The Struggle to Save the MSCP

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

As is becoming normal for these columns, I’m writing it on a Friday in early May to meet a deadline. Then 4:30 comes around, County Planning sends out their email alert, and things change. Friday at 4:30 is when the County has taken to issuing their new EIRs, their announcements of meetings, and in this case, their announcements of schedule changes. Now I’m writing past deadline again, but this is important.

There were two portentous announcements this month. The first was that Otay Ranch Village 14 development project would be heard by the Board of Supervisors on May 22. This set the clock rolling for CNPS and every group that is planning on opposing it. Then on May 10 came the announcement that, no, it will now be heard on June 26. So now I get an opportunity to talk about the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) and how Village 14 and other issues threaten to break it.

Willowy Mint Population Expansion Project

By Lee Gordon, CNPS-San Diego Garden Committee

This report summarizes progress on a project begun in 2016 to find and implement inexpensive methods to expand populations of San Diego Willowy Mint, Monardella viminea. Willowy Mint is a federally listed endangered species, partly because its natural range and habitat are so limited, and because some of its known populations have been in decline.

The purpose of this project is to study and develop methods, encompassing low cost and minimal labor, to expand existing populations and to establish new populations of willowy mint. Our intent is to maximize the number of mature new plants that survive at least 3 years, while minimizing the expenditure of resources.

I began work in November 2016, planting 5 plants grown in pots. We watered the plants when we first put them into the ground, but they got no water after that. One of these plants still survives.

Al Field has since joined me, and in January 2018, we planted 25 small seedlings, all grown in one small, rectangular container. We backpacked water to three, which survived until 2019. We did this because 2018 was a dry year. One of these three was washed away by high flow in a February, 2019 storm. The remaining two appear to be established now and should survive and grow.

On the basis of what we have learned thus far, we will grow and plant as many small seedlings as we can each year, with the expectation that there will be reasonable survival only in good years.

Figure 1. Willowy Mint sites. We get to the three Spring Canyon sites through Mission Trails Regional Park, and the San Clemente Canyon (MCAS) site through the military base. My home (Appendix) is below the T in "Fairbrook Estates".

Figure 1. Willowy Mint sites. We get to the three Spring Canyon sites through Mission Trails Regional Park, and the San Clemente Canyon (MCAS) site through the military base. My home (Appendix) is below the T in "Fairbrook Estates".

Project sites

Figure 1 shows the locations of four sites, three in Spring Canyon and one in San Clemente Canyon, on San Diego City Property that is accessible through the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

The three Spring Canyon sites are on property owned by the Sycamore Landfill (Republic Services). Two of these sites (Spring South, Spring North D) have nearby mature Willowy Mints. Spring North A is about 500’ from Spring North D.

The San Clemente Canyon site is about 200' upstream from a population of a dozen or so mature Willowy Mint plants.

Figure 2. Willowy mint planted in 2017 has survived two years without irrigation. This photo and the next two were taken May 8, 2019.

Figure 2. Willowy mint planted in 2017 has survived two years without irrigation. This photo and the next two were taken May 8, 2019.

Spring Canyon

In December, 2016, I planted five Willowy Mints at Spring South. These plants were grown in 4"x4"x9" pots, and their foliage was 4"-6" high. I watered them enough to get them to the rains, and they were on their own after that. One plant survived and is still alive after two summers (Figure 2). Three desiccated and did not recover. One plant placed in the creek bed was washed away in a torrential flow during heavy rains in winter 2017. The flow was unusually heavy, and it also washed away a mature plant that was a few feet from the seedling that disappeared.

In January 2018, Al and I planted 24 small seedlings and one in a pot. The small seedlings were all grown in one 5"x6"x4" plastic container. When planted, they were an inch or so tall and each had one or two pairs of true leaves. We planted them in 8 groups of 3 each, distributed among the Spring Canyon sites. The potted plant died quickly.

Figure 3. Willowy mint planted in 2018 and irrigated during the dry season.

Figure 3. Willowy mint planted in 2018 and irrigated during the dry season.

Figure 4. Willowy mint planted in 2018 and irrigated during the 2018 dry season.

Figure 4. Willowy mint planted in 2018 and irrigated during the 2018 dry season.

