Newsletter 2003 September – October

California Native Plant Society

Orange County Chapter

September/October 2003



Annual Fall Plant Sale, September 27, UCI Arboretum

In the introduction to “As California wild flowers grow: suggestions to nature lovers”, San Francisco: Harr Wagner, 1922, Katherine Chandler wrote: “This book is published with the hope of interesting our citizens in our native flora, both for their own pleasure and for its preservation….” And in 2003 we’re still trying. With increasing concerns over water usage and availability in Southern California, use of our native plants in landscaping has been gaining more attention of late. In anticipation of our Fall Plant Sale, this newsletter revolves around horticulture and use of California native plants.

Calendar of Events

Sep 4……………………….. Board Meeting

Sep 6……………….. Shipley NC Workday

Sep 18………………….. Chapter Meeting

Sep 20………….. Crystal Cove plant walk

Sep 20……………………. Coastal Cleanup

Sep 20………………. DP Headlands Rally

Sep 27………………………….. Plant Sale

Oct 2……………………….. Board Meeting

Oct 2-4……………. CalEPPC Symposium

Oct 4…….. Shipley workday &Plant Sale

Oct 4……………………. Date with Nature

Oct 11………. Docent Day, Crystal Cove

Oct 16………………….. Chapter Meeting

Oct 18…………………… SCB Symposium

Oct 25……………… El Dorado Plant Sale

Thursdays, 10-1…………. UCI arboretum

Stream Ecology Class–D. Bontrager

Chapter meetings are held on the third Thursday of the month at the Irvine Ranch Water District headquarters at 15600 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the meeting begins at 7:30. Wildflower posters and a wide variety of books are available at the meeting

Directions: From the Santa Ana Freeway (I 5) exit on Sand Canyon Road west. Pass Irvine Center Drive. Turn left at the next light onto Waterworks Road, then left into the IRWD parking lot. From the 405 exit east on Sand Canyon/Shady Canyon, turn right on Waterworks and left into the parking lot. Enter the building from the rear.


Enthusiastic Southern Californians

A Combination of easily established Natives for your Garden

—Dan Songster

Normally we have articles detailing one particular native plant’s qualities, growth characteristics, and garden behavior. This time let us consider an interesting combination of six natives that could fit well into your landscape as an ensemble. All are easy to grow, able to take soils ranging from sandy loam to clay, and although the plants selected in this instance are able to naturalize—living on just rainwater or little more, they won’t die if watered in the ‘wrong’ season. These are all southern California plants, with four of them from Orange County. This collection of plants is comprised of sun lovers, fairly easy to care for and also relatively easy to find, for a native!. Of course, no plant is perfect in all situations so I have also thoughtfully mentioned a plant’s weaknesses as I see them. In describing these plants I will travel from the taller plants to the smaller ones, that is move from the back to front of the traditional perennial bed. And remember whatever plants you use in your garden, try to place them with their mature size in mind. Don’t crowd these plants together; they need a bit of room to do their best.

Romneya coulteri—Matilija Poppy

This true poppy is considered the queen of California’s wildflowers. Often reaching 5 to 6 feet tall (or taller), its large flowers are routinely 7 or 8 inches wide! The flower’s color is a brilliant white (not a dull cream) with a wonderful collection of golden/orange stamens crowding its center. The white color draws the eye and the sensual center provides colorful punctuation. The white petals are of the most delicate looking crinkled crepe paper, and provide a soft fragrance, nearly unrivaled in its subtlety and sweetness. It has also proven a surprisingly good cut flower for me if the end of the stem is seared by heat as you would most other poppies.

Please consider: This plant spreads by thick, vigorous rhizomes and can completely take over a garden if happy, and this sun loving beauty is usually happy. Surround the plant with a root barrier installed in an irregular/elliptical shape—perfect circles are so unnatural.

Garden Placement: We must give this stunning plant some room with the aforementioned root barrier being roughly 3 feet by7 feet or so—it can do well with less space. It should be placed towards the rear of the bed so that its impressive flowers reach over the slightly smaller Cleveland Sage, yet its dormant foliage or pruned stubs are later hidden by the Sage itself.

Notes: So why isn’t everyone growing this plant? Well, besides the aggressive issue noted above, it is truly a herbaceous perennial, meaning that it dies back to its root crown towards the end of summer, and not everybody likes that. When the stalks and stems start to look yellowish most folks simply cut them off at nearly ground level and wait for winter rains to soak the soil and start the growth process all over again. Another point to consider: I have heard of people having a difficult time establishing this garden favorite (luckily, I have always had an easy time with it). Be patient with it, plant in early winter, don’t disturb the roots when planting, and if at first you don’t succeed, by all means try again. Some consider the cultivar ‘White Cloud’ to be better behaved in the garden; not spreading quite as fast—although a root barrier is still needed in most cases.

Salvia clevelandii-Cleveland Sage

Appreciative garden visitors always comment on this lovely perennial whose springtime whorls of intensely colored lilac purple flowers are certainly eye catching. These flowers are also favorites of hummingbirds and the somewhat intimidating, though rather harmless, Carpenter Bee. Quick growing, often 3 feet tall and wide the first year from a one gallon container, this plant’s leaves have a refreshing fragrance not unlike our Coastal Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and it routinely reaches 5 to 6 feet high and can sprawl even wider. The Cleveland Sage bloom period overlaps that of the Matilija Poppy making this one of the best color combinations in any garden.

Garden Placement: Normally, this medium to large shrub should be situated slightly towards the rear of the planting area. It certainly is large enough to block smaller plants if placed in the foreground. Don’t plant it thinking you will keep it 3 feet wide with regular pruning. The result of forcing this plant to fit such a small area would be few if any blooms since such regular shearing removes the growing points where the nice spires of flowers are produced! The cultivar ‘Winifred Gilman’ has a darker purple flower and reddish stems and is more likely to stay a bit smaller than the straight Cleveland Sage.

