Farewell to Dichelostemma?

By Fred Roberts, Rare Plant Botanist 

Yes, the name Dichelostemma may soon be a history note in San Diego County and the rest of southern California. The genus Dichelostemma will not be going away, it just won't apply to the plants we have known as blue dicks, school bells or wild hyacinth.

I am writing this in Sacramento to the sound of pounding rain, returning from a two-day symposium hosted by the Northern California Botanists. Not many of you, perhaps none of you, have been to one of these excellent symposiums typically held in early January at Chico, California. It is a good long drive from San Diego. The symposium was held over January 9th and 10th. The drive to get to it and back was also an excellent opportunity to sample the atmospheric river that had been making news and apparently beating at my hotel window.

At the symposium's poster session this morning, a poster presented by a prominent northern California botanist and contributor to the Jepson Manual, Robert Preston, caught my eye. Currently, Preston has been focusing some attention on Brodiaea and related groups. The poster was titled: “Not another Damn Name Change! Why Blue Dicks is not a Dichelostemma”.

Dichelostemma capitatum already has a bit of a checkered history. It has been called variously Hookeria puchella, Brodiaea pulchella, and Dichelostemma pulchella. All three names, as Preston explains, have ultimately been shown to be incorrectly applied to this plant and the name that appeared in the 1993 edition of the Jepson manual was Dicholostemma capitatum. Many of you familiar with Latin names may only have known blue dicks by this latter name. Those of us that spent our formative botany years clutching a Munz book knew this plant as D. pulchella.

Mr. Preston made a compelling argument that we should be using Dipterostemon capitatus for this plant. The name is already available and was proposed by Per Axel Rydberg in 1912. Apparently no one took Rydberg or his name seriously, as you can hardly find reference to it. I'd certainly never heard of it. However, recent researchers have found genetic and embryologic evidence that suggest Rydberg was right on the mark. Will the botanical community at large accept this new name with old roots? Very likely they will. 

Image: Dawn Endico from Menlo Park, California, Dichelostemma capitatum, 2005CC BY-SA 2.0

Plant of the Month (February) : California polypody fern – Polypodium californicum

Article reposted from Mother Nature's Backyard

My, how it’s rained recently; almost 9 inches in January alone.  That’s as much as we sometimes get in an entire year!  The ground is really moist, and some of our perennials are looking the best they have in years.  Coming into its own right now is the one native fern we currently grow – the California polypody, Polypodium californicum.  The scientific name is pronounced pol-ee-PODE-ee-um   ka-li-FOR-ni-kum.

California polypody is a member of the Polypody fern family (Polypodiaceae), a large family of ferns with about 40-50 genera and 500-700 species worldwide. At one time, many more ferns were included in the family and the exact numbers are still debated.  Most polypodies grow in moist climates, commonly in rainforests.  The majority are also epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants, rather than in the soil).  That makes California polypody unique on two accounts: it grows in a mediterranean climate and it grows in the ground.

Ferns are placed in a separate division of the Plant Kingdom (Pteridophyta).Pteridophytes are ancient plant forms that do not produce seeds.  Their life cycle involves alternating generations of sporophytes (what we commonly think of as the ‘ferns’) and gametophytes (small, moss-like plants).  Reproduction depends on water; sperm can only reach eggs to fertilize them via water.

Sporophytes produce tiny spores in small, rounded sori on the bottom surfaces of the leaves.  The spores, given moist growing conditions, develop into the gametophye generation, which produces eggs and sperm.  Fertilized eggs, when they occur, then give rise to new sporophyte plants. For more on ferns and their reproduction see references 1 and 2, below.

California has five native Polypodies. [3]   Only two are native to Southern California: California polypody and Western polypody (Polypodium hesperium).  California polypody has a natural range from the Northern California coast to the coast of Baja California, Mexico.  It grows in shaded canyons, along streambanks, on rocky, north-facing slopes, in rock crevices and on cliffs/coastal bluffs.  It can still be found in the coastal sage scrub and chaparral communities of the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountain foothills and on the southern Channel Islands, at elevations below about 4000 ft. (1500 m.).

California polypody is a small, herbaceous perennial fern.  Its sporophyte generation grows 1-2 ft tall (usually 6-12 inches, but may be taller in garden) and about as wide.   Like most ferns, its leaves (called fronds) are compound, with many leaflets (called pinnae in the ferns) along a stout, hairy midrib.  The fronds are fairly simple, being only once pinnate.  The pinnae have rounded tips and are minutely serrate.  The sori develop on the underside of the pinnae; the indentations of the sori can be seen from the upper side in young leaves (see above). 

