Invasive Species Watch

I’m pleased to start an Invasive Species Watch column to Obispoensis. I’ve been in the invasive species removal business since 1999 mainly working in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes and San Luis Obispo Creek. Those that know me many not think of me as a warrior however many people (thanks CCC’s!) and I have been battling bad guys such as Arundo, jubata grass, veldt grass, European beach grass, Russian wheat grass (some of the most insidious weeds are grasses!) cape ivy and ice plant for a long time. The satisfaction of this work arrives when a formerly infested area is re-taken by native plants. The best memory I have is from 2002 when a heavy veldt grass infestation was sprayed out at the then Tosco Buffer (now Phillips 66) which was followed by a lush wildflower display of goldfields, dune larkspur, owl’s clover, baby blue eyes, blue dicks, sky lupine, and fiddleneck. I’m still working on the same weeds and I’m seeing progress: Russian wheat grass and jubata grass have been nearly eradicated from the Dunes!  In future pieces I’ll be describing specific invasive species and what’s being done to control them.

by Mark Skinner

CNPS Chapter Council Meeting Update

I recently attended the CNPS Chapter Council meeting, held from March 11 to 13, 2016 in Southern California. The Chapter Council is the governing body of CNPS where representatives from each of the 35 chapters throughout the state along with administrative staff, meet during a weekend every three months to discuss the current issues facing this organization.  If there is a need for new policy or changes to existing programs, the council deliberates the issues and takes a vote to accept or reject.

The meeting was held in the Deane Dana Friendship Park Nature Center on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, over looking the Long Beach Harbor.  On Friday afternoon, I participated in the State Board meeting where it was decided to expand the administrative group by opening an office in the SF Bay Area.  During the Saturday session, there were presentations by the executive director, the legislative liaison, the board president, and the director of conservation.  Highlights included news of a budget surplus and the idea of creating a rain-day fund, the need to support new legislation currently moving through the California Senate and Assembly, the new five year strategic plan, new publications (available at the CNPS May meeting), and a presentation on the newly protected lands in the California deserts.  Sunday, I attended a workshop on BMPs (best management practices) for preventing the spread of the new strains of Phytophthora fungus that have contaminated some commercial nurseries in this state.  In the workshop, we learned how to grow healthy California native plants without exposing them to these diseases.

The next Chapter Council meeting is scheduled for 3rd to 5th June in the Tahoe area and 9th to 11th September in San Luis Obispo County. As the local hosts of the September meeting, we are starting preparations now. Members with an interest to participate in the planning and logistics for this meeting are asked to contact Bill Waycott ( We will need to arrange for a couple of meeting venues, organize meals for 75 plus participants, prepare a list local accommodations and camping options, schedule field trips, and invite a banquet speaker. As with all Chapter Council meetings, this meeting will be open to local member participation.  Please help us prepare.

Our local SLO Chapter Board of Directors held its bi- monthly meeting Thursday evening, 17th March 2016 in the community room of Whole Foods Market in San Luis Obispo.  Our next meeting will be Thursday, 19th May 2016 from 6 pm to 8 pm. All members are welcome to participate.

For more information on topics covered in the March Chapter Council meeting and the SLO Chapter Board of Directors meeting on 17th March, please contact Bill Waycott (

  1. New legislation moving through the CA Senate and Assembly
  2. New five year CNPS Strategic Plan
  3. The latest information about the CA Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan
  4. Notes from the SLO Chapter BOD meeting on 17th March 2016


Conservation: Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes

The Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes National  Wildlife is presenting a Comprehensive  Conservation Plan and its Environmental  Assessment  to the public with a comment  period that ends on April 16. A public  meeting will be held at the Ramona Garden  Park  Center in Grover Beach on March 22, 5:30-7:30.

The Refuge’s Draft Vision  Statement is “To conserve the dynamic  landscape and imperiled natural  resources…” and “… we protect the Dunes  Complex for everyone’s enjoyment…” and  “…the service works cooperatively with  other agencies, nonprofit organizations… .”  The history is that the refuge has probably  been successful in the protection of certain  species, especially snowy plover, and CNPS  serves on an advisory committee regarding  weed abatement.  Issues of public interaction  have improved lately.

The plan cites three alternatives. Alternative A is  “No Action” which would continue management  as in the past. Alternative B increases actions to  protect species, and increase interaction with  the public. SpeciWic mention is made of  protecting habitat for La Graciosa thistle and  marsh sandwort, while directing foot trafWic  away from plover nesting areas. Alternative C is  rather troubling, as it “will take into  consideration the forecasted decline in budgets  for the NWRS, proposes to reduce or eliminate  many of the current management activities  occurring on the refuge, as well as close the  refuge to all public access.”  The clear interest of  CNPS is support of Alternative B, but also to  offer CNPS as a more active partner in  conservation of the dune habitat. Alternative C  must not happen as it would, among other  things, shut CNPS out of the refuge and access to  Coreopsis Hill. You can send comments to:  PaciWic Southwest Region, Refuge Planning, U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service; 2800 Cottage Way,  W+1832; Sacramento CA 95825

You can email comments to  including  “Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes CCP” in the subject line.