Note: Pruning is recommended in late fall or early winter—a fearless shearing of one third to one half of its foliage. Don’t worry! This treatment allows for fresh growth following the first rains, and a tighter more floriferous plant. As far as I know this is the main native Sage to be used as a substitute in cooking for the European Sage (Salvia officinales). Added Note: Consider the intriguing flavor of beer-battered Sage leaves quick fried in olive oil! Regarding weaknesses, I really can’t think of any except that it can be rather short lived in gardens of clay, sometimes lasting as few as 5 or 6 years.

Eriogonum arborescens-Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat

I had originally considered extolling the virtues of the extremely lovely show-stopper, Saint Catherine’s Lace (E. giganteum). I do love that plant and go ahead and use it if you can give it the room—you will not be sorry. But, every now and then I must let the rebel in me surface and so I name the more compact Island Buckwheat my choice in this grouping of native winners. It’s not just that I wish to be difficult, however, Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat really has lots going for it, including several attributes similar to its larger sister. It can take clay soils, needs minimal trimming, is covered in dinner plate sized sprays of flowers (creamy white but often with a pink tinge in spring and rusty brown in fall), has silvery foliage, and unlike St. Catherine’s Lace, shows off an interesting shredding bark on its trunk and main branches. It is also smaller than E. giganteum and so fits in with this group, being noticeably smaller than the Cleveland Sage and Matilija Poppy, yet larger than our smaller material to come—a good, mid-sized specimen.

Garden Placement: Place close enough to the front of your bed to easily notice the lovely strips of peeling bark. Don’t crowd this plant; place it a bit apart from its fellows so its individual beauty may be appreciated, somewhere, near a small boulder would be nice. Placed in this manner, Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat certainly has the character to be an attractive focal point of the landscape.

Note: Normal pruning is in late fall or early winter. It merely involves pruning off the flower heads and their stalks. After a year or two, you may find that selective pruning of crossing and cluttering branches in the low center of the plant will allow for a more open view of its branching structure. I don’t know what the weakness of this plant could be, no real pest problems, modest size, fairly long lasting in the garden, and lovely umbels of flowers.

Aristida purpurea-Purple Three Awned Grass

In an article I did for the chapter newsletter a few years ago (Three Grasses—Fall, 1995) I included Purple Three-Awn Grass because it was one of my favorites, and it still is! Back then it was seldom seen but now is being more widely grown; Tree of Life Nursery often has it. This is a semi-evergreen, clumping, cool season grass a little over a foot tall. Fine textured, sage green, and dense, its foliage is topped by 11/2 to 2 foot flower spikes, with nodding panicles becoming burgundy/purple as the seeds mature. Shorter and more compact, it may not be as graceful initially as the taller, more easily swayed Needlegrasses, Stipa/Nassella, but it more than makes up for this by the large number of flower spikes and panicles it produces, an upright bearing (often throughout the year!), and by the light-catching awns that dance brightly in the wind. In the early winter these flower spikes are golden and really warm up a garden, while Nassella’s graying flower spikes have long since been flattened.

Garden Placement: Purple Three Awn can stand alone, but excels when planted in groups and masses, or when placed in a repeating pattern in the fore- or mid-ground of perennial beds. Its modest size allows it to fill small vacancies in the garden without overplaying its role. Purple Three Awn is an excellent cover for various native bulbs.

Note: Plants can be sheared off a few inches above the ground after panicles begin to decline in winter, or left alone since leaves tend to keep their color through the year. Unless plants become cluttered with dead leaves and stems I usually avoid pruning. Plants seed modestly into the garden and such seedlings are great to share with others or place in other parts of the garden.

Epilobium californicum-California Fuchsia

Normally a rather low plant between ten and eighteen inches high, the cultivar ‘Catalina’ can top two feet. Foliage is an abundance of needle-like soft green to gray-green leaves. It will accept several soil types successfully and its warm lipstick red tubular flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds. While these qualities are enough to recommend, it’s the fact that it blooms in the hottest parts of summer and fall that make it an exceptional plant. The Romneya is asleep, and the Cleveland Sage leaves are certainly not as lush as earlier in the year, but there is Mr. Epilobium, fresh and full of flowers in 100-degree heat with no extra water. In the dusk of September evenings, its flowers seem to glow—incredible!

Garden Placement: Place this lovely groundcover towards the front of your garden bed giving it a few feet to wander and play. With time, it is likely to grow under and around the skirt of your Aristida grass, creating a very natural appearance, so you may consider planting one or two very near your grass as well. When planting near Eriophyllum (see below) or other rather low plants, leave enough room between them to allow for the spread of the Epilobium-It’s a wanderer and should be allowed to trail around, not sheared and forced to stay in one specific place in the garden.

Note: Although it spreads by rhizomes, it is not normally too invasive since unwanted runners are easily pulled up. For slightly more mannerly behavior you could try the northern California cultivars such as ‘Wayne’s Silver’ and ‘Select Mattole’, or the mysterious ‘U.C. Hybrid’. These plants often form low pillows of dense foliage, covered in summer and fall with that stupendous blaze of color. One could also try the somewhat underused local native, E. canum, with its smaller, almost needle-like silvery foliage, a small echo of the gray leaved Buckwheat. Try more than one variety if you have the room, you will be happy. I don’t believe I have ever met a California Fuchsia I did not like.

Special Note: It is a shame when one of the softest mouthfuls of Latin is overthrown in the interests of mere taxonomy but the genus name Zauschneria has been replaced with Epilobium. However, just to keep the memory alive, when sipping a really good glass of red wine slowly say, “Zauschneria, Zauschneria, Zauschneria…” Try not to do it front of anyone you are trying to impress; it can look rather silly.

Eriophyllum confertiflorum-Golden Yarrow

Here is one of my new favorite plants. Although I am sure many of you are already aware of its many attributes let me mention a few qualities that recommend this little beauty. Golden Yarrow is a considered a herbaceous sub-shrub with green gray foliage and cheerful bright orange-yellow flowers. While on field trips we see the many situations it grows in: steep, flat, grassy, rocky, many exposures, plant communities, and soil types—indicating a versatile plant! Young plants installed from 4-inch pots last fall are almost a yard wide and between 8 and 16 inches tall, and in heavy bloom, this is in formidable clay soils mind you, with no water other than rainfall. They started blooming in early spring and are expected to bloom well into summer.

