After months of rain we are finally in Spring! I’m sure most of you are knee deep in weeds and your mature plants are growing crazy which brings us to this month’s topic of pruning. As I mentioned several months ago, most California native plants bloom in March and April. Then they will began a vegetative growth spurt that will end in early September after which they will go into a dormant period due to our Mediterranean climate.
So how do we take advantage of the growth cycle to prune the natives in our gardens? My theory is to follow the bloom and seed transition. As I have discussed before, pruning during flower production is not productive. However, after flowers have gone to seed, it’s time to prune.
Pruning can vary depending on the genus and/or species of each plant. For example, Baccharis pilularis (coyote brush) can be cut to the ground and it will come back with a beautiful flush of new growth. On the other hand, Arctostaphylos species (Manzanitas) and Ceanothus species can be shaped but no more than what is needed to maintain their desirable size. Salvia species are late bloomers, so when they are finished blooming you can prune off the old flower stocks to promote a more compact plant. Perennials, such as Heuchera species and Iris douglasiana (Douglas iris), will respond to the removal of old leaves and flower stock pruning. California native grasses can also be cut back after their seed head production to create a more desirable appearance.
In summary, April and May are great months to prune California native plants lightly to promote a more desirable shape. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me. Hope you have an enjoyable summer. Until our next newsletter in the Fall, Happy Gardening.
The stars finally aligned for us. On March 21, 2019, our chapter had the opportunity to work with Bev Gingg and Learning Among the Oaks, a program that has been working to introduce young children to the oak woodland community at the Santa Margarita Ranch, and, more recently, at the Pismo Preserve. The successful program, started in 2005, is now part of the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo and has grown so that it services Ocean View Elementary in Arroyo Grande in addition to Santa Margarita Elementary School, the original ‘home-base’ for the program. Children are recommended by their teachers to be part of the nine-week Oak Ambassador Training Program in which they learn how to serve as a docent and lead hikes in the oak woodland for younger students and their families. The Ambassadors receive comprehensive training about the oak ecosystem through classroom lectures and field visits, and spend time shadowing older Ambassadors as docents so they are prepared to do the same when they become fifth graders.
CNPS participated in one of the classroom trainings by preparing a botany lesson for a group of very motivated Ocean View Elementary fourth graders. We displayed numerous plant specimens representing plant communities of the Pismo Preserve, as well as plants that illustrated different seed dispersal methods and leaf arrangements. We knew that our efforts in preparing the lab were well-received when we heard the excited exclamations as the kids filed into the room. Our favorites: “It smells so good in here!” and “Botany is the best!” It was a whirlwind of an hour, packed with opportunities to learn about xylem tubes through the magic of celery and water cohesion by combining droplets together with a toothpick; discovering the parts of a flower through a keying exercise; smelling and questioning the pungent leaves of some of our common local plants; and, for a few lucky kids, getting ‘stamped’ with the lovely spore print of goldback fern on their clothes. We even had an excellent slideshow to pull it all together, created and presented by the engaging Lindsey Roddick.
Lindsey, Bill Waycott, and Susi Bernstein made up the CNPS team of “Plant Nerds” this time, but we welcome any of you reading this article to join us next spring. There are plans to expand the program to additional schools in the future, and CNPS has been asked to conduct botany lessons for these schools as well. Would you like to join us? There are bright children out there with receptive, spongy little brains. YOU could inspire and help mold them into future conservationists and CNPS members. -Susi
Dana Elementary School, Nipomo
Here are a couple of projects CNPS is currently working on in Nipomo, CA. Last summer, we reported on work with a 5th Grade class at Dana Elementary School, who had helped plant a CA native garden on the north side of the Nipomo County Library. Now, six months later, that garden is flourishing and the librarian, Heidi LoCascio, has asked CNPS to organize a larger planting for the front of the Library. This new garden will be planted by the parents and children who use the library and live in the local community, at the end of April 2019.