Because 2018 was a dry year, we backpacked water to the small seedlings during the dry season. We watered only the most vigorous plants, and the end result was that three survived to the rainy season at the end of 2018. All three were growing vigorously by February 2019, but one was then washed away during a heavy storm. The remaining two are still growing vigorously (Figures 3 and 4).

We planted no seedlings in Spring Canyon for the 2019 season because none of my Spring Canyon seedlings survived to be planted. Given the great rainy season, this was a missed opportunity.

San Clemente Canyon

In January 2019, we planted 25 small seedlings at San Clemente Creek. As before, each seedling had just a few true leaves. The seedlings were planted on the creek bed, at the side of the creek, and on the adjacent bench.

Figure 5. San Clemente Creek flooded by heavy rain (2/14/2019). All of the Willowy Mints planted at this site were under water at this time.

Figure 5. San Clemente Creek flooded by heavy rain (2/14/2019). All of the Willowy Mints planted at this site were under water at this time.

Figure 6. Willowy Mint planted in late December, 2018 and photographed February 27, 2019. This mint had been under water for about a week.

Figure 6. Willowy Mint planted in late December, 2018 and photographed February 27, 2019. This mint had been under water for about a week.

Figure 7 left. Willowy Mint that survived a month under water. Figure 7 right. Willowy Mint that survived three weeks under water. Photos taken May 17, 2019.

Figure 7 left. Willowy Mint that survived a month under water. Figure 7 right. Willowy Mint that survived three weeks under water. Photos taken May 17, 2019.

The creek was flooded by heavy rains starting in mid February (Figure 5). All of the seedlings were inundated, some for a few days, and others as long as a month. Figure 6 shows one seedling a month after planting. This seedling had been under water for about a week, and it had no signs of harm. Figure 7 shows two seedlings that survived inundation for three or four weeks.

Figure 8. Three seedlings that were under water for a few days or a week. Photos taken May 17, 2019.

Figure 8. Three seedlings that were under water for a few days or a week. Photos taken May 17, 2019.

As of May 17, twelve plants still survived, and most of those have grown several times larger than when they were planted. Figure 8 shows three of the largest, all of which were under water only a few days.

Causes of mortality

The largest cause of mortality was desiccation.

The second cause was inundation of the creek. The creek flooded over its banks during a mid-February storm, and water continued to flow for about a month. Seedlings were under water for durations ranging from around a week to a month. Survival was better for seedlings that were immersed less, but a few survived the long immersion. Some were killed by the immersion, and some were eroded away.

A deer browsed a mature plant and several small seedlings in Spring Canyon. One or two small seedlings succumbed, but others sprouted new leaves and survived. The mature plant has also recovered.

Propagation and planting

Willowy Mint flowers in May, and seeds can be collected in July or August. 2018 was so dry that the plants produced few seeds. We only plant willowy mints at each site grown from seeds collected near the site.

Seeds are relatively easy to germinate and to grow into young plants. However, my propagation results have been mixed, which has limited what we have been able to do. I intend to put more attention to improving propagation prior to next fall.

Our preferred method for planting now is to grow as many plants as possible in containers and to plant them soon after they grow their first true leaves. Our containers are for food storage, with drainage holes punched using a hot metal rod. Teasing seedlings apart for planting leaves most of the seedlings bare root, but that seems not to affect their growth. The time from seed to seedling is about two months, so the process begins in August or September.

This approach has some advantages. It is easy to carry a lot of seedlings in a backpack. Planting seedlings bare root means they immediately establish themselves in their native soil. Planting is quick. We make a small slice in the soil with a putty knife, drop the plants in, then gently push the soil back around the roots. These small holes are less disruptive to the soil than digging in pots. It is not clear to us that potted plants have a better rate of success than these small seedlings.

Looking forward

The plan for the future is to plant as many seedlings as we can as soon as the soil gets wet. It may help to plant seedlings multiple times during the rainy season. Seedlings several months old should have considerable advantages compared with seeds that germinate naturally in the rain.

Once planted, we will not irrigate them. I expect all seedlings to succumb in dry years, but enough to survive wet years to produce satisfactory results overall. Plants that survive one dry season without supplemental irrigation should generally be considered established.

Our big challenge now is to improve our propagation methods.