Garden Placement: These cheerful plants are rather low growing and can be situated in open pockets in the foreground of the bed. I would not be too concerned about exact placement with this fast growing native, it seems to be a flexible citizen, ready to do what he needs to make it in the garden. (Sarah Jayne has hers mixed with the California Fuchsia. We will see which plant wins!)

Note: When seen in little pots in the nursery this plant often looks less than appreciative of its plastic prison, but once in the ground and allowed some freedom it really fills out and explodes! My experience is rather limited and I wonder what the lifespan of this perennial will be? I get suspicious of any plant that puts on so much dense, healthy growth in just a season. Evidently it will last for at least 3-5 years, hopefully seeding itself a bit. Marjorie Schmidt recommended a pruning to within a few inches of the ground in the early winter quite a few years ago, and that sounds like good advice.

Conclusion: So there you have a possible combination of six natives that will probably need at least 140 square foot area, 10×14 foot, or larger, and which will fill it out in just a couple of seasons. In fact, don’t be surprised if in the first spring and summer after a fall planting it already looks quite nice and somewhat full.

Did you really think I could stop at six? I have omitted California Lilac. Consider a Ceanothus ‘Wheelers Canyon’, or ‘Concha’, or ‘Dark Star’, or other smallish variety—never too much blue in a garden! And where is the Coffeeberry? What self-respecting garden does not have this versatile performer either as a green background plant, habitat for birds (berries) or as a foil for gray leaved natives? Do you have the need for a tree—and the room? Possibilities range from the quick growing but often out of control Mexican Elderberry (Sambucus mexicanum) to the slower growing but distinctive Scrub Oak (Quercus berberidifolia). Other tree candidates include Chilopsis linearis (Desert Willow), Cercocarpus betuloides (Mountain Mahogany) or a stunning Garrya elliptica (Coast Tasslebush) shaped upwards. (One day, some of our local Garryas will become more easily available…like G. fremontii or G. veatchii). How about native bulbs? The purple flowers of Ithuriel’s Spear (Triteleia laxa) would do wonderfully erupting from beneath the Golden Yarrow. And of course any of the cream to lavender Mariposa Lilies (like Calochortus venustis) would be more than charming mixed among the Purple Three-Awn Grass. For that matter Foothill Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus) would also be astounding there. The possibilities keep springing to mind.

Play and have fun. Changing the topography of the planting area into a raised mound increases drainage and creates interesting places to plant. Settle a favorite terracotta pot into the mix with a draping Manzanita such as Arctostaphylos ‘John Dourley’. Add an old stump to plant the Aristida around, and a few manageable boulders in the fore and mid-ground for the Eriophyllum to sprawl upon, and what about a small water feature worked into the design? Oh, Yeah! This could be the start of a really enthusiastic native garden!


I’m a Buckwheat fan. Eriogonum crocatum, E. grande var rubescens, E. giganteum, and E. cinerium all thrive in my flat clay-soil garden. Eriogonum aborescens does not nor does E. umbellatum. But then, I’ve successfully killed off four attempts at Matilija Poppy. The Tree of Life website,, is a wonderful source for information on the cultivation of California native plants.

The Editor

Chapter Meetings

Thursday, September 18—California Natives for the Patio and Garden

Speaker: Mike Evans

More and more Southern Californians are embracing native plants and people are insisting on using them in their landscapes! Of course, many qualities recommend them including their water thrifty nature, fragrance, color (both blossom and foliage), natural inclination to thrive in our soils and climate. Native plants also provide that special sense of place that says we are in authentic Southern California, not China, Australia, South Africa, or in the tropics. Our surrounding natural landscapes have much to choose from for our home gardens and bringing some of wild California into our landscapes creates an exciting environment!

Often natives are relegated to the edges of our designs where they can grow as they will and not “interfere” with established landscapes. In this talk we will learn about the bringing natives to the heart of our gardens, on and near our patio areas. This will include plants in containers, accent plants, fragrance (close to where you usually are!) as well as natives small enough to be incorporated easily near patios, walkways and decks.

Mike Evans, founder and co-owner of Tree of Life Nursery, is a long time advocate for the use of native plants and has become one of our area’s leading experts in both design and maintenance of native landscapes. A native of Orange County, he is active in many horticultural and botanical societies. For those of you who have heard Mike speak before, you know what a treat you have in store. If you have not enjoyed hearing him, make special plans to be at the September general meeting, that’s September 18th!

Thursday, October 16—The Beautiful World of Lichens of California

Speaker: Charis Bratt

In a departure from our usual concern with plants of a vascular nature, we will visit an amazing group of non-plants, the lichens. Lichens are the unique product of a symbiotic relationship between two entirely different organisms–algae and fungi. Fascinating in design, they are often very beautiful. Learn the secrets of their success and see the great diversity of lichens found in California.

Lichenologist Cherie Bratt is the curator of the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden’s Bratt-Tucker Lichen Herbarium. She is a renowned collector who has collected throughout California. She is especially well known for her collections in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, the Channel Islands, and Point Loma in San Diego County. She has collected the type of several new species including for Hypogymnia gracilis and Psora hyporubescens. She regularly teaches labs in lichenology and gives lectures on lichens throughout the state. She is the science editor for the Bulletin of the California Lichen Society and a strong advocate and activist of lichen conservation.

From Attraction to Action


—Brad Jenkins

“A thing is right if it tends to preserve the stability, integrity, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong if it tends otherwise.” – Aldo Leopold

Why does a person become attracted to native plants? A botanist recognizes distinct characteristics in the plants. Ecosystem investigators understand intricate productive dependencies between plants, animals, bacteria, soil, climate and additional environmental factors. Conservationists work passionately to save undisturbed stretches of natives. Children are enthralled with the abundance of butterflies, birds, insects, lizards, and wildflowers found in natural scenery. Water districts pay attention to species that thrive with just normal rainfall. Historians preserve descriptions of landscapes that early peoples saw, lived in, and foraged food from. Hikers associate native plants and vegetation aromas with favorite nature locations. Horticulturalists marvel in the variety of local species.

All of these viewpoints strengthen my attraction to native plants. They raise a subjective belief in native plants to a comforting level of knowledge that native plants are vital in our natural and landscaped environments, and to people in those environments.

