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!

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.

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