David Chipping

Botanical Excursion Foray

Botanical Excursion Foray

The 21st Annual Spring Outing Botanical Excursion Foray, Retreat, and Escape to the Environment Brought to you by the new Bryophyte Chapter of the California Native Plant Society!

Friday to Monday, March 18-21, 2016 North Coast Range near Occidental, California

Founded in 1996, SO BE FREE is a series of West Coast forays started by the Bryolab at UC Berkeley, but open to all botanists. The main focus is on bryophytes, but we also encourage experts on other groups to come along and smell the liverworts. We welcome specialists and generalists, professionals and amateurs, master bryologists and rank beginners.

SO BE FREE is held each spring, somewhere in the Western US, associated with spring break at universities. Evening slide shows and informal talks are presented as well as keying sessions with microscopes. In addition to seeing interesting wild areas and learning new plants, important goals for SO BE FREE include keeping West Coast bryologists (and friends) in touch with each other and teaching beginners.

To see pictures and information from past outings, visit the SO BE FREE website (http://

Early Registration Deadline is Dec. 15, 2015. Regular registration Deadline is Feb. 19, 2016

Flyer (

Newsletter Editor and Hospitality Positions are Open

Newsletter Editor and Hospitality Positions are Open

Newsletter Editor and Hospitality Positions are Open! Our chapter is looking for a Newsletter Editor to produce our chapter newsletter, Obispoensis. If you like to write, edit and do a little page layout design, this position is perfect for you.

The newsletter is published eight times each year, monthly October through June except January. No previous experience is necessary. Contact Bob Hotaling, or Bill Waycott,

The Hospitality committee arrives at meetings early to organize and set up refreshments. Contact Mardi Niles (805) 489-9274, or Bill Waycott,, (805) 459-2103.

Requesting Native Plant Lists

Requesting Native Plant Lists

If you have a list of native plants observed in a specific area (e.g., Morro Bay State Park) or along a trail (e.g., Hazard Peak Trail at Montaña de Oro), CNPS wants to receive a copy. CNPS member Madeline Fay has volunteered to review the lists and bring the taxonomy up to date using the latest scientific names. With permission, the corrected copies will be placed on the Chapter website. Please contact Madeline by e-mail at, and she will be happy to work out the details with you. Thank you.

Conservation: Margarita Area, Biosolids, and Carbon Recycling

Conservation Committee Update

Margarita Area Specific Plan development area

When developers graded a population of Sanicula maritima without getting a permit from the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, the Department, the City of San Luis Obispo and CNPS were concerned. It turns out several populations sit in the Margarita Area Specific Plan development area, and the fate of the populations regarding mitigation is, at the time of writing, unclear. Whatever the outcome, our chapter will conduct a survey of the county to see if we can find any more populations of the plant and to assess the possibility of starting new populations. Bear in mind that CNPS has a long standing policy against mitigating losses by moving plants to other sites. Transplantation seldom works, and is not a valid mitigation for destroyed habitat in the Margarita Specific Plan. Gaining knowledge of the plant’s status and the most suitable habitats will better inform our response to this issue.

Land application of biosolids

County planners took a proposed revision of the ordinance on the land application of biosolids, the ‘nice’ term for the dried sludge coming from sewer plants. Planners wanted to start an EIR but a split Board declined as the interim ordinance seems to work and is good for another two years. Commenters stated that the proposed ordinance does not meet the requirements spelled out by the Board and a Sewage Sludge Land Application Task Force in 2002. CNPS has been concerned that sludge might be dumped on rangeland or agricultural marginal lands, thus changing nutrient balances and habitat, so we will be keeping an eye on the issue.

Carbon recycling

The carbon recycling issue is at the core of global warming issues, and warming was made evident by the current blooming of Chorizanthe populations on serpentine in eastern Montana de Oro Park. I hope the pollinators will be around to do their work.

David Chipping, Professor of Geology (Emeritus), Cal Poly State University David Chipping was educated at Cambridge, England and Stanford, California. His doctoral thesis addressed the displacements of rocks along the San Andreas fault and the configuration of ocean basins in to which the rocks were deposited. He is active on the Board of the San Luis Obispo Chapter of the California Native Plant Society and has served as the statewide Conservation Director for that organization. David is currently leading a joint project between CNPS-SLO and Friends of the Carrizo Plain to develop a photographic collection of the entire flora within the Carrizo Plain Monument.