The other project involves the current 5th Grade class at Dana Elementary, which is creating a California native and vegetable garden at their school. Two weeks ago, those kids sowed flats of wild flowers seeds (arroyo lupine, tidy tips, and CA poppies), along with lettuce seeds. By the end of April, the students will have prepared the garden soil, and by mid-May their native plant and veggie seedlings will be large enough to transplant into the garden, it is hoped that by the end of the school year during the second week of June, the kids will have flowers and veggies to take home and enjoy.
This plant was used for a variety of uses throughout California. The Chumash made a tea to put on poison oak to relieve the symptoms. They also made a felt cone from the dried leaves to burn on a patients skin to cauterize a wound (Source: Jan Timbrook). Leaves were placed in food storage containers, such as acorn granaries, to keep pests away. It was used ceremonially by many tribes. I think it has a lovely aroma, which according to some tribes, will give you pleasant dreams when put it under your pillow.
One time, many years ago, I volunteered to cut down a very large bush of poison oak next to a building at work because I did not think that I was very allergic to it. In the process of chopping it, there was so much sap that it went right through my clothes to my sweaty skin with open pores. I caught a bad case of it. I was on my way that weekend to a camping trip with the California Indian Basket Weavers Association in the Sierra foothills. I forgot to pack the Caladryl and was so miserable in the heat with my rash. I thought I might have to give up and go home. Then I remembered what I had heard about the mugwort. I asked one of the local women where it might grow nearby and she told me to go to where the highway goes close to the river. I gathered a bunch, crunched it up in a bucket of water. It kind of looked like Mug root beer. I found that when I sloshed it on my skin, I got just enough relief that I could stay at the event and enjoy myself.
Mugwort grows easily from runners and likes soggy winter soil that dries up in summer. It will die back then but come back when the rains start again. It likes the shade of oak trees, and will grow in sun if it has more water. It tolerates heavy clay soil just fine. It is often found along the side of trails and streams. It doesn’t have much in the way of flowers, but smells great.
I’ve collected my first seeds of 2019. Buttercup seeds are turning brown even as more buds open. Collecting will be an ongoing process which I can do easily since it is in my garden. This is just a reminder that seed season is upon us. As this newsletter is for both May and June and we won’t have another issue until October, this is my only opportunity to urge you to think of collecting seed for the seed exchange which will be held just before the chapter meeting in October.
We had more than seventy different species of seeds available last fall thanks to contributions from many of you. It would be fun to have more species and more people participating. We don’t mind duplicates. Perhaps there is genetic diversity between the seed from your yard and the seed from someone else’s. It all depends on pollen and the pollination. I have little ‘babies’ growing from seed I obtained at the seed exchange. I have a few Allium unifolium. The seeds did not germinate well for me and they don’t look happy. Time will tell. It’s fun to try though. The Ericameria ericoides are doing better.
Whether they will like my environment remains to be seen, but if they continue to survive I will have several to play with. It would be beautiful to have that splash of yellow in my yard. I planted Penstemon centranthifolius seeds from 2016 which were at our exchange several years ago. I made a mistake on that though. I planted them next to some Penstemon heterophyllus which germinates readily. I should have known better. Rain or watering may have knocked the seed into a different slot. It’s much better to plant similar things farther apart. Since my seed germination trays are out on tables by the garage and open to the wind and the birds I am not positive at this point that it’s really P. centranthifolius. It could be P. heterophyllus. Again time will tell. As they mature the plants will look very different.
I hope that some of you who got seed from the exchange have had success and will be enjoying the benefits of lots of plants with just a bit of time, soil and water. My favorite time is when the seeds first germinate. It’s fun to see what I can grow and what just doesn’t like my methods. It’s a bit of work to keep moving the plants up but once planted in the garden I can point to them and proudly say “I grew that from seed.” I hope to see you at the seed exchange in October.
The illustration on the cover of this Obispoensis is another of Heather Johnson’s wonderful watercolors. It was just too beautiful not to use, in spite of the fact its natural range barely reaches our Chapter’s area.
