Newsletter 2004 January – February

California Native Plant Society

Orange County Chapter

January/February 2004



From the Retiring President

When Tony Bomkamp stepped down as chapter President at the end of 1998 and I was asked to accept the nomination for chapter president. I can’t remember exactly what I expected, but I have learned so much more about our native plants and habitats, our fellow organizations trying to protect our wildlands, as well as meeting many very interesting people from throughout the state.

Running a chapter is serious work and thankfully I have enjoyed valuable help both from the state board in Sacramento, and here in Orange County from my fellow chapter board members. On a personal note I have developed many good friendships during this time and carry with me many warm and sometimes humorous memories. Hauling/rolling boulders up the hill at UCI Arboretum on a CNPS workday. Sitting alongside our chapter members at various talks, lectures and symposia throughout southern California. Our chapter field trips! Remember ‘Pickeringia or bust’ on the San Juan Trail, the summer trip up to Mineral King, or the visit to the Parker’s cabin up in the San Bernardino Mountains? I have also enjoyed meeting new members, sharing a laugh at the chapter board meeting, checking out a member’s native garden, calling strangers to ask them to speak and discovering intelligent and generous people who have provided excellent talks for our chapter. Of course we don’t forget our core of volunteers who for years have helped us by volunteering at our chapter plant sales and outreach events. I think we all share good memories of productive times.

After five years as chapter President it is time to move over and let another pilot take the controls for a while. I have been very honored and proud to serve the chapter as its leader during a time when several worthwhile programs have been started, others expanded, and excellence in several other areas maintained. Of course, the vast chunk of credit must go to a fantastic core of volunteers and to board members we are privileged to have, and it has been extremely rewarding working with them on behalf of our native flora.

Just to mention a few of the issues/projects that have keep us so busy: Our Scholarship and Grants Program has expanded, touching elementary, high school and college levels. Chapter Plant Sales, our main fundraiser, have grown and now include a spring sale. We have greatly expanded our presence at UC Irvine Arboretum, helping to develop its native collection. We have established a CNPS presence at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden’s huge fall plant sale. We now have a CNPS presence at several annual conservation/ecology events. We have continued to provide interesting and diverse field trips. We have provided a variety of relevant and interesting speakers at our monthly chapter meetings. We have expanded our conservation efforts throughout the county, writing letters, attending and arranging meetings, and when necessary joining law suits. Our chapter newsletter is recognized as one of the finest in the state. We continue to expand our selection of books for sale at our chapter meetings. From hospitality at meetings to long range planning to assure our chapter’s future relevance, we are on the move with a distinct desire to do even more!

Congratulations (and a huge ‘Thank You’) to Sarah Jayne for accepting the nomination for chapter president. She is organized, curious, focused, farsighted, and energetic. Her knowledge of native plants and her many other talents will go far in helping the chapter move ahead. When I announced her election at our last general meeting I overheard (during the well deserved applause) a not so quiet remark from the crowd, “Wow, something else for her to do!” It is true that Sarah has been among our busiest and most productive board members, doing the newsletters, handling the field trips, helping with the plant sale, etc. etc. Always in the background doing so much—without her efforts it is impossible to imagine where the chapter would be today! Now she takes over and I know she will get tremendous help from all our members.

Calendar of Events

Jan 3……………….. Shipley NC Workday

Jan 8……………………….. Board Meeting

Jan 9-Feb 29. “Poppies to Prickly Pears”

Jan 15……………………. Chapter Meeting

Jan 17………….. Crystal Cove plant walk

Feb 5……………………….. Board Meeting

Feb 7……………….. Shipley NC workday

Feb 19…………………… Chapter Meeting

Feb 21………….. Crystal Cove plant walk

Thursdays, 10-1…………. UCI arboretum

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.