“The great end of life is not knowledge but action.” – T. H. Huxley

What can be done with native plant knowledge? CNPS delivers information in multiple media and formats. The Society also provides opportunities for using this knowledge to achieve real improvements in our physical environment. Familiar member actions include assisting in the UCI Arboretum Native Plant Garden, responding to conservation issues, displaying natives in their yard, and bringing friends to plant sales and nature walks.

Through CNPS, I have the opportunity to work on several native plant programs. One of the first was helping to establish the Garden Tour. Hundreds of visitors have had the opportunity to see natives growing in a variety of home gardens. Having enthusiastic gardeners simplified behind the scenes work. Another activity is supporting the Metropolitan Water District’s Heritage Landscape initiative. This initiative is aimed at conserving water through native landscaping. CNPS has attended all three forums. I submitted a seminar outline for institutional landscapers and Celia Kutcher was a judge for landscape make-over grants. Finally, last year, Friends of Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach asked for CNPS presence in their renovation of the park. They are restoring Southern California natives in what is likely to be a showcase nature and education center within a couple of years. I have become increasingly involved since then with this park of opportunity.

“Fortunate are those who find a subject they love and experience it daily.”

Native plants are appealing in many ways. Whatever our source of attraction is, we have multiple ways to engage in, display, and promote them. I hope to see you in the garden, at the park, on the trail, supporting programs, adopting a conservation area, or leading your own native plant initiative.

…and here’s a great opportunity!

The Stewards —Kristina Finstad

The California Coastal Commission’s Upper Newport Bay (UNB) Restoration and Education Program is working to enlist community support for habitat restoration by engaging the public in hands-on restoration and teaching why this work is important. Some of you have participated in “Roots,” our monthly restoration teamwork event, and others have joined the “Stewards” in the nursery on Wednesday mornings. I’ve also met a few CNPS members at our Plant Propagation Workshop, whose follow-up session on Seed Collection will be September 6. Reservations are required and the training is free for Stewards.

Last fall, while purchasing native plants for restoration projects, it occurred to me that we could save money by growing our own, and more importantly we would preserve the genetic integrity of one of southern California’s last intact wetland habitats. Also, we realize that the most effective long-term approach to restoration is community stewardship, and involving volunteers as much as possible is the key to UNB’s future.

I was told that others had tried creating a nursery program before, but could never generate enough interest to sustain the plants through the growing season. Despite discouragement, I collected seeds around the bay, studied their methods of propagation, and welcomed Stewards to help on Wednesday mornings. In the beginning, I found myself doing most of the work with helter-skelter volunteers, but after building a more inviting atmosphere with the “Exotic Hut”, the help steadily increased. At the last session there were five of us, Steward regulars with their green thumbs and motivation. We’ve grown up about 600 plants, mostly bush sunflower, ready to go in the ground this October.

The goal of the Stewards Program is to restore and preserve the native ecology of UNB, to build a sense of community stewardship, and to teach people the concepts of wetland ecology and restoration by involvement in the process. Volunteers have the opportunity not only to propagate and grow plants in the nursery, but also to close the loop by helping with out-planting during the winter.

We received a donation from the Little Garden Club of Newport Beach for the Steward Program. We need help designing an expanded nursery with shaded growing areas, potting tables, and an irrigation system. Please call or email me if you can help: 949-640-0286,



Jake Sigg

Reprinted by permission from the Yerba Buena News

Would you like a well-behaved garden plant that, once established, no longer requires attention, needs little or no water beyond rainfall, is compact and shapely, easily blends into other colors and textures, is attractive at all times of the year to humans and to wildlife, AND is easy to grow? Look into the many kind of Eriogonum (called buckwheat), the largest genus in California after Carex (sedges).

And such a genus! One would be hard-pressed to come up with another group of plants containing so many eye-catching varieties that make the beholder think how nice it would be to have them in the garden. At the moment, I can’t think of a single species that hasn’t evoked that feeling in me. With 115 species in California, you expect a range of form and color—from the numerous perennials that range from diminutive alpine cushions to four-foot-tall shrubs to those wonderful annuals with red thread-like branches that proliferate on road shoulders in deserts and other arid areas.

Buckwheats have gray, gray-green, or white leaves of pleasing form and texture. Hundreds of tiny flowers are aggregated into dense heads. The flowers are white fading to pink, yellow fading to red, or, occasionally red fading to deeper red. When dried, the flower heads become a subtly eye-catching russet or auburn, which is ideally contrasted by the grayish leaves. Plants look thrifty even at the end of a dry summer.

Eriogonum culture can be conveyed in two words: sun and drainage. Different species of buckwheat are found all the way from coastal dunes to the highest alpine zones and are pronounced inhabitants of arid areas, including deserts. With that variety of habitats, it is not to be expected that they are all going to be happy in your garden. Nevertheless, as a group they are very adaptable, and experimentation may prove rewarding. In any event, you will find many that will be happy, with a modicum of attention to their needs.

Start with your local species (always a good idea anyway), which in our area [San Francisco and northern San Mateo County] is the beautiful coast buckwheat, Eriogonum latifolium. [See articles above for our local species.] … Nature gives a clue”: coast buckwheat grows naturally in sand dunes at Pacifica and Crissy Field, between bushes in coastal scrub, in cracks in the rocks of cliffs, and in grasslands where soil is thin and rocky. I try to imitate nature as much as possible, so I plant is natural companions with it—bunchgrasses, yarrow (Achillea millefolium), dudleya, acaena (Acaena pinnatifida var.californica), clarkies, lupines, poppies, and blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum). If it finds your garden suitable to its needs it may self-sow. It comes up in cracks in the sidewalk in front of my house and I encourage its peregrinations because coast buckwheat provides forage for native bees and butterflies and because its gray and pink tones soften the harsh look of the concrete and harmonize with it. The openness and warmth from the concrete are to its likeing, and there is adequate moisture trapped beneath.

