Orange County Chapter

To protect California’s native plants and their natural habitats, today and into the future, through science, education, stewardship, gardening, and advocacy.


Native plants are the foundation of local biodiversity and healthy habitats.




Nature Friendly Gardens – Wildflowers – Wildland Preservation – Nature Walks – Evergreen Landscaping – Clean Air and Water – Butterfly Attracting Plants – Bird Habitat – Saving Pollinators – Water Saving Yards – Rare Plants – Scenic Views – Relaxing Parks
Connect with People Interested in California Nature, Plants, Places, and Experiences.
Connect with the CNPS – Orange County Chapter

What is So Special About Native Plants?

Butterflies on deerweed (Acmispon glaber) Photo: Tony Tubbs

Ecology and

California has the greatest biodiversity of any similar sized region in North America. Each local ecology is best supported by plants that evolved with local soils, climate, and wildlife.

Many herbivorous insects are closely associated with specific plants, and most terrestrial birds feed insects to their chicks. Native plants are the foundation of this food web. Another example – Monarch butterflies, which have declined by 99%, need local deciduous milkweeds to successfully reproduce. Tropical milkweeds host a disease that kill Monarchs at the chrysalis stage.

Preserved wildlands are natural resources providing clean air, clean water, genetic diversity for plants and animals, secondary pollinators for agriculture, and recreation for humans.

Spring hiking in Caspers Wilderness Park looking into the Cleveland NF

Special Places,
Regional Identity

If you travel to Australia, do you want to see their unique plants and animals, or see North American species? California’s landscape is one of the world’s biodiversity hot-spots having evolved with varied local geology, climate, and wildlife.

Long term human heritage in current Orange County is most recently identified with the Tongva and Acjachemen communities and of course ten to tens of thousands of years of their ancestors. This cultural heritage naturally had close ties to native plants.  

Special CA by the Numbers: 3 Floristic provinces. > 7000 Native plants (1639 in Orange County). 24 National Parks and Monuments. 50 National Forests and Wildlife Refuges. 158 State Parks, forests, reserves, wildlife areas, and recreation areas. – And 39 million people.

Orange County home garden

and Gardening

Do you want to help devastated Monarch butterfly populations? Garden with local narrow leaf milkweed – not the tropical. Do you want to support  California’s ~1,600 native bee species? Plant CA natives such as buckwheat. Do you want a food rich habitat for birds? Landscape with native plants supporting the insect-to-bird life-webs. Do you want to conserve water? Use native plants that evolved to live through dry summers. Do you want a mostly evergreen garden?  Orange County has shrubs that make an excellent landscape foundation of year-round green and seasonal flowers. Do you want to minimize or stop using pesticides and fertilizer? Use ecologically robust sets of native plants that evolved to live here.

Do you want a connection to nature, to restore threads of local nature, to live in our state’s unique biodiversity? Landscape with California’s native plants – build it and they will come.

Frequently asked questions and comments heard

What is CNPS and what activities do you cover?

Good question. The best way to get an overview of the depth and breadth of CNPS is to visit and scan the navigation bar – especially state-wide major programs and projects under OUR WORK and HELPFUL TOOLS. Then look at ABOUT CNPS / CHAPTERS and notice there are 36 local chapters across the state (actually one is in the California floristic province portion of Baja California, Mexico!) with over 10,000 members.

Orange County has a desert climate. (Nope)

Orange County is part of the California Floristic Province, a Mediterranean-like climate with hot dry summers and cool wet winters. Natural vegetation, without urbanization, in Orange County would be dominated by dense coastal sage scrub along with other plant communities including chaparral, riparian, and woodland.

What are Super Host plants?

Some plant groups and individual species have significantly higher numbers of positive associations to other flora, fauna, soils, and beyond. These are super hosts.

Oaks are a prime example including their high number of associations with birds and butterflies. Consider a scrub oak for moderate sized gardens.

More Super Hosts in Orange County with high associations to birds, butterflies, and pollinators include:

  • Buckwheat (especially Eriogonum fasciculatum),
  • Bush Sunflower (Encelia californica),
  • Ceanothus species,
  • Sages (Salvia mellifera for example),
  • Currants (Ribes indecorum for example),
  • Holly leaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia).