Next, a big thanks to the chapter board itself. These are chapter folks who have answered the call, giving much of their time and energy to help insure the running of the chapter and its various committees. Some old faces have moved away and new faces emerged over the years, but still the work of the chapter is being done. In fact, new projects are being planned as you read this! I encourage any who have a sincere interest in our wildlands and our native flora to consider helping with some small duty (or a large one!). So, please consider asking any board Member or chapter officer what else there is to do and how you can help (or don’t be surprised if they ask you!)

I guess it bears mentioning that I won’t really be going anywhere. [Hooray! The Ed.] I’ll still arrange programs, help with the plant sale, do an article for the newsletter now and then, and stay active with horticulture issues. And as Past President I will be helping Sarah ease into her new responsibilities as well as serving on special projects as she delegates. My very best to all and again an invitation to get more involved with chapter activities, whether it is becoming active on the board itself or on one of its sub-committees, or buying a Ceanothus at the plant sale, going on a field trip, or attending a meeting of interest. Do yourself a favor: plan to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities that the California Native Plant Society here in Orange County provides. You won’t be sorry!

Dan Songster, Past President

As Dan passes his huge torch into my faltering hands, I know that I will gather the strength to carry it only with the support of all of you. Please help me fulfill the goal of education, appreciation, and preservation that is the mission of the California Native Plant Society. Our native plants need us!

—Sarah Jayne, President

Chapter Meetings

Thursday, January 15—California’s Oaks

Speaker: Dr. Pam Muick

Pamela C. Muick is the Executive Director of California Native Plant Society. Prior to CNPS, Pam served as the Executive Director of Solano Land Trust for six years where she was responsible for raising more than $7 million dollars and protecting over 4,000 acres of farmland and 4,000 acres of open space, including King Ranch, Jepson Prairie and Lynch Canyon. Pam developed the first comprehensive countywide plan for farmland protection in Solano County. Also, she was part of a coalition that developed an open space vision for Solano County.

Prior to the land trust, Pam was actively engaged in land management, particularly of California’s oak habitats, for over twenty years. She designed and implemented habitat restoration projects in San Joaquin, as well as in Sonoma and Monterey counties. On these and other projects she has collaborated with a broad spectrum of public and private entities.

Based on her years of experience in oak habitats Pam originated the idea for the book Oaks of California, which she co-authored. She was an editor of The Ecological City: preserving and restoring urban biodiversity, and has written numerous articles. Pam has taught at San Francisco State University, UC Berkeley and UC Extension.

From 1992 to 1994, Pam worked with the US Agency for International Development in Washington D.C on biodiversity issues in Asia as an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow. This prestigious fellowship included travel assignments in Nepal, Pakistan and Thailand.

Pam received masters and doctoral degrees from UC Berkeley, in Forestry and Wildland Resource Policy & Management, based on research on oak regeneration and restoration. She earned an undergraduate biology degree from Sonoma State and an associate degree from Santa Barbara City College.

Copies of Oaks of California will available for purchase or bring your own copy for signing by the co-author.

Thursday, February 19—Fire Ecology and Management of California Forests and Scrublands

Speaker: Dr. Jon Keeley

Recently we in the southland experienced several of the most widespread and destructive fires in southern California’s recorded history. Orange County was thankfully spared the destruction that struck surrounding counties, and many of us who were here for the Laguna Fire in 1993 know just how lucky we were this time with extremely dry conditions and steady Santa Ana winds. There is a desire to understand both the cause as well as what can be done to prevent such destruction of life and property, including the burning of thousands of acres of natural habitat. Jon Keeley will talk about what promotes fires of this devastating nature, the differences between conifer and chaparral fires, and some misconceptions regarding fuel loads. Dr. Keeley will show how other factors, including sprawling development and subsequent populations near interface, have a greater effect than “fuel load”. If his studies and conclusion are accepted to any degree by agencies and decision makers it may potentially change, at least to some degree, land development and fire control practices in the wild lands. Topics specific to Orange County and the controversy over prescribed burns will also be discussed.

Dr. Keeley earned his Ph.D. in botany and ecology from the University of Georgia in 1977 and has a Master’s degree in biology from San Diego State University. He is currently a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, stationed at Sequoia National Park and is an adjunct professor in the department of Organismic Biology, Ecology and Evolution at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is also a research associate of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.