Plants spread slowly via stout underground stems (rhizomes). The rhizomes have many knobby projections, alluded to by the scientific name (poly = many; pody = feet). Plants die back to the ground in the dry season (summer/fall).  New fronds appear with the winter rains.  

California polypody is a nice fern for the garden.  Its small size makes it appropriate for even small spaces.  While preferring a well-drained soil, Polypodium californicum can be grown in most S. California soils.   It will tolerate morning sun, dappled shade or quite shady conditions.  It likes good winter/spring moisture, but then needs to dry out by late summer/early fall.  You can water it once a month or so in early/mid-summer and plants are fine with winter flooding.

Ferns don’t ask for much in the way of management.  Trim off dead fronds for neatness – that’s about it.   You can grow Polypodium californicum just about anywhere with some shade and late summer dry.  This is a cute one for a porch container.  It’s charming with shade-tolerant Carex, Heucheras, Columbine (Acquilegia) and other perennials with similar requirements.   It’s often used in moist rock gardens, rocky slopes and fern grottos.  But it can even do well in the dense shade under native oaks and other trees.

A fern often sold as Polypodium californicum ‘Sarah Lyman’ or Polypodium calirhiza 'Sarah Lyman' is actually a hybrid between Polypodium californicum and P. hesperium.  This cultivar has all the characteristics of California polypody, but its leaves are ruffled and much showier.  It’s a little charmer that’s widely available from California native nurseries and online fern sources.  We’ve grown it and love it!

The young fronds (fiddlenecks) can be eaten, raw or cooked, fresh or dried.  Native Californians used the roots in the treatment of coughs, chest soreness, and the pains of rheumatism.  Plants were also used as a laxative and for skin wounds.  This is not a major medicinal plant, but was useful enough to include in our Garden of Health.

Native ferns are an interesting addition to local gardens.  While not as important food, habitat or medicinal plants as other natives, they add a particular charm and personality to the shady garden. We love the idea of creating a Victorian fern grotto using California natives – perhaps we’ll do so sometime.  As perennials, Polypodies die back each year, but then reappear with the rains as if by magic.  It’s such a joy to see the new fronds unfurl each season.   Are you hooked yet?

For a gardening information sheet see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/polypodium-californicum

For more pictures of this plant see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/polypodium-californicum-web-show

For plant information sheets on other native plants see: http://nativeplantscsudh.blogspot.com/p/gallery-of-native-plants_17.html

  1. http://www.anbg.gov.au/fern/life_cycle.html
  2. http://amerfernsoc.org/lernfrnl.html
  3. http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/specieslist.cgi?where-genus=Polypodium

Pretty poppies for San Diego

By Nan Sterman  

Copyright © 2017, The San Diego Union-Tribune

The California poppy might be the state flower, but it isn’t the state’s only native poppy, nor the only one that thrives in San Diego’s water-wise gardens.

What makes poppies poppies? Plants that are true poppies all share a set of characteristics. Their flowers have four petals (a few have six), at the base of which are many, many stamens tipped in pollen. The fringe of stamens encircles a prominent pistil, the female part of the flower that develops into the seedpod.

Channel Islands Tree Poppy (Dendromecon harfordii) is a shrub poppy native to the Channel Islands, just off our coastline. These fast-growing shrubs can reach 18 feet tall in the wild, but in gardens they are seldom taller than 8 or10 feet or wider than 6 to 8 feet. Their upright branches feature 4- or 5-inch-long elliptical leaves in a striking glaucus (waxy) blue-green color. The leaf color offsets the lemon yellow flowers, each the size of a pingpong ball. Stamens are golden orange. This poppy blooms on and off from spring through fall with a peak in April and May. These fast growers prefer full sun, especially along the coast, and well-draining soil. They do best at the back of the garden bed. The wood is as soft as balsa, so if the plant starts to look a little unruly, cut the plant severely to as little as 6 inches tall. New branches sprout surprisingly quickly.

In the wild, these plants grow with Santa Cruz Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp asplenifolius) Catalina cherry (Prunus ilicifolia ssp lyonii), redflower buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var rubescens), island snapdragon (Galvezia), and different kinds of California lilac (Ceanothus).

Bush Poppy (Dendromecon rigida) is smaller than the Channel Island tree poppy (3 to 10 feet tall by 2 to 8 feet wide) with narrow, willowlike blue-green leaves that are finer textured. While the flowers look almost identical, they are smaller and bloom only in spring. This shrubby poppy is native to chaparral areas, so it tolerates heat better than its cousin. In San Diego County, bush poppy grows from Torrey Pines Nature Reserve to The Cuyamaca Mountains. Its natural companions include eastwood Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp glandulosa) and bigberry Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca).