There are California buckwheats available in the trade which are not native to our area but which make good garden subjects: Eriogonum arborescens, E. giganteum, E. Grande var.rubescens, and E. crocatum. The first two are two- to four-foot shrubs. E. grande var. rubescens looks similar to our native, but its flowers are deep pink to red; and E. crocatum has white leaves with chrome-yellow flowers. Please avoid planting invasive non-native E. fasciculatum and E. parvifolium. [My bold—just proves that one man’s prize specimen is another man’s weed. These are our local species! The Editor] The latter, planted many years ago along Highway 1 through Pacifica, has invaded the dunes at Pacifica State Beach and has almost completely displaced the native E. latifolium. Although native to the coast just a few miles south of Pacifica, E. parvifolium evidently lacks its natural controls here and becomes rambunctious.

I hope to explore this wonderful group of plants more thoroughly in a later article. With or without drought, water is going to be a problem in California’s future because of inexorable population pressures. When that happens, dry gardens will become fashionable, and buckwheats are going to leap into prominence at the head of the crowd in this latest fad.

Why I Grow Native Plants

—Joel Robinson

I hate mowing the lawn. It is a project I’ve always struggled to avoid at all costs. I’ve hated the practice ever since I was young. “It’s just gonna grow back again,” I would argue. “Why can’t we just leave it alone, so it can grow wild? I think the clumps are pretty.” No excuses were accepted. It was always, “You’ll do it because I said so!” Other frequent replies were: “It just needs to be done”; or “I don’t want our neighbors complaining that our yard is ugly”; or “I’ll give you an extra five bucks.” No matter what, I always ended up doing it. To this day, I have a certain degree of hearing loss that I readily attribute to the noise from the mower. Furthermore, my parents expected the whole ridiculous process to repeat every two weeks until we were all dead. It blew my mind that with all the tasks that needed to be done in this world, mowing the lawn was considered so absolutely necessary. Eventually, when I moved away, I was free to choose my own path. The choice was literally and figuratively natural. From now on I would follow the way of native plants.

I can’t stop smiling every time I think about native plants. Thinking back on those years with my parents, I am amazed at how much unnecessary and tedious work we create for ourselves maintaining a conventional yard: watering, leaf blowing, raking, mowing, weed-whacking, cutting with mechanized saws, spraying herbicides and pesticides, fertilizing, digging and tilling, pouring cement, and installing fencing Add to this the expenditure of time, oil, electricity, and water. Consider also the noise, fumes, particulates, erosion, contaminated water, increased temperature, lack of diversity, and generally unbalanced ecosystems associated with conventional gardens. I’m an easygoing guy who wants to spend my time contributing to my own health and the well being of my environment. That is why traditional gardenscapes don’t appeal to me. I wanted to have a garden that maintains itself with minimal effort or intervention, and to create a habitat that supports other native plants and animals. To attain these goals, I began to collect seeds and cuttings, to work with a native plant nursery, and to develop patience.

I have made some satisfying discoveries in my modest nursery. From the beginning, I was limited to a small mound of soil. Using California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) seed I had collected from a local wilderness area, I started some one-gallon pots. I watered them once or twice a week, depending on the heat. Weeks stretched into months and nothing appeared. Giving up, I dumped the soil back into the mound, stirred it up, and recycled it back into pots for new cuttings.

As the weeks continued, some cuttings in the pots survived and were transplanted, while others weren’t so lucky. Again, the soil from the mound was recycled after each new generation of cuttings. A year later, having long forgotten about the sagebrush seeds, I discovered a sagebrush seedling that had sprouted next to a rose (Rosa californica) cutting! Among other cuttings were additional newborns. These had come from the recycled soil in my mound!

Because seed production is limited to certain seasons of the year, I can grow more plants by using cuttings. I developed this obsession and conducted experiments without the aid of any gardening guidebooks. I am amazed by my high success rate. Weedy cuttings from willow (Salix sp.), mulefat (Baccharis salicifolia), wild rose (Rosa californica), and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) readily took root. The real surprises were with the least likely candidates. I did not remotely expect scarlet monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis), California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), all the true sages (Salvia sp.), golden currant (Ribes aureum), chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum), fuchsia-flowered gooseberry (Ribes speciosum), and California sunflower (Encelia californica) to do so remarkably well. Even substantial cuttings from a sycamore (Platanus racemosa) or a cottonwood (Populus fremontii) were successful. Who knew that depositing three-inch sticks in trays of soil could be so pleasurable! The soil requirements for these natives are minimal; they thrive in sandy, degraded soil.

Avoiding the tedium of lawn care is just one of many reasons for my spiritual journey. Another is the fact that we live in a desert. Southern Californians have been quite successful at convincing each other that this not true. Well, I just have to say, “Denial aint just a river in Egypt.” Our water sources aint gonna supply us with anymore water than what we currently take. Once I was willing to accept this constraint, the rest of my personal journey revealed itself. I was struck by the realization that native plants are part of our natural identity in Southern California. Most people talk about heritage as a couple of old buildings, antique chairs, or a site of a historical violence. Reminiscing about some dusty, fabricated objects or events from the last two centuries ignores the rich natural history of our native plants and animals that stretches back millions of years. Our native plants are special because they originated uniquely in this area.

Talk about rare! Artists strive for originality their entire lives, yet right at home originality occurs naturally on a daily basis–with no help from us! With all that said, my home team pride goes through the roof. Australia can keep its eucalyptus trees, Africa its pampas grass, the Nile its lilies and Asia its bamboo. I don’t want to steal the identity of other places. I’m proud to say that we have the California sycamore (Platanus racemosa) to shade our heads. We can enjoy looking forward to California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) and muse at the monkeyflower (Mimulus sp.) on our wilderness walks. To have the sweet scent of CA sagebrush (Artemisia californica) or black sage (Salvia mellifera) on our clothing completes our day. Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophyla), willows, and mulefat stimulate my pride. Purple needle grass (Nassella pulchra) and giant wild rye (Leymus condensatus) stand in all their wild glory when they aren’t mowed. These renewable sources of satisfaction remind me that I can introduce their splendor into my own garden. I ache to distinguish myself as a true citizen of my natural community before it’s too late. We are taught to respect our elders. What deserves more respect than an ancient coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)? Why drive to wilderness when you can live in it?