After the Wildfires…

In a letter written to local papers following the recent fires, Carrie Schneider, CNPS, San Diego Chapter President, brought up several points that are often skirted during the “wildfire talks” that inevitably follow such disasters. They are tough issues that need to be addressed. Please consider the following excerpts from Carrie’s letter.

Regarding Brush clearance zones:

“…After the fire many people wanted to greatly increase brush clearance zones. We were concerned that this approach would be expensive, damaging, and worst of all, ineffective.

“We discovered that brush clearance zones are already as wide as they need to be, based on scientific research into how and why buildings burn, which shows that radiant heat from burning material acts over a very short distance in terms of directly igniting a building. (For more information, see the extensive work by Jack Cohen, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, We also concluded that the term ‘brush control zone’ is deceptive, because it encourages home owners to think that the only danger to their homes are native plants, allowing them to overlook combustible material such as wood piles, deck awnings, wood fences, wooden decks and outbuildings, and ornamental plants, all of which can ignite a susceptible house.”

Points from a checklist of items that each county should be considering:
  • Consult with fire-safety professionals and building experts to come up with a complete set of recommendations….
  • Provide incentives for homeowners to implement the recommendations.
  • Work with insurance industry… [to benefit]…those who implement the recommendations.
  • Concentrate development in defendable areas….
  • Engage in thoughtful and effective fuel modification in defensible space around structures.…[Resources are available]…to guide homeowners in these activities.

“After each major fire, task forces are organized and come up with recommendations to reduce the chances that lives and property will be lost to fire. While some recommendations are implemented, the important ones—location, design, and construction of homes—have always been deferred. We hope it will be different this time.”

—Carrie Schneider, President

CNPS, San Diego Chapter

Note: The San Diego Chapter CNPS has been collecting books, equipment and other “stuff” for those in the environmental and science community who lost their homes, reference libraries and businesses in the recent fires. To see what is still needed, visit the fire donations web page at


More Chapter Accomplishments…

The Nov/Dec newsletter contained a column titled “Do You Know What They Did Last Month?” Members commented favorably about news of recent chapter successes, so let’s do it again. Here is a sample of activities and accomplishments experienced since the last newsletter.

Several members staffed the CNPS booth at the successful Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden plant sale. A real bonus with this activity was speaking with members from other chapters. EVERYONE who goes ends up buying plants, and some of us are still trying to figure out where to put those plants in the ground.

Plants used by local Indians 500 years ago were presented to a fourth grade class at Santiago Hills Elementary School. Plant samples were placed on student’s desks for touching and smelling. By far, their favorite item was lemonade berries provided by Sarah Jayne!

Do you find growing and landscaping natives challenging? Landscape architect Greg Rubin from San Diego County presented guidelines, explanations, and all sorts of simple solutions at the November lecture. His speech was supplemented with attractive slides. This lecture is a must see for every gardener.

Chapter President Dan Songster traveled to Berkeley as our representative at the quarterly CNPS Chapter Council meeting. Our “Why Grow Native Plants?” brochure was presented and well received.

Meeting book sales received a fresh appearance in December. Seventy books were added from six different sources, and prices were deeply discounted on much of the pre-existing stock. If you missed December’s meeting, attend January’s meeting and look over the remaining new and discounted books. By the way, ten copies of “Oaks of California” were ordered for January’s oak presentation by Pam Muick. You may want to arrive early before the books are sold out.

At the December meeting, Bob Allen and Chris Barnhill presented a popular lecture of selected and rare Orange County wildflowers. Photos and speech material provided a preview of their upcoming book, Field Guide to Orange County Wildflowers, Including the Santa Ana Mountains. They also invited members to join them in field research this spring. [Dates, times, locations in the next newsletter] Keep your third Thursday of each month open for future chapter meetings. The program schedule for 2004 continues with hot topics and respected speakers (see notes on our January and February meetings).