Along the coast, bush poppies need no irrigation once established, not even in summer. Inland, water deeply in summer, only once every month or two.

Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) is often referred to as the fried egg plant, thanks to its distinctive flower. The open bloom is huge at 6 or 8 inches across, with four crepe-papery white petals surrounding stamens and a pistil that together are the color of an egg yolk and smell like fresh apricots. The upright stems of this perennial are blue green, as are their deeply cut leaves. Huge flower buds form at the top of each stem in early spring and soon open to welcome bees and other pollinators. After flowers fade, the stems start to die back, so by late summer or fall, it is best to cut the stems to about 6 inches.

Matilija poppy plants form a dense underground network of rhizomes that spread and spread and spread, much like running bamboo, so these plants are not for small gardens, nor do they do well in containers. At planting, surround the roots with a root barrier, and stop watering once the plants are established, which typically takes two years. They’ll survive just fine on rainfall.

Matilija poppy is native to San Diego County’s dry washes, coastal sage scrub and chaparral in our canyons and foothills, along with manzanita (Arctostaphylos), scrub oak (Quercus berberidifolia), coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis), toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) and lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia).

Cream cups (Platystemon californicus) are beautiful little poppies that grow as small mounds, less than a foot tall and half that wide. In early spring, the plants are smothered in flowers, 25 to 50 flower stalks per plant, each topped in a six-petaled creamy white or pale yellow flower. This tough little annual blooms in the cool months of spring, disappearing completely before the heat sets in. In nature, they grow in open, sunny spots with sandy or gravelly soil that drains well. Create those same conditions to be successful growing them in your garden — from seed. Plant in a wildflower meadow with California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii) and bulbs such as the Mariposa lily (Calochortus sp) along with wild native grasses

Prickly poppy (Argemone minuta) is a beautiful midsized annual or perennial poppy with large, white flowers that look like smaller versions of Matilija poppies, but with sharp prickles covering their gray stems and leaves. These poppies are desert natives, best planted from seed into a spot that is hot, in full sun, well-draining soil, and not irrigated. If you chose well, they will reseed from season to season.

Best to plant prickly poppies in spaces where they can be seen but don’t often need to be accessed. Working with them requires the same protection as working with roses — long sleeves, long tough gloves, long pants, closed shoes and even protective eyewear. They won’t jump out at you, but they will scratch you up if you are not careful.

A word about planting poppies: Experts tell us that poppies, perennials, annuals and shrubs have brittle roots that are easily shattered, so they can be challenging to transplant. You’ll have more success with small annual and perennial poppies if you start with seed rather than seedling, and always in fall or early winter so seeds can germinate with rainfall.

Planting Matilija poppies and bush poppies is challenging but rewarding. Plant in the cool months of fall and winter and, for Matilija poppies in particular, minimize root disturbance when you plant. Don’t rough up the roots. Don’t remove soil from the root ball. Instead, water the pot thoroughly and allow it to drain. Dig the planting hole. With a sharp knife, cut the bottom out of the nursery container. Use your hand to support the bottom of the root ball so it stays in the pot and gently turn the pot upright, then set it into the hole. Cut the rest of the pot away by slitting it down the sides. Then, gently refill the hole with damp soil. Water to settle the soil when you are done.

If you did it correctly, and chose the best spot for your plant, it should root nicely. If not, try again. These plants are so fabulous that they are worth the work.

Sterman is a water-wise garden designer and author and the host of “A Growing Passion” on KPBS television. More information is at www.plantsoup.com.

Banner photo: A variety of water-wise poppies can thrive in San Diego gardens. (Cristina Byvik)

Great challenges, greater accomplishments

By Arne Johanson, Chairperson Habitat Restoration Committee

Last month I provided an overview of our efforts. This month I will focus on just one, the San Dieguito River. While nowhere near the finish line, we have certainly accomplished much to get to this point. First, we trained and licensed volunteers who then earned the trust of USFW and the several property owners through our efforts at other sites. With our partners we obtained all of the permits to work in the river. Then we only had to obtain right of entry for some 6-10 parcels before initiating work.

Our work commenced by clearing a 20-foot wide path through 100 feet of Arundo donax. This provided the initial degree of fire safety the fire department required while also giving us a way to haul the Arundo out. With that, we proceeded to treat another dozen acres. This included cutting canes 20 or more feet tall and then hauling or chipping them all. With this accomplished, we could treat the other weeds before taking a break for bird nesting season and to let the natives fill in.