Appendix - Tests behind my house

Behind my house, there is a habitat that approximates a natural willowy mint habitat. It is a small stream fed by runoff from about 14 houses in the neighborhood above me at the top of a hill. The stream often runs when it rains. The soil is cobbles and sand, and it gets no supplemental irrigation. This site is about 3/4 mile west of the San Clemente Canyon site.

Figure 9. Four year old Willowy Mint behind my house (April 2019). This plant has grown to a diameter of 3.5'.

Figure 9. Four year old Willowy Mint behind my house (April 2019). This plant has grown to a diameter of 3.5'.

I began planting mints at this site four years ago, and eight plants have survived at least three years with no mortality (Figure 9). Every summer, the plants turn crispy brown, and fresh green then leaves appear with the rains.

Figure 10. This Willowy Mint was flattened by stream flow during a January 2017 storm. It recovered and it now extends 2.5' along the stream bed, elongated by the action of the water.

Figure 10. This Willowy Mint was flattened by stream flow during a January 2017 storm. It recovered and it now extends 2.5' along the stream bed, elongated by the action of the water.

An interesting observation is that the plants withstand abuse from running water. Figure 10 shows a plant that was flattened by the stream in 2017. Another plant was completely covered by sand. Within a few weeks, leaves began to appear, pushing up through the sand. Both of these plants are doing well now.

Another observation is that the mints are perfectly capable of procreating, but they are not very good at it in their natural habitat. I have never observed immature seedlings in either the mint's natural habitat or near the small stream behind my house. However, about 30' from this stream, I planted one plant in an organic clay topsoil that I irrigate monthly with 1" of water. The plant is partially shaded by a tree. This plant has at least six offspring.

More Conservation Things to Do

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

I have a list of items that will be occupying my time this spring, and here I will simply go through them in order.

Fire Recovery and Preparedness Guide

There have been three updates. One is that, as the state office is writing a statewide manual separate from my effort, it seems that some of our thoughts about how to update the original manual are converging, and this is probably a good thing. I’ll be happy if they solve some of the issues I’ve encountered so that I can copy more than I create.

The second issue is that FEMA recently published an interesting report about all the ways it has failed to create a civilian culture of emergency preparedness in the U.S. (reported in:  This is the same issue I commented on last month with my critique of the Ready Set Go booklet that San Diego County uses.  Some of FEMA’s recommendations are to realize that there’s a lot of diversity in people’s circumstances, that many of them actually already know something about preparing for emergencies, and that there’s a need to listen to these people, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all program from the top down. That’s one reason I’m still working on a local fire recovery book, even if there’s a statewide version. We need things that fit us. Feel free to pitch in if you’ve got some good homebrewed strategies for fire recovery or evacuation.

Creating Coastal Sage Scrub in a City Garden on the Mesa: A Q&A with Craig Denson

Craig Denson is a chapter volunteer with our annual Native Plant Sale and pursues California native botany through courses, his own field explorations, and his garden. His garden, 'Coastal Sage Scrub Revivified' will be on this year's Garden Tour as an FYI (Front Yard Inspiration). When you visit the garden you can see an evolving effort there, with an attempt to emulate 3 zones of local coastal sage scrub: (1) a drier, more open area with dudleyas, bulbs, and annuals occurring in openings in coastal sage scrub; (2) a grassy meadow-like area in front of that with annuals and some perennials; and (3) some denser perennials and shrubs.

We asked Craig some questions about how he got started with native gardening and what he has discovered in the process.

Got Some Fire Pictures You Want to Share?

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

It’s lovely to be still writing this in the rain, but a hot, dry summer could lead to a fiery fall. Hopefully, that will not happen.

Still, I am spearheading an effort to create a San Diego Fire Recovery and Preparation Guide.  It is based, in large part, on the CNPS Fire Recovery Guide that was produced after the 2017 Wine Country fires. While that document is freely available in pdf now, we do need a more local version for our area.

To that end, I’m looking for pictures that people are willing to share in our version of this book. You will get credit, and you would only be giving permission for use of that picture in this one publication.  Sorry, we can’t pay for images.  If you are interested, contact me at

Restoring Nature in Your Garden: A Q&A with Dennis Mudd

Dennis Mudd is a self-taught native plant enthusiast who founded Calscape in 2010 with the goal of enabling small scale nature restoration efforts in California. The site is primarily focused on showing homeowners which plants are likely native to any location in the state, and helping them figure out ones they want, where to buy them and how to grow them. Mudd donated Calscape to the California Native Plant Society in 2014, and is currently leading development of the site in partnership with CNPS and the Jepson eFlora group at UC Berkeley. The site is now approaching one million unique users per year.