The text below was written by Alice Meyer back in the 1970’s or early 80’s for the local Audubon Chapter Newsletter. Alice, along with her husband, Bud, were the very first recipients of the Chapter’s Hoover Award. As you will probably gather from Alice’s discussion below, she was a very good native plant gardener. She is also the person most directly responsible for the creation of our annual plant sale back in the early 1970’s.
I feel compelled to add one additional tidbit about the Matilija poppy. It had a very important but behind-the-scenes role in a 1998 film entitled “The Mask of Zorro.” The plot of the movie involved the kidnapping of a young girl, who was then taken back to Spain where she grew up and where she was told she had been born. Upon returning to California, she remembered the odor of the plant her true parents had placed around her crib. That plant, of course, was the Matilija poppy which as you are about to learn is basically confined to California (Upper and Lower). But, let’s leave it to Alice to tell you the rest.
The Matilija poppy is regarded as one of our most magnificent perennial wild flowers, with its gray-green foliage and its 3-5 inch wide crinkly white flowers. It was discovered by Dr. Thomas Coulter, who named it after the Britsh astronomer Dr. Romney Robinson. Hence the botanical name, Romneya coulteri Rom-nee-a colt-er-i).
The common name, Matilija poppy, was bestowed because it grew so profusely in Matilija Canyon in Ventura County, but it is also found in canyons and washes from Santa Barbara to lower California at 1000-2500 feet. Locally one may see it occasionally along the roadside on Hwy 101 from San Luis Obispo to Arroyo Grande. It flowers from June to September. This plant is so attractive it is much in demand for home gardens, but nurseries have the plant for sale only occasionally.
Growing it from seed is difficult, since the seeds are very slow germinating – (up to 2 years). Germination can be hastened by planting in sand in a flat with a foot of pine needles on top, then burning the pine needles. When cool, remove the ashes and water the flat from the bottom. When the seedlings have a few true leaves, transplant into small containers. When containers are full of roots, transplant the plants in gallon cans.
Propagation may also be done from root cuttings taken in December or January, which is the easiest way to propagate the plant. After the plants are set out, they should receive supplemental water for the first two years, but when well established, natural rainfall should suffice.
Our Chapter almost always has it at our annual native plant sale in November. From conversations overheard at our plant sale Matilija poppy is relatively difficult to get started. Customers indicate that they have tried several years before having success, then they complain that once established, the species can be difficult to contain).
Melissa Mooney was recognized with the 2018 Hoover Award at our January Banquet, an honor that highlights her commitment to CNPS’ mission of understanding and documenting California’s flora, focused specifically on rare plants and plant communities. View more
During a recent CNPS Board meeting in Sacramento, I participated in a discussion on environmental justice. A quick search in Google defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Environmental justice addresses the phenomenon of poor communities being habitually situated in neglected, if not polluted environments, where access to clean air and water is often difficult. If we look around the state, we find underserved communities often lack modern infrastructure, access to utilities and internet, and sanitary conditions. There is also a dearth of information about healthcare, diet, and exercise. The fact is that low income communities have become marginalized because they have been denied the basic rights of clean air and water, community parks, open spaces, and educational resources.
Should CNPS have a concern for these issues? Does our advocacy for “all-things native plants” include environmental justice in its list of priorities? What do you think? At the top of the State CNPS webpage it reads, “We’re on a mission to save California’s native plants and places, using both head and heart. CNPS brings together science, education, conservation, and gardening to power the native plant movement.”
Personally, I think the strong connection between the native plant movement and the environmental justice movement is clear. A clean, pure, natural environment is everybody’s birthright, and a clean, pure, native plant environment is the essential ingredient for that to take place. As native plant lovers, we see the connection between a healthy environment and a healthy human existence; we see the relationship between clean, natural resources and quality of life. The work done by CNPS in native plant research and protection is known throughout the world for its environmental advocacy and conservation.