When observed firsthand most people agree that native plants are aesthetically pleasing and incredibly diverse. I fill rolls of film with the varied beauty and the subtle eccentricities of native plants. Photographs are definitely an addictive way to remember, share, and identify particular native species. But if you restrict yourself to just photos, then you’ll miss other sensory experiences that are equally gratifying. Start with your nose. From time to time it may capture a striking fragrance from a particular native plant. If you are a talented investigator, you can catch sight of the culprit to gain some additional whiffs. An occasional sniff can create memories that are long lasting, a claim backed up by scientific documentation. I’ve encountered strangers that can remember specifically where they were when they smelled their first sage. I am reminded of another forced experience from my childhood. My mom, a supreme Girl Scout in her own day, decided to enroll me in the scary, uniformed realm of Scouts. From Tiger Cubs to Cub Scouts, I reluctantly tied endless knots, whittled soap box cars, folded flags, and accrued tacky badges. Every time our den met, I would try to hide, escape with a friend, or display the most outrageous tantrum a tiny thespian could muster. The only redeeming factor was the infrequent camping trips. As a shy little guy, I dreaded the inevitable social encounters associated with any camping excursion. The contrived team building activities made it seem like we were mini-businessmen working on our employee objectives. Nature only posed as a backdrop, yet it was that simple and mysterious backdrop which lured me to the magic of native plants.

On one momentous occasion, we camped at Las Flores Camp Area, a seemingly remote spot just off the 5 Freeway, situated on a less-developed portion of Camp Pendleton Marine Base. Upon arrival, the usual games were played: Capture the Flag, How To Start A Fire, Make Fun of the Weak Kid and so forth. We pitched our tents on a square of mostly exotic grass, probably heavily-grazed, near an adobe ranch house. Surrounding the exposed area were some narrow drainage channels, densely vegetated with willows and other riparian plants. As dusk neared and the activities had dwindled down, I slipped away from the cacophonous crowd for some solace. When I approached the boundary of our camp area, I noticed a narrow, overgrown trail inviting me to enter the shady woodland. At that age I could not identify the trees and plants, but I was drawn to them nonetheless. I was entranced by the lush spectrum of greens, the crisp, cool breath through the mossy snags, and the timeless trickle of the modest creek. My anxieties slipped away. I began to explore at a meandering pace. The moisture hung in the air as twilight entered the scene. I felt serene. From the moment I left the mundane world of the campground, a scent that aroused my curiosity. It was subconsciously familiar. The comforting odor was pungent yet elusive with a faint sweetness that wasn’t “perfumy” like a rose. I was not inquisitive enough to isolate the origin of the odor, so I continued on my way and reluctantly returned to camp before nightfall. Still, the odor, more than anything else, captured the essence of where I was. It welcomed me, calmed me down, and saturated my memory. Unable to place it, the experience was shelved in the back of my mind.

Many years later, I was an aspiring volunteer, absorbing interpretive trivia like a sponge. One of my mentors was Laura Cohen of the Donna O’Neil Land Conservancy (formerly the Rancho Mission Viejo Land Conservancy). She invited me out on the trail to survey sites for a volunteer restoration day. Names of different plants were casually blurted away as part of conversation. My plant knowledge was limited, so I repeatedly asked for annunciation and repetition. To speed up the learning process, she decided that I should pick a leaf sample of the plants I couldn’t identify. The collected samples would be taped to index cards and labeled. There were a few plants that gave me difficulty, so I picked them, showed them to Laura, and she quickly identified them for me. “That one is mulefat or Baccharis salicifolia,” she effortlessly replied. “Mulefat’s” quirky name stuck in my head, but the scientific nomenclature was fleeting. “Uh…Gnaphalium. Mmm…bicolor, yeah,” she continued. The excursion ended in the afternoon and so did my thought of the flash cards.

At home, I habitually left my backpack, cards, and anything else on the floor of the living room, putting the day’s events out of my mind. A few days passed before I figured it was time to quiz myself on native plants. I leaned over the pile of cards and a familiar odor crept up my nostrils. The enigmatic smell I had always equated with creeks was back in my head! As I thumbed through the cards, I stuck my nose against the back of each card to get a whiff. One plant, no odor. Two plants, no odor. Three plants, “Whoa!” I inhaled deep and closed my eyes briefly. A giddiness pricked my stomach. Dusty creek memories, long-shelved, washed back through my mind. I read the card. “Mulefat! The creek smell is mulefat!” I stared intensely at the card and sniffed again. As witness to my abnormal behavior, the house stood vacant and indifferent. When the thrilling moment quickly subsided it became trivial and obscure. I now look back at that incident as one of the purest moments of my life.

Since then, my thirst for the wilderness environment has grown, leading to my career as a naturalist. I guide tours through wilderness areas to share my admiration for native plants. As I continue to learn my craft, I recall the names of newly-identified trees and plants much more readily than the names of my human acquaintances. Even after conducting countless walks, my mind swells when I find mulefat. “Mulefat” is much more than a goofy name or a collection of flood-adapted woody stems. Its odor never fails to trigger that campground experience. I guess you could say that mulefat’s original odor induced my love for native plants through scented seduction.

Behind their fanciful fragrances are other advantages to living with native plants. Our local native tribes had countless uses for them (many still-undocumented). It enlivens my belly to know that on any given day I can find native plants in a wilderness area that are edible or contain edible parts that were used throughout the year. Many exotic plant species may be strictly ornamental, but they don’t have the versatility shared by many of our native plants. Historic uses included basketry, sandals, soap, construction materials, flour, fruits, flavoring insect repellent, diuretics, laxatives, decongestants and as a cure for menstrual pain. Those who landscape only a portion of their garden with native plants in order to leave room for domestic, hybridized fruits and vegetables, do not realize the full potential of their native garden.

By emulating our Native American predecessors, you can harvest almost everything, including some of the annuals, for nourishment. Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia littoralis) pads and pears—also known as nopales or tunas—can easily be prepared for consumption. The seeds can be ground up to make flour! Elderberries (Sambucus mexicana) and blackberries (Rubus ursinus) are tasty treats which can be turned into preserves or wine. Mariposa lilies (Calochortus sp.) and blue dicks (Dichelostemma pulchella) have edible root bulbs. Every part of the so-called Our Lord’s Candle (Yucca whipplei) is edible or usable. Bunch grass seeds can be ground into flour. The sweet taste of black walnuts (Juglans californica) can stir hunger pains any time of the year.