His native garden in Poway won San Diego Home and Garden’s Garden of the Year Award in 2012. It will be featured on the CNPS-San Diego Garden Tour this year.

Calscape can be accessed at

What pointed you in the direction of gardening with California native plants?

For me, it started with mountain biking through the natural areas of San Diego. The more time I spent in nature, the more I wanted to recreate it in my own garden.

What, in turn, led you to create Calscape?

I enjoyed my own nature-restored garden so much that I decided to create Calscape to help more people do the same thing. I hoped that Calscape would help many more people create little patches of nature throughout the developed part of the state. If enough people restore nature in their gardens, we can mitigate and even reverse localized extinctions being driven by development.

PC: Dennis Mudd

What kind of animal life does your garden attract?

I was astounded by the amount of bird life that my garden attracted; I've counted over 50 species in the last few years. The number of butterflies is also amazing. If you like birds and butterflies, you should plant a native garden. 

What was your initial vision when you created your native garden and what direction, perhaps unexpected, did it take?

My vision hasn't changed that much over time, but I learned a lot along the way and gradually learned the importance of planting natives that are endemic to where I live. I found that cultivars and even plants that were native to the coast or farther north in California often died in the hot Poway summers, and they didn't really feel like the nearby nature I saw anyway. My nature restoration efforts really only started to work successfully after I switched to all endemics. 

PC: Torrey Neel

Is there an overall system that you think is superior for selecting plants to group together whether it be by plant community, watering needs, exposure, etc?

First, grow plants that are endemic to where you live. Then make sure you are planting them in a site with the sun exposure, soil drainage, and moisture conditions in which they occur in nature. People can get the information they need to figure out which plants belong at their geographic location and in their specific site conditions at Calscape.

How we talk to others about the value of California native plants is important if we want to send an impactful message. What would you say to someone who has just seen or heard about native plants and has them in their consideration? 

Restore nature one garden at a time! I don't think there is any garden as beautiful as nature.  

Questions written by Joseph Sochor

Sprawl, Fire, Water: More Fun for 2019

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

To continue the theme of last month’s news update, here’s where we are as of the middle of January when I wrote this.

County Climate Action Plan

At Christmas, an appellate court judge threw out the County Climate Action Plan version 3.0. Several days later, the County appealed, on a 3-2 split decision (Supervisors Jacob and Fletcher dissenting). The appeal will go to the California Supreme Court. If this follows the previous five rulings or so, the County will lose, but this will take months to play out.

My concern is whether the County decides to pass the other batched developments from last year in the interim. They all to my knowledge depend on the CAP, so if the County approves them, they would be struck down if the judge rules against the CAP. Possibly there would be penalties for the County to presume about judicial rulings. While approving these developments now seems silly to me, there’s a certain streak of doubling down in at least two of the Supervisors, so I don’t know if they’ll go for it or not. Depending on what the County does, we may have to step up our efforts to oppose Lilac Hills Ranch and Otay Ranch Village 14.

Rare Plants of Imperial County

Rare Plants of Imperial County

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.

The 2019-2020 Forecast

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

Looking back, the January 2018 column was titled “Can San Diego Grow Up,” a thought piece on the problem of densification versus sprawl in San Diego County. One year later, sprawl is winning, although that might not be true by the time you read this column, due to a possible court ruling on the County Climate Action Plan (CAP) on December 21, 2018. 

So going forward, what conservation issues will be important in 2019? 

Permaculture and California Native Plants

A Question & Answer Interview with Diane and Miranda Kennedy of Finch Frolic Garden

Diane and Miranda speak on January 26 at the CNPS-San Diego Winter Workshop in Balboa Park.

Can you briefly explain permaculture for a person who may have heard the term before but does not understand what it means?

Permaculture is the overall name given to methods of land use based on nature. Above all, it focuses on building soil through non-chemical means. 

How are native plants integral to permaculture?

Native plants create the habitat that is integral to integrated pest management, wildlife corridors, and so much more. Permaculturalists study natural habitat and use that knowledge back in designed landscapes for better production. The restoration of native habitat in denuded areas stops erosion, sinks water into the landscape, builds soil and revives the food chain.

California Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica) Photo by Becky Matsubara

For you, in what ways are native plants and wildlife habitat connected?

DIANE: Native plants provide the best possible food and shelter for our greatly endangered native insects, as well as local birds and other animals. In any area, but most importantly in an area as biologically diverse as San Diego, planting natives is essential. Plants form a community that we are only just understanding, one which communicates on many levels and that affects all plants in the area. I find the methods of communication fascinating.

MIRANDA: With a background in conservation and ecology, I know that all parts of an ecosystem -- biotic and abiotic -- contribute to the character, interactions, and success of the system. Our view of our environment is only segments in a path that has a long history and a continuous progression. When we look at a landscape, we're looking at a certain formation of geology with a certain degree and kind of degradation and aggradation; this supports certain kinds of plants along with all the animal species that have evolved to tolerate that climate, terrain, and floral habitat. Native plants and native fauna (animals, fungi and bacteria) are innately connected as the result of hundreds and thousands of years of struggling for survival and persistence within that landscape and amongst or against each other. They're making allies and vying with competitors and enemies, enduring disruptive weather events and invasions -- as interconnected as people in neighborhoods and their homes, roads, shopping and supply centers. Current relationships are not fully understood (or even all uncovered!) yet remain dynamic: there is wonderfully so much to discover, even as it unfolds!

Besides incorporating native plants into a landscape, what is another design consideration for creating wildlife habitat? 

A water feature, preferably using rainwater or chemical-free water, is the single most important part of a habitat garden. Birds can hear the sound of dripping water from as far as miles away.

Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) seed pods. Photo by Don A.W. Carlson

Tell us about your Finch Frolic Garden in Fallbrook.

Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture is a 1.68-acre food forest begun in 2011. Incorporated throughout the food producing plants and the medicinal, timber and ornamental plants, are a wide variety of natives. Most belong to the local chaparral community, and some, such as the edible-bean producing mesquite, are not, but are a bridge between native and food producer.

From the time you learned permaculture and began teaching it to others, what might have changed in the philosophy?

The philosophy of permaculture has been the same since the term was coined in the late 1970s by Bill Mollison. Its three ethics are care for the earth, care for people, and return of surplus. Permaculture isn't sustainable or organic: it's better. It's regenerative, and uses recycling, repurposing, water harvesting, soil building and good design. 

Questions written by Joseph Sochor


Bringing San Diego Habitats Home to the Garden

A Question and Answer Interview with Clayton Tschudy, CEO of CJT Ecologics and Former Director of Water Conservation Garden

Clayton speaks on January 26 at the CNPS-San Diego Winter Workshop in Balboa Park.

Clayton, after your decades of experience as a landscaper designer and horticultural director why did you decide to become involved in promoting habitat gardens?

My career in horticulture has always been based in science and ecology first. Early in my botanical studies I kept asking, "Why aren't these plants being grown in gardens? They are beautiful, should be easy since they are adapted to local conditions, and attract wildlife." Habitat was always the underlying reason I was involved in natives-focused horticulture. But plants and animals are not usually considered together in horticultural design, not in a rigorous way. Having a strong grounding in local plant ecology within my horticultural work was always leading me back to the creatures. Habitat is ecology. 

Tell us about the project you are developing to build an online network of people gardening in their homes and in public spaces to build more habitat for wildlife.

San Diego is a very large urban region, and also a biodiversity hotspot with tremendous biodiversity under threat. From mile-to-mile our local habitats change dramatically. This means that every home garden has the potential to conserve a special aspect of our local ecosystems. But for this to happen homeowners need the knowledge and resources, and community support, to make the right gardening choices. I am launching a blog and online community where people can learn how to create effective, localized, habitat gardens, share experiences with friends, learn how to become citizen scientists, and eventually support others starting that journey. I will introduce the blog in my presentation

Papilio rutulus on Eriodictyon crassifolium. Photo: Bob Parks

Can you name some of the ways in which gardening with native plants creates habitat for wildlife?

To support local fauna, you must use the plant species to which they are best adapted. Some plants native to other regions will have habitat value, but generally speaking, local animals are best adapted to local plants. This is particularly true of the invertebrates, who themselves are the base of the food web supporting larger animals. For this reason, locally native plants are always the backbone of effective habitat gardens. 