During the Board meeting, we talked about some simple approaches to being more “present” in the environmental justice conversation. CNPS’s commitment to maintaining plant diversity in this state (over 6,000 species of plants, a third of which are endemic), is a natural segue into a discussion about the diversity of the human family in California. We acknowledge that all species have intrinsic value and need to be secured. We give equal regard to poppies, redwoods, and bryophytes.
If environmental priorities are to manifest going forward, we need everybody at the table. We need the soccer moms, the plumbers, and the farm workers to join the biologists and the philanthropists, if there is to be equitable consensus on these issues. We need to listen to this conversation and participate in its discussion. We need to acknowledge this diversity and articulate its benefits. Awareness of these issues needs to spread across all communities, so there is real agreement on environmental integrity and fairness for all.
After several years of dryness, we are finally blessed with a cold and wet winter. With all this rain it’s important to go over a checklist for the Spring profusion of plant growth. Seeing flowers already showing on Salvia, Ceanothus, Manzanitas, and Mahonias, at this time, it’s important NOT to prune your native shrubs. Pruning now would only remove the new flower buds and destroy an important source of nectar for the bees, birds, insects and animals.
Second on the list is do not use pesticides unless you have a severe insect infestation. Spraying would produce a situation thatwould put bees and other good insects at risk. Now is the time to release beneficial insects into the garden. Most nurseries start to receive these insects, such as ladybugs, at this time of year.
Third, stake trees and remove broken branches. The heavy winds are great for removing dead branches from oaks and pine trees but they can also damage young trees and shrubs. While staking, take time to inspect the root zone to make sure not to drive a stake into a main root, this would only defeat the purpose of the staking.
Next, remove the largest weeds growing closet to the trunks of tree and shrubs. Don’t use Round-Up™. Large weeds can be pulled and composted. For smaller weeds, spray with straight vinegar. This will burn the small weeds and will not affect the soil. There are also several new organic based weed sprays mostly made from peppermint oil.
Last, do not rototill close to tree and shrub trunks. This weed control method works great but can cause serious damage to surface roots. Lastly, get your favorite chair and beverage ready so you can relax and enjoy your beautiful garden and the flowers to come!
Until next month, Happy Gardening; John Nowak, Plant Sale co-Chairperson.
A few years ago, I became interested in lichens and bryophytes during the winter months when there were few flowers to look for. I took a class on lichen ID up at U.C. Berkeley’s Jepson herbarium, and then another at the Santa Barbara botanic garden. I highly recommend these classes for anyone wanting to learn more about lichens. Most lichens have algae as a photosynthesizing component, others use a cyanobacteria in addition to its fungal component. CNPS has helped protect rare lichens as ranked plants, so I’m including them this month in Ethnobotany Notes.
People around the world use lichens for food, medicine, dying wool, and a variety of other uses. I have read that Native American people in the Pacific Northwest had traditionally eaten a type of Bryoria lichen, which was boiled or pit roasted in a special way to reduce the toxicity from the secondary compounds. I’ve also heard of friends who made an antibiotic salve from our local Usnea. Usnic acid has long been a part of commercial herbal deodorants and skin creams. There are reports that it was used for baby diapers as well. It is estimated that 50% of all lichen species have antibiotic properties.
Some lichens were used for poison, especially those high in vulpinic acid which tends to make a very yellow lichen. Lichens were also used in ancient Egypt as part of the embalming process. Lichens are a common source of natural dyes. Indigenous people in North America made a yellow dye from the Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina of the Sierras by boiling it in water. Some dyes can be extracted with boiling water, but others require ammonia fermentation, which is steeping the lichen in ammonia (traditionally urine) for at least two to three weeks. In the Scottish highlands, various lichens yielded red, orange, brown, and yellow dyes. In Europe, a purple was extracted from Roccella and Ochrolechia. Litmus, the pH indicator is extracted from the Roccella lichen.
