles. Insects can be found under bark for woodpeckers and nuthatches, in leaf galls for insect eating song birds, or simply crawling about snacking on leaves waiting for a hungry bird to snatch it up. Native plant based food can be found throughout the year with the largest quantity and quality available in the spring when breeding birds’ needs are the greatest. By maintaining a native landscape in your yard you can provide a “farm to table” supply chain at it’s best!

Can you give us an example of a relationship between a particular bird and a particular California native plant?

California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) are dependent on hummingbirds for pollination. Epilobium withholds spring blooming to reduce competition for the birds’ attention during the floriferous days of spring. Fuchsia flowers are very narrow and provide a perfect fit for the hummingbirds’ thin bills. Honeybees, carpenter bees and other larger pollinators are too large to fit into the deep flower tubes, leaving the nectar on the table for the hummers. However, as always in nature, there are some cheaters. There are several large pollinating insect species that will actually perch on the base of the floral tubes, pierce the flowers with their mouthparts and steal out the nectar without helping to pollinate the blossom. You can look for tiny holes at the base of your fuchsia blossoms to see evidence of these little sneaks.

Photo: Michael Evans

Do you have a favorite California plant that you enjoy watching its relationship with birds in your garden or elsewhere?

I would have to say that our Coast Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia) provide the best bird watching opportunities. We have sharp-shinned hawks using our oaks as ambush sites to sweep down on smaller birds in the garden. I particularly enjoy when the acorns are mature and the scrub jays make their boisterous visits to our yard. Their noisy acorn foraging reminds me of my childhood home in the Santa Monica Mountains. A more melodious visitor is the bushtit. Large flocks of bushtits will sweep into our oaks and glean insects and spiders while filling the tree with their constant twittering calls. Some years the bushtits will build their sock-like hanging nests and join the hummingbirds in raising their young in our oaks. Large or small, the live oaks attract them all!

Teresa Everett’s interest in California native plants developed while growing up in the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains amid black walnut trees, live oaks, grey foxes, and scrub jays. She majored in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution at UCSD and has worked as a National Park Ranger, a zookeeper at the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park and in the Horticulture Department at the Park. Teresa spent several years as a sales rep and Native Plant Gardening Specialist at Moosa Creek Nursery. In her spare time, Teresa enjoys hiking, kayaking, photography, knitting, and of course, gardening!

Superbloom 2019

Text and photos by Juergen Schrenk

This year's "superbloom" continued through the end of June in our local mountains. We have never seen the Lagunas this floriferous in late June. The chaparral along Sunrise Highway was in full bloom, dominated by Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) and California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum var. polifolium), interspersed with quite a few Weed’s Mariposa Lilies (Calochortus weedii var. weedii), and Shiny-leaf Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon trichocalyx var. trichocalyx) by the roadside. The short Kwaaymii Trail had plenty of the usually less common Golden Bowl Mariposa Lilies (Calochortus concolor), with Mojave Prickly Pear (Opuntia phaeacantha) competing for attention. One of my favorites, Summer Snow (Leptosiphon floribundus ssp. glaber), was at its prime, while Western Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana var. demissa) was already beyond. The equally short Kwaaymii Point Trail was outright lush, and even the slopes towards the desert were still green. Further up the road, along Lake Cuyamaca, the numbers of Cuyamaca Larkspur (Delphinium hesperium ssp. cuyamacae) were stunning in many places; its blue rivaled by that of Dwarf Brodiaea (Brodiaea terrestris ssp.kernensis). For the way back down to I-8 we chose Viejas Grade with a spectacular display of Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii), lots of Weed Mariposa lilies, and pink added by Canchalagua (Zeltnera venusta) accompanied by Fringed Spineflower (Chorizanthe fimbriata var. fimbriata).

A Few Thoughts on Preparing for Fire Season

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

I’m supposed to be working on a fire recovery and preparedness guide for San Diego, but my CNPS energy is going into conservation work for fairly obvious reasons.

That said, the weather has predictably turned hot and dry, and all that lovely vegetation that grew this spring is drying out and becoming flammable. Since Cal Fire is telling everyone to prepare and create an evacuation guide, but not really telling how to do it or what should be in it, I figured I’d put some ideas out.

Note that I *am not* a fire expert, and this is merely an opinion that I offer in the hopes that it might help you figure out how to make your own fire plan. The only reason I suggest it is that the putative experts aren’t being very helpful either.

Native Garden Wins Helix’s 2019 Landscape Contest

Helix Water District has named Matt and Lauren Kirkpatrick of La Mesa as this year’s winner of its WaterSmart Landscape Contest, an annual competition that recognizes outstanding water-wise residential landscapes based on overall attractiveness, design, efficient irrigation and appropriate plant selection and maintenance.

Compared to the Kirkpatricks’ previous lawn, this growing, colorful and entirely native landscape requires very little water and creates a place of inspiration and peace for these outdoor enthusiasts. Over the two-month billing period ending this April, this home used just 13 units of water, which is almost 40 percent less than the average water use of other Helix customers.  One unit is 748 gallons.

The Kirkpatricks purchased the home in 2014 with a front yard full of grass that required frequent watering and mowing just to maintain a modest appearance. In the end, the lawn’s appearance was lackluster and proved to be too costly and time consuming for the couple. Taking advantage of SoCal WaterSmart’s grass removal rebate program, the Kirkpatricks tossed their turf for a landscape that requires less maintenance, less water and offers more beauty.