Three California native plants that are great to put in your yard to attract and nurture wildlife?

Different San Diego plants support different creatures, and few plants have tolerance of every garden condition. That said, using an early, mid-season, and late bloomer would be a good starter set for pollinator support throughout the year. Let's say Ramona Lilac (Ceanothus tomentosus), California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), and Palmer's Goldenbush (Ericameria palmeri). There are many such combinations, and plant choices should be tailored to your garden conditions and local habitat opportunities. 

Ericameria palmeri. Photo: John Rusk,

In designing sustainable habitat gardens, what would you say is the first sustainability feature that you consider?

Your very local (within a few miles) plant and biotic communities should be your first consideration. Starting there brings many unexpected, and creative gardening opportunities. It does not limit your options. 

You’ve mentioned to me a book that you are working on. What is the focus of it and how will it differ from what else is out there?

Rather than focusing on just a few animals, such as a handful of butterflies, or generalizing about habitat components that are basic and universal, my book will focus on the San Diego region, its unique resources, challenges, and opportunities. Our micro-climates, soil diversity, topographical variety, and high biodiversity make effective habitat gardening both exciting and complex. My book will break down the critical aspects of all that complexity into a protocol that can be followed by home gardeners, as well as professionals, to generate vibrant habitats with significant conservation value, that still offer home gardeners beauty and personal expression in their landscapes

Clayton Tschudy is a botanist and has practiced sustainable landscape design for over 20 years throughout California. Through his company CJT Ecologics, he specializes in water conservation, restoration, and habitat garden designs. He consults with numerous organizations including the City of San Diego, Friends of Balboa Park, City of Chula Vista, the Port of San Diego, San Diego Canyonlands, Tree San Diego, the Irvine Company, GafCon, and others. Mr. Tschudy was the Director of Horticulture for the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College from 2013 through 2017. Currently he is the Chair of the Wildlife Advisory Group, consulting on natural resource management for the Chula Vista Bayfront for the Port of San Diego and the City of Chula Vista. 

Questions written by Joseph Sochor

California Native Plant Society Memories

California Native Plant Society Memories

by Erik Jonsson, writing in August 15, 1989

I remember the first time I came in contact with CNPS. It was at Silverwood. (I was in the Audubon Society that time and went to Silverwood a lot to show Frank Gander plants that I had pressed and did not know what they were. I must have been a terrible nuisance for him.) Anyhow, there was this bunch of people all interested in plants like me and looking like the kind of nice people I like, so I decided that I had better join and take part in the fun.

The field trips interested me most. AII those plants and shrubs that I had been trying in vain to figure out what they were and here I got the Latin names all served like on a silver platter! Somehow I became Field Trip Chairman. I don’t remember now how it happened. I guess they must have been desperate to find a victim and I was too stupid to say NO as usual.

We had lots of memorable field trips at that time. One of efforts my first was to the top of Fortuna Mountain just after a fire. Quite a hike. Lots of flowers. That is when somebody, I think it was Fred Sproul, found a whole bunch of Chocolate Lilies, Fritillaria biflora. Quite a treat!

The Electrical Grid Knot in California

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

Until a few minutes ago (this would be a month ago, for you), I thought I was writing the last appeal for dealing with Otay Ranch Village 14, Lilac Hills Village Ranch, Warner Springs, ad nauseum. Fortunately, the County decided to not to go ahead with the last grand General Plan Amendment. Yay(!)(?), but that might be a while.

Anyway, since I spent a few days up in the Santa Monica Mountains with my mom, ready to help her evacuate if necessary (it wasn’t), I’ve got a few thoughts about this little problem we have with electrical utilities.

The problem we’ve got is that electrical utility companies like PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) seem to be responsible for some big fires. SDG&E, as we know, is still trying to get its ratepayers to cover some of the costs of the 2007 Cedar Fire, which it has been held responsible for. Southern California Edison’s (SCE) equipment may have sparked both the Woolsey Fire and the Thomas Fire, while PG&E is implicated as the cause of the Camp Fire, as well as 16 of the 18 fires that hit the Wine Country last fall. Note that, aside from the Cedar Fire, this is all speculation based on news reporting around the incidents. There are official reports and lawsuits still pending, and they’ll settle questions of official responsibility sometime in the future.