Ethnolichenology has quite a Wikipedia page. I was surprised. It is well worth looking up, if only for the 19th century Japanese painting of Umbilicaria lichen gathering. If this has whetted your appetite for lichens, you can find lichen walks and workshop information at the California Lichen Society (CALS) website: californialichens.org. Sylvia Sharnoff has also written about lichens and people.
by Cathy Chambers
Photo: Red Usnea rubicunda at Los Osos Oaks Reserve; photo David Chipping
The native plant on the cover of this Obispoensis is a beautiful rendition of a species of the genus Calochortus. The painting is another of Heather Johnson’s. If you’re seeing it on the mailed version it will be in shades of gray. You can see the painting in the original spectacular color if you go to the Chapter website (cnpsslo.org). Heather identified the painting only as ‘mariposa’ and I’m not going to try to identify it to species. It often requires characters that are not present in the art work such as whether the fruit is pointed up or down. Besides, it’s the genus that’s discussed below.
Calochortus is a large genus (70 species) spread over the western third of the United States. The genus’ range extends north into Western Canada and south into Central America. That said, California has nearly half (27) of the species. Many of the California species are endemic, such as our own Chapter flower, the Obispo star tulip (Calochortus obispoensis). If you note that the species name (obispoensis) is the same as the name of our newsletter, it’s not a coincidence. Alice Meyer (our very first Hoover Award Winner) thought the species name of our endemic star tulip (found on local serpentine, i.e. Cuesta Ridge) was indicative of our Chapter area.
Calochortus is a genus in the lily family (Liliaceae). This large family of monocots is generally easy to recognize by its large showy flowers that often consists of three large showy petals and three usually colored sepals that often can be as large and as showy as the petals. Think lilies and/or tulips. However, that is not the case in this genus as their sepals are small. Like a lot of monocots Calochortus has 6 stamens and a single pistil that matures into a capsule. The genus takes these basic elements and produces at least three very distinctive flower shapes, which, in our area match the three common names most associated with this genus.
A 1998 evolutionary study (T.B. Patterson) of the genus determined that there were 4 evolutionary lines within the genus. Two of these lines correspond closely to two of the common names. These are mariposa lilies and fairy lanterns. In the fairy lanterns orglobe lilies, the flowers are nodding and the broad petals come together at their tips to form a hollow globe-like structure. Petal colors are usually subdued and lacking in conspicuous spotting. Fairy lanterns tend to be found in oak woodlands or closed woodlands.
In contrast, the mariposa lilies produce upright flowers with the petal tips spread apart so as to form a cup. The individual petals are usually ornamented with conspicuous markings. The markings make obvious a large, colored (nectary?) gland that usually occupies the base of each petal. This flower form is very widespread and I’ve seen it in the Sierras and the Great Basin. Flowers are usually arranged as seen in Heather’s painting. Obviously, Heather’s painting is of a species that would belong to this group.
Star-tulips make up the third flower form. This group usually produces less showy flowers with petals that are triangular in shape and of darker colors. In addition, the petal color is often difficult to see due it being hidden by the tufts of trichomes (hairs) that cover the upper surface. The petals are flat and all in the same plain. The flowers are usually orientated vertically so the petals resemble a 3-pointed star. Our Obispo star-tulip belongs to this group. Star tulips are often found in Chaparral or mountain woodlands. For the record, there is some confusion in my mind in the application of the common names –star-tulip and the cat’s ear mariposas.
The last evolutionary line is titled the cats ear mariposas. I’m not familiar with this name and when I tried to google it I got lots of remedies for curing problems with real cats ears. However, the species I know that were said to belong to this group had the mariposa lily flower configuration. The web noted that cat’s ear mariposas are associated with wet lands.
According to the web many of the Calochortus species were used by Native Americans for food (especially their bulbs), medicine and ceremony. One source noted that the bulbs were eaten by the Mormon settlers between 1853 and 1858 when famine threatened the new immigrants to the Great Salt Lake Valley, due to crop failures. I suspect many of the species in this genus would make excellent additions to any native plant garden, especially one that lies dormant and un-watered throughout the summer drought. The problem would be getting material to plant as few nurseries keep them in stock.