Fieldtrips and Workshops

Field Trips

With this rainy season getting off to a good start, the spring wild flowers should present a better show than in recent years. In planning for this possibility, I would ask CNPS members who have a favorite “plant place” they enjoy visiting during the months of February through May, to forward that information to me ( and we will do our best to create a series of field trips to those locations this year. Let’s commit ourselves to visit the wild places this season and enjoy their splendor!


During last December’s meeting on Bryophytes, presented by Dr. Benjamin Carter of San José State University, Ben gave a workshop describing a simplified version of the taxonomy Bryophytes (Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts) to 25 participants. Those of us who attended the workshop were treated to several different Moss genera, along with a couple of Liverworts, and one Hornwort genus. Using both dissecting scopes and microscopes, we were able to distinguish critical differences of these minute plants. All of the species described can be found in San Luis Obispo Co. Make sure to attend the February workshop on Feb. 4th at 6:00 p.m. to be presented by Dr. David Keil.

Native Seed Workshop

During the third week of November, our chapter was treated to a California Native Seed Workshop, co-hosted by the SLO Botanical Gardens. Dr. Evan Meyer of Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens, Claremont, CA give the four hour workshop, which included a slide presentation about the value of seed banks and how they operate, followed by a walk through our the garden to observe the arrangements of native plant seeding structures (panicles) and discuss the different shapes and constructions of each seed species.

Phytophthora Workshop

The December statewide CNPS Chapter Council meeting was held in the SF Bay Area. SLO members David Chipping and Bill Waycott attended the meeting during which the council deliberated and then approved the 2015 – 2020 CNPS Strategic Plan (a copy of which can be obtained by writing to In addition, a workshop directed at the nursery trade was presented on the fungus Phytophthora, which is being spread around the state in plant nursery stock. Three scientists presented their research data illustrating where these diseases first entered the state and how they have spread to ?? counties. The workshop ended with a fieldtrip to Acterra Native Plant Nursery, located in Los Altos Hills, where participants were shown the best management practices used by nurseries to prevent the introduction and spread of Phytophthora in their facilities.


Cucurbita palmata

Cucurbita palmata

Coyote melon

Bonnie’s drawing for this issue of Obispoensis is based on a picture sent to me by George Butterworth. The species, Cucurbita palmata, has many common names. The ones I found on the web include coyote melon, coyote gourd, desert gourd, palmate-leafed gourd, coyote ear, buffalo gourd, stinking melon, calabazilla, or chilicote.

Coyote melon is primarily a desert species that grows best where there are summer monsoons. Since we are a little north of the summer monsoon track coyote melon is relatively rare in our area. However, a few plants can be found in the eastern edge of our Chapter area (i.e., Carrizo Plain and the upper Cuyama Valley). It’s a species that prefers sandy, disturbed soils where vegetation is scarce such as desert washes and dry, rocky slopes.

The most common name around here, coyote melon, refers to its vegetative resemblance to the pumpkin, squash cucumber, melon, or gourd, family Cucurbitaceae. The Cucurbitaceae are non-woody (herbaceous) vines with tendrils and broad, palmate-veined leaves. Flowers in coyote melon are unisexual (staminate or pistilate). In coyote melon they are large and yellow and borne solitarily in the in the axils of leaves. Fruits in the family are extremely variable and are considered unique to the family. Often it is a kind of quite large berry botanists call a pepo. Pepos have fleshy, fibrous, or watery flesh inside and usually are enclosed by a clearly defined outer skin or rind. When totally mature, they often dry out to a hollow dry spheroid.

From the list of common names for the family, I suspect it would be easy to conclude that the family produces a fair number of edible and otherwise useful cultivated species. The main economic species produce edible, fleshy fruit today. But this has not always been true and is certainly NOT true of coyote melon and most other wild members of the family today. The flesh of coyote melon is extremely bitter and if one is tempted to try to eat it, it would act as an extreme emetic. That is, it would rapidly be expelled from both ends.

So what’s the link between inedible and/or poisonous wild cucurbits of today with the edible cucurbits listed above? It is best summed up by a quote from a November 20, 2015 paper by A’ndrea Elyse Messer titled “Loss of Mastodons Aided Domestication of Pumpkins, Squash.” I actually heard (or read) about the article around Thanksgiving and decided to look it up on the Web. The quote that caught my interest was: If Pleistocene megafauna – mastodons, mammoths, giant sloths and others – had not become extinct, humans might not be eating pumpkin pie and squash for the holidays, according to an international team of anthropologists.