I would put native plants in my yard if there were any year-round evergreen leafy shrubs that were easy to grow. (Good, because there are.)

One great landscaping strategy is to put a “foundation” or “backbone” of evergreen shrubs in a yard landscape. This stable green scene gives a year-round verdant fresh display that is comforting to the human (think neighbor) eye. Larger evergreen shrubs/small-trees provide useful comforting part-shade to adjacent smaller plants.

Then… the rest of the landscape is free for you to add distinctive seasonal flowers, variations of leaf color, favorite plants, a deciduous tree for summer shading and winter sunlight, and more California high value nature plants (a number of which are seasonally lush-dry.)

Here is a starter list of these easy to grow, evergreen shrubs for Orange County. Some of them are on the border of shrub-tree in size, but that is OK, because they all handle moderate pruning well.

  1. Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)
  2. Scrub Oak (Quercus berberidifolia)
  3. Holly Leaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia)
  4. Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia)
  5. Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata)
  6. Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina)
  7. CA Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides)
  8. California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
  9. Chamise “Nicolas” (Adenostoma fasciculatum)
  10. Southern Honeysuckle (Lonicera subspicata – part shade)
  11. Evergreen Currant / Catalina Perfume (Ribes viburnifolium – for shade)

Do you provide landscape design and maintenance services?

CNPS is a non-profit organization advocating for native plants. We provide several types of gardening and landscaping education and ideas. We do not offer or compete with providers of landscape services, some of whom are CNPS members.

The Orange County Chapter does provide a list of service providers who self identify as working with native plants for design, installation, and/or maintenance. SEE THE LIST HERE.

!How many types of bees are in California using native plants?!!!???

California has around 1,600 species of native bees. As you probably know, most native bees are plant pollinators. Most of our native bees are solitary or nearly so. Many are ground dwellers! Some are very small. Many of them are in decline due to loss of native plant habitat and other human based issues.

You can help California bees by planting many types of local plants. Native plants with positive associations to many types of native bees include Phacelia, Eriogonum buckwheats, Encelia bush sunflower, Salvia sages, Ceanothus shrubs, and California poppies.

California’s native bees are separate from the hiving European honeybee whose problems are primarily agriculture based. European honey bees are not endangered as they are now found in many places around the world.

If native plants are so evolutionarily advantaged, why do we need to help them?

Native plants have been disrupted and eliminated from many areas of Orange County. They never had the chance to compete.

Rivers and streams were channeled with concrete and rock. This work has benefits for urban flood control and for drying seasonally wet lands for human developments. But, native plants along the way were removed and non-native plants inserted.

Urban developed lakes, ponds, and water features were mostly landscaped with non-natives. Native plants never had a chance to compete. Some newer water control features in the landscape have included native plants – see areas of Irvine for example.

Urban streets and buildings cover masses of square miles. This area supplies homes, jobs, and entertainment. But, native plants are removed. Where some plant landscaping is placed (homes, parks, medians), the plants are non-native.

The non-native vegetation is defended by humans with substantial irrigation, planting more non-native plants, and removing all else manually or with herbicides.

In general, non-native plants support less local wildlife. Then on top of that, pesticides are sprayed to protect the non-natives. These pesticides reduce the amount of pollinators and insect food for birds, the same birds that used to distribute some native plant seeds.

Before mass urbanization, Orange County had much agriculture. The earliest versions were over-grazing of hillsides by sheep, goats, and cattle. This era brought many invasive grasses too.

Many plants in Southern California adapted to rare but significant fire events. Now large fires are common and almost always caused by humans, one way or another. These frequent serious disturbances ruin most plant adaptions to fire, but do appear to benefit invasive non-native, annual grasses. These types of grasslands are of lower value to local wildlife. At least fire disturbance events caused by pre-European inhabitants only shifted native species.

“To call introduced plants more fit and thus more deserving of a place on this continent than our native plants seems a stretch when we have so unevenly stacked the playing field against our natives.” – Douglas W. Tallamy

(Professor in the Dept. of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. His research includes “the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities”. – From the book jacket of, Nature’s Best Hope – A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.)