Help us build on these accomplishments. Attend monthly meetings and field trips, establish a native plant garden at a school (we have the book, grants, and experts), or get involved with local conservation and city planning issues. I would love to see your activity and name in this column!

Brad Jenkins


Announcing a Very Special Event…

Native Plant Photo Exhibit at Casa Romantica in San Clemente

From Poppy to Prickly Pear: California’s Native Plants” is the title of a beautiful photography exhibit to be displayed beginning in January at historic Casa Romantica in San Clemente. The exhibit was put together by CNPS members Marcus and Rosalie Wardell and has already been shown in Northern California. It opens on Friday, January 9, with a special reception and runs until Sunday, February 29. Exhibit hours are Tuesday and Thursday from 1 – 5 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. The address is 415 Avenida Granada, San Clemente.

Visits can be made during regular hours, or for more fun, attend one of the special events being prepared. Casa Romantica is holding an opening reception Friday evening January 9, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., to celebrate the groundbreaking on the Casa’s native plant garden. Meet the landscape architect Isabelle Greene. Enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres and live music by a classical quartet. Tickets are $30. Reservations can be made by calling 949.498.2139.

Another opportunity to visit along with many CNPS members is being arranged and is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, January 31, during the regular 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. hours. We are lining up a speaker and will notify San Diego members as soon as the date is confirmed. Check the chapter web site ( as the date draws near or call Brad Jenkins at 714.730.6023. Other forms of communication will help spread the word as well.

For more information about Casa Romantica visit


I am profoundly sad that though most people realize the fallibility of human life, they do not spread that realization to all life—to the plants and animals that are not aware of the need for self protection.

—David Ackerman, LATimes, 10-15-03

There is an interesting and encouraging report regarding a federal program to develop native plant materials for post-disturbance revegetation, ecosystem restoration, and other uses on the CNPS Federal Issues Website: go to click the “issue Lists” page and then “Good News”

BOLSA CHICA: State purchase of an additional 42 acres of Bolsa Chica lowlands moved one step closer in September when the property owner’s contractor began extensive sampling for toxics in the Fieldstone property. Since the property is to be part of the wetland restoration, the state refuses to take title until it has been cleared of substances that would be harmful to wildlife. Another step took place in September when oil company crews began the complicated task of clearing oil wells out of the area designated for restoration. Once 56 wells are capped and all surface traces removed, the ground will be contoured and an ocean inlet carved to provide wetland habitats for hundreds of species of birds, fish and other wildlife. See

COYOTE HILLS: Public hearings on the proposed development will begin in January 2004. Friends of Coyote Hills, their attorney, and various experts have found the DEIR inadequate and in violation of CEQA. See

DANA POINT HEADLANDS: The Coastal Commission will hear the Headlands issue again on January 15 at the Montage Hotel in Laguna Beach. Contact by January 12 to get the exact time and parking information. A recent chat with Commission staff revealed their feeling that more communication with the Commissioners is needed re the site’s ESHA and how the proposed hotel, in particular, will destroy it. Discussion at the recent CNPS SoCal Conservation meeting re the Headlands owner’s plan revision (which is still inconsistent with the Coastal Act) vs CNPS’ science-based assessment (under which the revision provides a botanically viable reserve area) brought a consensus that Coastal Act consistency was more important. The Dana Point Headlands Action Group’s lobbying campaign continues. Contact

PUENTE-CHINO HILLS: As of mid-November, Brea and La Habra have approved funding to hire a PR firm to guide their effort to save the hills around Brea, threatened by the AERA/City of Industry projects. Whittier was considering approving funding for the effort. See

RANCHO MISSION VIEJO: Toll-road issues have been foremost in the last month or so. The Southern Subregion NCCP DEIR will be out in January or February See

SADDLEBACK CANYONS: The Board of Supervisors approved the “vesting tentative tract maps” in mid-November, despite the pending lawsuit on the County’s approval of the tracts themselves. Canyons Defenders have appealed this decision. See