Installation of California Native Plants and Notes on Pollinators

Installation of California Native Plants and Notes on Pollinators

A Conversation on the CNPS-San Diego Listserv

Compiled by Mike Gonzales, Founding Member, San Diego Pollinator Alliance and Former Chairperson, CNPS-San Diego Garden Committee

Can restoring our yards into native urban gardens, albeit very difficult to do given the nature of urban yards, help San Diego’s endemic plants survive and thrive?

Believe me, I understand the part about not being easy! I’ve been stumbling around my front and back yards for 20+ years sluggishly transforming iceplant-covered slopes into some semblance of a native urban garden, or at least semi-native at this point. I thought Wayne Tyson was joking when he posted on the CNPS-SD listserv that, “it's as easy as duplicating the conditions [or functionally mimicking them] under which indigenous ecosystems function.” Well, maybe it was just tongue-in-cheek as he followed up with, “That can be difficult, but it's not impossible, especially the mimicking part [due to] the site conditions that one has to begin with, but it can be done.”

This post epitomizes the macrocosm of my ongoing quest-to create something that hopefully might be considered a decent foundation for, as Wayne puts it, “preserving indigenous germplasm while not sacrificing beauty or utility, and further minimizing the use of imported water and nutrients from other places.” I know, this certainly sounds like a lofty goal, but I’ve been having fun at it – thanks to all the wonderful information streaming across the list-serve from very knowledgeable people whose advice I deeply respect.

Ok, so if you don’t mind too much I’d like to take a slight detour here, as I feel I should at least try to understand what Wayne means when he refers to the term ‘germplasm’. I’m guessing it may have something to do with what both Wayne and Greg Rubin refer to as “the mycorrhizal net (i.e., the natural soil-crust community of algae, mosses, and other cryptobiotic/cryptogamic soil-crust plant communities[1] which are fireproof, erosion-protectors, and infiltration-facilitators).Symbiotic benefits of a mycorrhizal net include disease resistance, pest resistance, and increased availability of moisture. Absence of a mycorrhizal net (and many other microbial constituents of the indigenous microbiome) is a contributor to weed growth, as most weeds are not obligately mycorrhizal; in fact, their presence may inhibit their formation.”

How to Keep Your California Native Garden Long-lasting: A Brief Q & A with Lucy Warren and Greg Rubin

Lucy and Greg have co-authored two books on California native gardening: "The California Native Landscape: The Homeowner’s Guide to Restoring its Balance and Beauty" and "The California Drought-Defying Garden". They graciously accepted our invite to speak on the care and maintenance of  a California native garden at our Native Gardening Workshop this past September 8. We asked them a few questions at the time in advance of their presentation.

In your own California native garden what has been the most fascinating or surprising thing that has happened over the years? 
LUCY: I have loved watching the plants grow and develop to their maturity. One of the most surprising things was watching the supposedly tame Leymus condensatus 'Canyon Prince' run rampant and become aggressive. The original 'Canyon Prince' has been compromised and while it is still a beautiful plant, it limits where I will plant it.
GREG: I have been doing much of my Argentine ant treatment research and development in my own ½-acre yard, always striving for more directed and organic approaches. It has proven quite epiphanous and incredibly satisfying to bring plants like Ceanothus, Fremontodendron, Dendromecon, Arctostaphylos, and Lavatera back from the brink of death, and to realize how adaptable and resilient these plants can be in the absence of ant infestation. Many of the plants slapped with the moniker of being "short-lived" and difficult are precisely the plants ants seem to target most! 