Our methods vary by type of weed. Small weeds of all types are pulled by hand wherever possible. Our approach for Arundo is to cut it and then to spray with 5%-6% glyphosate when it grows back to about three feet. Most Eucalyptus and Acacia are cut down and we treat the stump with 41% glyphosate. The Pampas Grass is sprayed with 2% glyphosate. Follow up on any of these is usually to spray with 2% glyphosate. Big palms are usually drilled and injected with small amounts of 41% glyphosate. With these approaches, directed specifically to individual weeds, we are able to achieve very good control while using far less herbicide than allowed for a given area.

The recruitment method we use is paced to the regrowth of native vegetation. This means we are providing replacement habitat as we go. Of course the native vegetation is of much higher quality so we see an increase in wildlife from year to year.

Season two began by re-treating any weeds that came back up in our initial area. This will be repeated as long as needed until we exhaust the supply of weed seed and roots, typically some three to five years. Eventually the natives will grow back and crowd out most of the weeds.

Bob Byrnes has also plowed into new areas cutting more Arundo while utilizing the rest of us as beasts of burden. Training the local gardeners is also a priority so they will know how to maintain the area once it is restored.

Yes, we have made great strides here. We have a great deal more to do. And we have plans in the works to do even more. The project area has just about doubled this season with the addition of parcels to the north.

We will get help from ACE (American Conservation Experience) workers for two weeks. And we are planting some sparse areas. If you would like to contribute to the efforts we would love to have you. We provide hands-on training at your pace and pretty much on your schedule.

Please contact Bob Byrnes or Arne Johanson with your interests and availability. We can be reached at: habitatrestoration@cnpssd.org

Creating a native wildflower meadow

By Greg Rubin

Article reposted from California Native Plant Society Blog

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.

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.

Sondra Boddy and Bob Smith’s California native garden – chapter one

By Sondra Boddy

“Holy cow,” I thought, “there’s a bobcat in my backyard!” I watched as she emerged stealthily from the dense foliage, deftly clamped her jaws around an unwitting Mourning Dove, then trotted off into the wildlands with her limp prize. The thrill of seeing this elusive animal stalking prey on our property in broad daylight made the months of hard work all seem worth it.

Promoting biodiversity, re-creating wildlife habitat and re-connecting with nature were primary motivations for planting California natives on our 1+ acre property up in the hills west of Lake Hodges. To our delight, it was working. Admittedly, conserving water was a key driver for us as well. Faced with a $430 water bill in June 2013 after our first month in the house, we knew that the expansive lawn and overgrown non-native vegetation had to go.

We also knew that we had a unique opportunity – indeed, we felt a special responsibility – to harmonize our landscape with the natural landscape surrounding us. Ensconced in an evergreen canyon straddling Coastal Sage Scrub and Chaparral plant communities, our property called for a new approach. So began our journey with California natives.

We tackled one section at a time. Taking our cue from the wildlands, we planted Baccharis, Ceanothus, Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.), Sugarbush (Rhus ovata) and Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) on a large, steep slope. These evergreen shrubs offered the triple benefit of screening a road, preventing erosion and establishing the crucial “backbone” for our design. We filled in with smaller shrubs and perennials like Buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.), Mallows (the family Malvaceae) and Sages (Salvia spp.).

To cover large areas, we direct-sowed seeds for Brittlebrush (Encelia farinosa), Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), San Diego Sunflower (Bahiopsis laciniata) and many, many wildflowers. We created a desert garden in a sunny exposed area and a woodland garden in a shady sheltered area. In short, we got inspired! By the spring of 2016, we had over 1,500 plants representing over 250 species of California natives and we had installed 16 irrigation zones with Hunter MP rotors and a controller programmable from Bob’s mobile phone. Our highest water bill this summer was $212.

We ended up doing most of the work ourselves. We learned as much as we could as fast as we could about selection, care and maintenance of native plants. Books, websites, nurseries, classes, lectures and workshops were all great sources of information. At times it seemed overwhelming, but we approached the task with a spirit of discovery, experimentation and dogged determination. Luckily we had a hot tub to soak in at the end of long days scrambling up and down slopes, digging and filling holes!

Although we have made our share of rookie mistakes, we believe that designing and installing our own garden has given us a deeper connection with the plants. We remember most of their names and, in many cases, we remember where they came from and how tiny they were when we brought them home. I started keeping a journal so we could remember when we put them in the ground, and we briefly mourn when the hole we dug becomes a grave. On the whole, though, we marvel at the resilience, the vigor and the sheer beauty of these plants.

At first, our goal was to fix our yard; now, it fixes us. We love coming home and seeing the textures, colors, and emerging shapes of the plants. The local fauna seems to like them as well. We have thrilled at the sight of 47 species of birds and countless native bees, butterflies, moths, lizards, toads, rabbits, squirrels, coyotes and other mammals on our property. Oh ... and a bobcat.