SANTA ANA RIVER: Banning Ranch Park and Preserve Task Force is working to help the landowner see the win-win potential for the property to be acquired by a state agency or non-profit conservation group. See

TRABUCO DISTRICT, CLEVELAND NATIONAL FOREST: The recent Senate filibuster against the federal energy bill was a temporary reprieve for the long stretch of the District’s eastern slope that would be impacted by the proposed Electricity Transmission Right of Way. But the bill will be taken up again, and it’ll be a hard fight to defeat it. The Santa Ana Mountains Task Force of the Sierra Club will hold a meeting on January 27, 7 – 9 p.m., re the Forest Plan Revisions for the four SoCal Forests. Address: Unitarian Universalist Church, 25801 Obrero, Mission Viejo. See

Celia Kutcher, Chapter representative, Dana Headlands and SCORE, Conservation Committee Co-chair

ÆÆÆIf one of these issues is in your back yard, consider getting involved. Contact Celia for more information.

CNPS Southern Regional Conservation Meeting, November 15, 2003

Representatives from each of the ten southern California chapters reported on issues in their areas. The upshot: from the urbanized coastal plain to the farthest reaches of seemingly still-wild deserts and mountains, development plans abound and the natural world—and the laws that protect it—are under siege.

Highlights of the general discussions:

Funding for Southern California Botanist position: Ileene Anderson has been the one and only paid (part-time at that) CNPS Botanist for all ten SoCal chapters for several years, clearly an impossible task. General consensus is that there should be two or more botanists. Accordingly, a CNPS donor campaign will get underway in early 2004 to raise funds for at least one such position. The spring appeal may also focus on this need. Please be as generous as you can.

Fires and their aftermath, what CNPS can do:

  • Influence policies of land resource agencies, at all levels, to get them on the same page regarding brush management, post-fire rehab, and development patterns and building codes to avoid fire loss. Existing CNPS policies on these issues need to be publicized and brought to bear. Stand together with agencies that do follow sound rehab policies, if necessary, against lawsuits brought by those insisting on unsound policies. Publicize the research that shows which management methods are effective and non-effective.
  • Work with other environmental groups on “help the hillsides” issues, to redirect well-meant urge to “help replant” into biologically sound revegetation projects.
  • Work with horticulture people on defensible space/interface issues and how native plants are part of the solution.
  • Form a working group for fire issues, to focus on all the above.
  • CNPS should be a strong presence at any post-fire conferences; organize one if none are happening otherwise. Aim at bringing together lots of different disciplines/viewpoints: architects, planners, water agencies, environmental groups, ecologists, weed-regulation and fire-clearance agencies, other non-native plant folks.
  • Post-fire research needs are ideal for Master’s projects: A list of “fire casualty” species; Conservation/recovery plans similar to those of the New England Wildflower Society, for different municipalities, to name two.

Strategic Lawsuits: CNPS’s lack of strategic legal action is due to “un-ripe” opportunities and unfriendly courts; it is not a non-strategy. Look for such lawsuits, those that will advance case law; this gives CNPS the most bang for the buck. CNPS’s legal committee and Board of Directors must approve CNPS participation before any fund will be committed to a legal action.


Opportunities To Help…

Progress On UCI Arboretum Native Collection Project!

After almost two years of Thursday mornings, OC CNPS Weed Crew’s patient de-weeding at the UCI Arboretum has begun to pay off. There was actually a moment before much rain had fallen when weeds were hard to come by!

A new Coastal-Bluff Scrub display area is developing in a high-visibility area that was largely bare except for weeds. Long-term active weed control was a very necessary first step to prevent such a development from being swamped by weeds before its new plants get established.

To develop the display, about 50 tons of mixed decomposed granite and sand were brought in and bulldozer-sculpted to look like sandstone outcrops with sandstone boulders placed to complete the setting. A new path has been graded through the area, and nearby paths have been re-graded and realigned. Irrigation upgrades are in process to ensure that new plantings will receive the proper amount of water year-round. Recent rains are watering-in and settling the “outcrops” nicely.