On average, how often would one need to prune their native garden for optimal growth?
LUCY: It depends on what plants you have in your garden. Colorful perennials along the edges of the garden will need to be dead-headed regularly for appearance and to extend their bloom cycle or will need to be trimmed back at the end of their bloom cycle. Grasses need a haircut every year or two. Most of your landscape should be evergreen perennial plants which will need little pruning if they are planted to their mature size.
GREG: Hopefully you've chosen plants optimally sized for your spaces, otherwise there may be frequent pruning in order to keep them in-bounds. Short of that, the main reasons for pruning are for shape, to remove dead growth, and dead heading. On a plant by plant basis, this is rarely over once or twice a year. Perennials that bloom continuously (like seaside daisies) may require dead heading every month or two, which in turn stimulates more flowering.
When you go out to look at your gardens, what is the thing you check most frequently?
GREG: I look for struggling plants. If they have certain weeds growing right around the base (and nowhere else) that is a strong indicator of possible ant infestation. Then I check around and look for ants, as well as soil looseness, which is often associated with ant nests. Finally, if I've ruled out ants, I use my soil moisture indicator to see if the plant is too wet or dry. It is about 12" long so I can check moisture at the roots.
LUCY: I check for weeds always.
What sorts of pests prevail in California native gardens?
GREG: Ants and the sucking insects they support may be the single greatest cause of native plant mortality in landscapes. Unfortunately, by the time you see aphids and scale in the branches, they have long infested the roots, far from the reaches of horticultural soap or alcohol. The big question is whether it is this simple desiccation/sugar appropriation that is the cause of collapse, or whether it is the pathogens that researchers have found to be spread by this activity. Either way, there is absolutely nothing good about Argentine ants!
LUCY: I agree with Greg, definitely the Argentine ant is the most destructive, aggressive and prevalent pest in California native gardens because it farms the sucking insects on the roots of the plants.
If you could have done or corrected one thing early on in your native garden, what would that be?
LUCY: Learn about natives earlier in my life and plant them then.
GREG: Use less plants! Many of my older gardens are a little over-planted, partly because I'm such a plant nut, and partly because much of the size data 15-20 years ago was on the small side.
What is a memorable response you have had from a reader of your books?
LUCY: One of my fellow Master Gardeners came up to me and apologized for the fact that their book was so full of notes and highlights--I loved it!
GREG: "Tashkent is NOT in the Ukraine, it is in Uzbekistan!" as I incorrectly described the derivation of Chitalpa tashkentensis as being developed in the Ukraine (especially embarrassing since much of my family on my father's side emigrated from the Ukraine!).
Aside from a geography lesson Frank Landis corrected my description of mustard being facultatively mycorrhizal. It is actually non-mycorrhizal, instead secreting cyanide compounds into the soil that destroy the symbiotic fungi that help support the native plant community. We were able to get that correction into the second printing.

Lucy A. Warren, a Virginia native, transplanted to California in early adulthood. With a Masters in Marketing, her first career in marketing research aided decision making with and for major corporations. Long fascinated with plants and horticulture, she is a former editor of California Garden magazine, wrote feature articles and a gardening column on edible plants for the San Diego Union Tribune, and many articles for other gardening publications. She collaborated on the University of California public information pamphlet on killer bees. 
Ms. Warren has been assistant coordinator for the flower and garden show at the San Diego County Fair and the Spring Home/Garden Show. A 20+-year UCCE Master Gardener, she has served on many boards, including San Diego Horticultural Society and Pacific Horticulture Society. She joined the board of Friends of Balboa Park as Horticulture Chair and was integral in the preparation of the 2015 Panama-California Exposition Centennial with the Adopt A Plot program. She has appeared on numerous local television news segments and frequently makes presentations to garden clubs and other organizations. She is co-author of two books on California native plants with Greg Rubin: "The California Native Landscape: The Homeowner’s Guide to Restoring its Balance and Beauty" and "The California Drought-Defying Garden".

Greg Rubin was recently named the 2018 Horticulturist of the Year by the San Diego Horticultural Society. He is the president and founder of California’s Own Native Landscape Design, Inc., and is a licensed landscape contractor (C-27 No. 717147) who has been working with California native plants since 1985.  By 1993, Greg fully transitioned out of his career as an aerospace engineer to devote himself to his successful and unusual landscaping business. His company has designed over 700 residential, commercial, and institutional native landscapes in Southern California. Specialties include year-round appeal, low maintenance, water efficiency, rich habitat, and fire-resistance. Greg has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, San Diego Union Tribune and Los Angeles Times, and magazines such as Sunset, San Diego Home and Garden, California Gardener and Kiplinger's. Media coverage includes appearances on all of San Diego's local news outlets, CNN & MSNBC. Greg regularly gives presentations and workshops on native plants to conferences, garden clubs and other organizations throughout Southern California. 

Greg is co-author, with Lucy Warren, of "The California Native Landscape: The Homeowners’ Design Guide to Restoring its Beauty and Balance," published by Timber Press, 2013. This popular native horticultural literary work covers all aspects of native landscape design. He and Lucy now have a second book, "The Drought Defying California Garden", also published by Timber Press in 2016. His website is: