By Fred Roberts, CNPS-SD Rare Plant Botanist
As a member of the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, you would be totally forgiven if you never realized that the chapter actually includes Imperial County. This is fairly obvious on state maps showing chapter boundaries. However, the inclusion of Imperial County in our chapter is otherwise relatively obscure. Imperial County doesn’t often come up at meetings. You will generally not find Imperial County mentioned in our chapter newsletter. On the website, I noted Imperial County mentioned on the Mission Statement page but nowhere else. You seldom hear people refer to our chapter as the “San Diego and Imperial Counties chapter of CNPS”. There is some effort to improve on this in 2019.
This isn’t really a surprise. There are no major institutions like the San Diego Natural History Museum in Imperial County. SDSU has only a satellite campus near Calexico. I am not even sure how many chapter members actually have addresses there. Most of us see it from the I-8 and then it might seem to be just hot, barren desert and hundreds of thousands of acres of agriculture. And, of course, there is the Salton Sea and Colorado River.
That desert can be a very interesting place, at least in the cooler parts of the year and whenever rain falls (which it sometimes doesn’t). There are the rugged and poorly explored Chocolate Mountains, much of which is not open to the public, dominating the east along with the Palo Verde and Cargo Muchacho Mountains. The Algodones Dunes, the largest dune system in North America, runs a southeast diagonal from the Salton Sea down into Sonora. West of the Imperial Valley is dominated by the Western Mesa and Yuha Desert, which gives way to the eastern fringes of the Peninsular Ranges at the Fish Creek, Coyote, and Jacumba Mountains. The county borders Mexico, leaving the possibility of Baja California plants, not yet known in the United States, being found here.