Some 400 plants, grown from documented seed wild-collected by Arboretum Curator Mark Elvin, are to be planted on and around the “outcrops” and in nearby areas. Arboretum Director Dr. Peter Bowler’s classes will be installing plants, starting in late January. An OC CNPS workday is TBA, in coordination with this work. Please let Celia know if you’d like to help with the classes and/or join the workday.

The weeds are not conquered! Winter rains will bring on a new crop, from seeds of years gone, and the Weed Crew will continue the battle. Every weed removed before it can reseed means hundreds or thousands fewer weeds next year. In the long run, it means that the Arboretum’s native collection will become the beautiful garden that it can be, that new displays can be developed and old ones revitalized without being quickly re-smothered by weeds.

Join us on Thursdays, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Park free on the gravel area behind the greenhouse. Hat, gloves, sturdy work shoes, sunscreen, and water are advised. Bring your favorite weeding implement if you like. Cancelled if more than 1/4 inch of rain falls within 24 hours beforehand; call Celia before 8:30 on Thursday morning if in doubt.

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

The first Saturday of each month is public restoration work and tour day. Arrive with gloves, hat, sunscreen, etc. to help weed, plant, or—build a vernal pool?—from 9 a.m. to noon. Tours at 11. January 3 and February 7.

The third Sunday of each month is Nature Center enjoyment day. Gates are open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for strolling and talking with docents. January 17 and February 21.

For more information visit

Directions: The Shipley Nature Center is located in Huntington Central Park. 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, north on Edwards. From Edwards, turn right on Central Park Drive, located between Ellis and Slater off Edwards, and park in the lot at the end of the street. Follow the painted line to Shipley Nature Center. Tools are provided.

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 the third Saturday, January 17 and February 21. Meet at 9 a.m. at the Ranger Station inland of PCH at El Moro School, between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach. Parking is $5.

We have an excellent selection of field trips coming up. Details to follow in the March/April newsletter.

More Opportunities and Events…

TPF’s First Annual Native Plant Garden Tour

On Sunday, March 28, 2004, the Theodore Payne Foundation is offering a self-guided tour of twenty gardens in and around the Los Angeles area. Check their website at for ticket purchase, program, and tour details.

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Sunday, January 11—Garden Tour: Culture and Botany

Sunday, January 25—Birding at Newport Back Bay and San Joaquin Wildlife Basin

Saturday & Sunday, February 6 & 7—Lichen Identification Class

Saturday, February 21—Winter Care and Maintenance of a Native Plant Garden

Sunday, February 22—The Genus Ribes: Plant Identification Workshop

Saturday – Monday, February 28 – March 1—Field Trip: Geology and Archeology of the East Mojave Desert

Enrollment is limited and pre-registration is required. Call 909.625.8767 x224 or visit the website at

Spring Classes at Starr Ranch with
Dave Bontrager

The Identification and Natural History of Birds

Saturdays 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.

March 27, April 3, May 1 & 8, June 12 & 19, July 17 & 24

Cost: $75 per person

Class Limit: 20

Field Natural History and Ecology

Sundays, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.

March 28, April 4, May 2 & 9, June 13 & 20, July 18 & 25

Cost: $75

Class Limit: 20

For more information, call 949.858.0309. To make reservations, call 949.858.0131. Visit the Starr Ranch website at

The Jepson Herbarium Public Programs

While most of the workshops take place in and around Berkeley, weekend workshops occur in a variety of locations. This is a partial listing:

January 23 – 25, 2004
Hastings Reserve, Carmel Valley

Death Valley’s Endemic Flora
April 8 – 11, 2004
Death Valley National Park

Spring Flora and Ecology Across Kern County
May 6 – 9, 2004
Kern County

Biogeography and Endemic Plant Communities of the Big Bear Valley Area
May 20 – 23, 2004
San Bernadino Mountains

For more information, contact Cynthia Perrine or Staci Markos, 510.643.7008, or


Beginner’s Corner: Learning More About Native Plants

—Joan Hampton,

I’m the person you saw at the last plant sale who responded with a look of panic when asked for gardening recommendations. Instead, I will provide some suggestions on how to learn more about the interesting plants that are native to our local wilderness areas. The “Beginner” is me, and I will share my favorite books and websites in this article.

The materials discussed are chosen based on my personal preferences. I will start at the most basic level—photo identification—and continue through materials for botany self-study. Not covered are the various excellent classes offered at local colleges and botanical gardens.

Where to shop and what to expect:

New books: the “big box” bookstore chains are not your only option. Acorn Naturalists at 155 El Camino in Tustin carries a wide range of science and education resources, including books on botany. Go there to browse, or to attend the monthly presentations. Phone (714) 838-4888 or visit their website at

Local chapters of environmental organizations (such as CNPS or The Audubon Society) sell botany-related books.

Used books: Many of my favorite books are out of print, but widely available on the Web. My favorite site is ABE Books, at Their dealer network is worldwide, and I’ve never been disappointed with a purchase. Another excellent source is, whose listings include detailed information, such as the publisher, number of pages, the ISBN number, and more.

“Dental floss” books: this is my term for books that have cheap, glued bindings that allow pages to fall out if the book is old or much-used. To keep such books from falling apart, drill three holes near the spine through the top, center and bottom of the book. Then take a large-eyed sewing needle, thread it with dental floss, and sew the pages together.

Beginner books: photo identification

Nearly all the books, and not just photo ID ones, vary in how they are organized, and what supplementary materials they contain. Many, for example, include diagrams of the parts and characteristics of leaves and flowers. They commonly include a glossary of the botanical terms. Before purchasing any book, consider the following:

Book organization:the plants in a book may be organized in one of several different ways. An absolute beginner may prefer one where plants are sorted by color. I do not recommend this for anyone wanting to become more skilled because closely related plants wind up in different parts of the book. The system I prefer is organization by family, which is most consistent from book to book. Second best (in my opinion) is organization by vegetative type, such as shrubs, vines, annuals and so forth.

Indices: Check the indices in the back of the book, since you will find yourself using these often. The most useful ones list both scientific and common names, preferably mixed together. If the book is not organized by family, then the indices ought to include a list of the families and the species belonging to each.

If you want to limit yourself to one small book that covers quite a few of the most common Orange County plants, then consider Roadside Plants of Southern California by Thomas J. Belzer published in 2003 by Mountain Press. It is widely available in local stores. This handy little dental floss book is organized by vegetative types. It contains separate indices for scientific and common names, plus a family list.

At present, there is no photo-ID book specific to Orange County flora, although A Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Orange County is under preparation by authors Bob Allen, Chris Barnhill and Fred Roberts. In the meantime, the best resources are a pair of books on Santa Monica Mountain wildflowers, which include many species occurring in Orange County.

Nancy Dales’s Flowering Plants: the Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California (1986, rev. 2000) is published by CNPS and available locally. It is organized by family, but contains an index to flowers by color. Indices also include a glossary, a listing of plants by family, and a general index mixing scientific and common names.

The other Santa Monica book, unfortunately, can be hard to find, locally or online—but it’s worth the effort. Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains (2d edition, 1996) by Milt AcAuley and James Kennedy is from Canyon Publishing Company. The first part of the book contains photos of all the plants organized by color. The second part, containing descriptions and line drawings, is organized by family. The two parts are cross-referenced. Families, scientific and common names are mixed in a single index. The first edition was a dental floss book, and I may give this one the same treatment.

While not Southern California-specific, one other photo book deserves mention: Weeds of the West (Dianne Publishing, 2001). It is organized by family, and contains a glossary, a key to families, and a mixed listing of scientific and common names.

The Web also contains some excellent state-wide photo-identification sites. These include: (Michael L. Charters site) (U. of California)

CalPhoto (U.C. Berkeley)

Theodore Payne Foundation

Cal Lutheran

San Diego County-Scientific

Santa Monica Mountains

(To be continued next newsletter)