Experience the exotic tastes of other natives: flavor your meals with black sage (Salvia mellifera). Suck on lemonadeberries (Rhus integrifolia) during the summer heat. Snack on the Calabazilla (Cucurbita foetidissima) at Halloween. Roast the berries of the toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) at Christmas. Take some chia (Salvia columbariae) seeds on a strenuous hike to fill you up fast. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, get some concentrated protein from the insects that are attracted to your bountiful native paradise. Have a headache from the harvest? Chew on some willow (Salix sp.)bark, aspirin’s natural source. Everybody remembers acorns, the ultimate staple for the Native Americans.

My hope for the future? Generations of youngsters selling native plant products on neighborhood street corners; neighborhoods with backyard fences taken down to accommodate vast swaths of habitat for coast horned lizards and California quail; gardeners taking a step back and allowing their garden to flourish. Please help my dreams return to reality. Adopt some native plants today. You won’t have to mow another lawn…I promise.

Joel guides interpretive tours in wilderness areas. He also participates in public outreach and habitat restoration programs. He stays sane with the support of his wife, Leslie, and a baby on the way.

Orange County Conservation News

New Conservation Feature On Cnps Website

State CNPS has a new web feature! features information on the Bush Administration’s environmental agenda as it affects California. Enter the address above, or go to and click “Eye on the Bush Administration.”

The page contains:

  1. Lists of Administration policy proposals and actions affecting science and the environment, both in California and nationally.
  2. Sample letters to Congress and the media that you can use as templates or sources of ideas. We need to let our elected officials and the press know that we are aware of this administration’s appalling contempt for science and the environment and that we are not going to accept their agenda quietly.
  3. A sign-on letter to President Bush from California scientists discussing his administration’s misuse of science and its effect on California resources. (Scientists, feel free to sign on! Just email The letter is a collaborative project with Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, California Trout, NRDC, and other groups.

The page will be updated as often as can be managed to keep you current on each new policy initiative and on ways you can get involved in the struggle to protect California’s native plants and their habitats from this unprecedented attack.

Feedback is welcome, email:

On The Same Topic:

Rep. Henry Waxman has developed an interesting website and report discussing misuse of science by the Bush Administration. The website can be viewed at

Coastal Commission Hearing On Dana Point Headlands Expected To Be Oct. 8 Or 9 In San Diego!

The Dana Point Headlands is a special place. It is one of the last undeveloped coastal promontories in Southern California, and home to a remarkable diversity of native plant and animal life. The site is home to 13 species of rare plants, including the endangered Blochman’s Dudleya, and to the very endangered Pacific Pocket Mouse as well as a host of other plants and animals. This biological richness, still present despite the site’s on-going disturbances and long isolation from other natural areas, shows how great it could be if preserved and restored.

The Headlands Development and Conservation Plan does not conform to several Coastal Act policies. Coastal Commission staff has analyzed the Plan in detail for over a year, and will soon prepare its report to the Commission. It’s more important than ever to tell the Commission that the Plan must be required to conform to the Act.

Come to RALLY FOR THE HEADLANDS 2, September 20, 11-3 PM, at Baby Beach in Dana Point Harbor!

Enjoy a hot dog bbq!

Sign up for the chartered bus to the hearing!

From PCH, take Dana Pt. Harbor Drive; past Island Way, watch for “Rally” signs on your left. Please RSVP to, so there’ll be a hot dog for you!

Celia Kutcher, Chapter representative, Dana Headlands and SCORE


Opportunities Abounding…

UCI Arboretum Weed War: Fall Planting Prep, Too

As summer slides slowly into fall and the need for weeding slows down in the UCI Arboretum California Collection, our hardy little band of weed warriors will also be working on preparation for planting projects to be done later in the fall.

Please join us on Thursday mornings, 9:30-1:30. To beat the late-summer heat, feel free to come at 8 AM, when the Arboretum opens, and work for an hour or two. Hat, gloves, water, sturdy work shoes, sunscreen are advised; bring your favorite weeding implement if possible

Directions: from 405, go south on Jamboree to Campus Dr. Turn left on Campus, then immediately right on an unnamed campus service road. Turn left into the Arboretum gate, park on the gravel behind the greenhouse.

Shipley Nature Center Events in Huntington Beach

The first Saturday of each month is public restoration work and tour day. Arrive with gloves to help weed and plant. 9 – Noon with tour at 11. Sept 6, Oct 4.

Plant Sale Oct 4 from 9 to 1: If you miss the CNPS plant sale on Sept 27 at UCI, here is another chance to pick up a few local species. You will also have the opportunity to purchase a plant for the Nature Center and plant it that day.

The third Sunday of each month is Nature Center enjoyment day. Gates are open from 10 AM to 3 PM for strolling and talking with docents. Sept 21, Oct 19 For more information visit

Directions: The Shipley Nature Center is located in Huntington Central Park. There’s no easy way to get there. From PCH, go north on Goldenwest, west on Garfield, and north on Edwards. From the 405, take Beach Boulevard or Brookhurst south to Garfield. Head west on Garfield, etc.

From Edwards, turn into Central Park Drive (which is located between Ellis and Slater off Edwards) and park towards the end of the street in the parking lot. Follow the painted line to Shipley Nature Center.

Stream Ecology Class at Starr Ranch

Taught by Dave Bontrager

In the spring of 2002, Starr Ranch Sanctuary offered a Stream Ecology class taught by Biologist-Educator Dave Bontrager. The class met for 5 hrs on 4 Saturdays. In the advertisement for that class Dave remarked, “One thing for sure, when the class is over we’ll all agree we’ve only scratched the surface and we need at least 10 more meetings.” Although a bit overstated, this prophecy was indeed fulfilled. Nearly every student agreed that the class should be expanded and that’s what we plan to do this fall—by 16 hrs. Here’s the plan.