The article indicates that most wild cucurbits are bitter and that smaller organisms (and humans) tend to avoid trying to eat the fruit. It then notes that large mammals, such as the mastodon, have fewer bitter taste buds in their mouths so eating cucurbits shouldn’t have been a problem. The authors note that they could deduce that the mastodons were eating cucurbits because when and wherever they examined fossil mastodon dung it contained cucurbit seeds. Since the only way cucurbit seeds could get into dung is by being eaten, they concluded cucurbits were an important food source for them. Being huge animals, mastodons had to migrate over wide distances so they also concluded mastodons were major dispersers of cucurbit seeds. The researchers also found that the DNA they recovered from the seeds in the dung was more similar to wild cucurbits of today than to cultivated edible ones. Therefore it’s logical that the ancestors of the edible cucurbits were bitter.

What killed off the mastodons? A recent book titled, The Sixth Extinction, gives a possible clue. It turns out that large animals live in a very tight balance with their environment and the regular sustained loss of even a few key animals would lead to extinction in a relatively short time (a few thousand years). Early humans coexisted with the last of the mastodons. Early human hunters probably preferred to kill the biggest and healthiest animals as hunters still do today. This would mean they would have taken the breeding animals of a family or herd. When a parent is killed, often the rest of their family dies as well. So even with very modest losses of a few key animals a year, the book indicates it would lead to a slow extinction in a few thousand years.

Mastodons and the other large mammals died out over ten thousand years ago. So why do we have edible cucurbits today? The article indicates that early peoples didn’t use fresh cucurbit fruits for food, but waited until they were dry and hollow and used them for containers, noise makers (rattles) and/or fish floats. Although some species’ seeds (e.g., coyote melon) are edible when totally mature, at least some of their seeds would have ended up in their disturbed, highly nitrogenous trash heaps. So people took over from the mastodons as major seed dispersers. So cucurbits would have been become common around early human settlements. Since a bitter compound is often poisonous in large uncontrolled amounts, but medicinal in small, regulated amounts, it can be assumed that early peoples used fleshy immature fruits as medicine. It doesn’t seem to me to be a great stretch to assume enough genetic variability in early cucurbits so that some would have been less bitter. These would be selectively utilized by early people, probably the wives and mothers.

By the time the mastodons were gone, early peoples would have been planting various cucurbits around their settlements. Once there, they would have been selected to be less and less bitter until we have the edible squash and pumpkins we enjoy today. So next Thanksgiving, remember to thank the mastodons and other large extinct mammals for your pumpkin pie. One final thought, pumpkins and squash were domesticated in the new world and in all likely hood the jack-o-lantern pumpkin was one of the few major crops domesticated within the lower 48 states. Personally, I find coyote melon to be best (and safely) enjoyed as we find it, growing in nature.

by Dirk Walters, illustrations by Bonnie Walters | Dirk and Bonnie Walters are long-time CNPS-SLO members, contributors, and board/committee participants. In addition to his work at Cal Poly, Dirk is the current CNPS-SLO Historian.
Hoover Award – 2015

Hoover Award – 2015

Dr. Neil Havlik was recognized with the 2015 Hoover Award for his contributions to appreciation and preservation of the San Luis Obispo native flora. The honor, named for Dr. Robert Hoover, was presented to an appreciative Neil Havlik at the annual Banquet on January 23. Prior recipients meet yearly to select an honoree judged for their accomplishments in education, conservation and chapter support.

Dr. Havlik served as San Luis Obispo City Natural Resources Manager from 1996 until his retirement in 2012. In that role, he oversaw the creation of the city greenbelt. He was instrumental in the acquisition of key parcels, protection of other private parcels, the expansion of the greenbelt trail systems, and was the guiding force behind the joint publication
(with our chapter) of the immensely popular Wildflowers of San Luis Obispo guidebook. His role in protecting Chorro Creek bog thistle populations within the greenbelt led to a 2015 special award from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Neil majored in Biology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, graduating cum laude in June 1968. At our banquet, Dr. Havlik recounted how honored he was to have studied under the late Robert Hoover. He then attended the graduate program in Botany at UC Santa Barbara from January 1969 to June 1971, earning a Master of Science degree in Botany. In 1978, Neil went back to school, seeking a Doctorate in the interdisciplinary Wildland Resource Science program at UC Berkeley. He earned his doctorate in that field in June 1984.

Havlik held a variety of positions with the East Bay Regional Park District in Oakland for fifteen years, involved in land use planning, environmental impact analysis and mitigation, natural resource management, property management, and land acquisition. In 1987 he became the first Executive Director for a non-profit land trust headquartered in Fairfield, California (Solano County in the lower Sacramento delta).

Since retirement, Dr. Havlik has contributed greatly to developing a local Carrizo Plains Conservancy initiative, a special purpose land trust targeted on bringing more property under protection in our Carrizo region. Neil Havlik also serves on the board of the Coastal San Luis Resources Conservation District. The RCD projects play an essential role in furthering preservation of our rural landscape, quietly enlisting landowners in vital protection projects.

Please share your appreciation of the Neil’s wonderful contributions to our county and its flowers.

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