IN THE FIELD: Over half of all class time will be spent in the field compiling an inventory of plants and animals living in Bell Creek and in the adjacent riparian corridor. We will examine and compare the several types of riparian habitat found throughout the Sanctuary. Bell Creek is home to a diverse and interesting group of macroinvertebrates, mostly insects. We’ll look at them and talk about their life histories, including how they are adapted to an aquatic life and how they interact to form a major part of the aquatic food web. We will also investigate the differences in macroinvertebrate populations in polluted and unpolluted water. Bird surveys will reveal what birds occupy the riparian corridor and how they use it. At all times we’ll be looking for links between the aquatic stream community and the adjacent plant communities.

IN THE CLASSROOM: (I) Lab Sessions. Plant and animal specimens collected in the field will be brought back to the classroom for closer study.(II) Lecture. As time allows, topics from the following list will be covered in lecture and discussion: (1) The Unique Challenges of Life in Intermittent Streams: How to Survive a Raging Torrent in Winter and a Shrinking Puddle at Summer’s End, (2) Structural and Behavioral Adaptations of Aquatic Plants and Animals: Life in Flowing Waters, (3) The Aquatic Food Chain: Relationships Between Aquatic Plants and Aquatic Animals, (4) Macroinvertebrates: Their Life on, Under, and Beside the Water, (5) Links Between Riparian and Aquatic Habitats: Their Physical and Biotic Interdependence, (6) Plants and Animals of the Riparian Corridor: Life Beside the Water, (7) Birds of the Riparian Corridor: Residents or Only Visitors? (8) The Riparian Plant Communities of Starr Ranch, (9) The Hydrologic Cycle of Streams: The Movement of Water From Earth to Atmosphere to Earth, (10) The Physical Structure, Function, and Dynamics of Stream Ecosystems: Habitats of Constant Change.

DATES: Saturdays 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM Sept. 13, 20, Oct. 18, 25, Nov. 15, 22

RESERVATIONS: 949-858-0131. Class Limit: 20 Cost: $75

QUESTIONS: Contact Dave at 541-937-3970, e-mail to:, or call the Starr Ranch office at 949-858-0309.

7th Annual “Date with Nature”

The Donna O’Neill Land Conservancy (formerly known as the Rancho Mission Viejo Land Conservancy) will present a Mountain Lion Festival, Saturday, October 4, 2003 from 1 to 5 PM. Events will include learning to track wild animals, crafts, a climbing wall, digging for fossils, and guided nature walks.

Tickets/Donations: Members—$80/family of 4 or $40/adult, $10/child. Non-members—$100/family of 4 or $50/adult and $15/child. For more information, call 949.489.9778; email

California Native Plant Society, San Diego Chapter

The San Diego Chapter 2003 Fall Native Plant Sale will be Saturday, October 18 and will begin at 9:15 a.m. for CNPS members and 10:00 a.m. for the general public. CNPS will offer books, posters, information, and advice from experienced Chapter volunteers.

The sale will take place in the Casa del Prado courtyard in Balboa Park, San Diego, located on Village Place across from the San Diego Natural History Museum. Come early for a better selection! The sale will remain open until 2:00 p.m. but in the past most material has been gone before then.

El Dorado Nature Center Native Plant Sale

The Friends of El Dorado Nature Center will hold a California native plant sale on Saturday, October 25, 9 AM – 2 PM. Over 1,000 native plants will be available along with wildflower seeds, gardening tips, and information. The center is located at 7550 E. Spring St., Long Beach CA, 90815. A vehicle entry fee of $5 will be credited toward a native plant purchase of $50 or more.


And then, of course, there’s the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Sale coming up on November 1! Phew! There is no excuse not to fill every spot in the garden with natives!

Hold the Date!
Community Conservancy International invites you to attend a public planning workshop to restore Big Canyon above Upper Newport Bay. Big Canyon suffers from serious water contamination, flood damage, and habitat loss. This project will develop a conceptual plan to restore Big Canyon’s natural habitats, improve public trails, and clean up polluted urban runoff.

The meeting will take place on Thursday, September 4, from 6 to 9 PM at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 600 Saint Andrews Road, Newport Beach—across from Newport Harbor High School. For more information, call Community Conservancy International at 310.475.0797 or visit

Southern California Botanists 29th Annual Symposium

Saturday, October 18, 2003, 9 AM to 4 PM, Ruby Gerontology Center, CSUF, 800 N. State College Blvd.


Early registration $35–$45 at the door. Symposium fee includes a one-year membership to SCB, 6 issues of Leaflets and 2 issues of Crossosoma.

Send registration fee along with your name, address, and email to: Southern California Botanists, Department of Biology, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton CA 92834. Make checks payable to SCB.

For more information. Visit the SCB website at or contact Susan Hobbs (Secretary) at

CalEPPC Symposium 2003

October 2 – 4, North Tahoe Conference Center


To fully appreciate the content of this information-packed symposium and for all the details, go to the CalEPPC website at You will find other interesting resources there.

Local Walks

Laguna Coast Wilderness: 949-494-9352.

For walks in the Northern and Southern Reserves call The Nature Conservancy at 714-832-7478.

Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park:

Thomas Riley Regional Park: 949-728-3420

Rancho Mission Viejo Land Conservancy: 949-489-9778

Crystal Cove State Park: 949-497-7647
Docent-led hikes in the backcountry every Saturday and Sunday. Plant walk with Sarah Jayne on Saturday, September 20. Meet at 9 AM at the Ranger Station inland of PCH at El Moro School, between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach. Parking is $5.

New Membership Manager

Joan Hampton has taken over membership database responsibilities. She has found some discrepancies between local and statewide data. and is asking for your help: If you have had a change in your address, zip, telephone, email or other data over the last couple of years, please provide her with the correct information. Check your mailing label and notify her if you find any errors.

If you have email, please send messages to her with a copy to Marin Lemieux, her counterpart at the CNPS state office. Joan R. Hampton (hndrbean@adelphia.nets) Cc: Marin Lemieux ( If you don’t have email, please phone Joan afternoons or evenings at (714) 283-9146. As before, renewals and new memberships are handled by the CNPS state office.