Learn bird calls and plants of the El Moro Elfin Forest in the town of Los Osos. This park on the south end of Morro Bay supports more than 200 plant species and 110 bird species in its brackish marsh, riparian woodland, pygmy oak woodland, maritime chaparral, and coastal dune scrub plant communities. Our hike leader, naturalist and Audubon guide Jessica Griffiths, will help us learn bird songs and calls to aid in identifying birds even when you cannot see them. Native plants of the Elfin Forest and their associations with birds will be discussed. Total distance will be 2 miles with 100 feet elevation gain and will be mostly on the boardwalk loop. The 16th Street entrance of the Elfin Forest has wheelchair access. The hike is expected to take about 2.5 hours.
This trip is limited to 25 local CNPS participants to allow quiet conditions for listening to birds and because of space limitations on the boardwalk. To reserve a spot on this hike, email Bill Waycott at the email address below, add “Audubon” in the subject line, and make sure to specify how many people will be in your party. Parking is limited to a few spots at the road ends or along adjacent roadsides, so carpooling is recommended. The meeting spot for the start of the hike will be sent to those who RSVP.
Bring water, snacks, hat, sturdy shoes, and dress in layers for changing weather. For this hike, binoculars and a field notebook for taking notes are recommended. Plant and animal lists for the Elfin Forest can be found here. There are no bathrooms at this park but public bathrooms are available approximately 2 miles away at the South Bay Community Center and adjacent Los Osos Community Park at 2180 Palisades Avenue, Los Osos, CA 93402.
My garden is small compared to the ones I manage in my horticulture business, but it’s still a hideaway for the birds, bees and native plants. It’s calming and is a source of tranquility for myself and my family. During difﬁcult times, and I’m sure you have experienced them and know what I mean, the backyard can be a peaceful and serene place. Sometimes however, the garden can also create stress.
Gophers, spider mites and water bills, to name a few, can detract us from our beautiful garden. But keeping this in mind, we must remember we share this space with the critters and the insects. These are all part of the fabric of nature. Just like fertilizer and compost, gas and electricity bills, we have to budget for this special place. It doesn’t matter if it is a drought resistant native garden or even a cactus garden. There will be maintenance involved. Weeding can take us away from family and friends, however, I have found over the years, for me, the yard has been a great investment.
When I think about the hours of enjoyment I have experienced watching the birds, bees and plants in my garden grow, these times have been some of the best I ever had. So looking forward to the future and what it might hold, I’m hoping you will ﬁnd that the investment of time, energy and money in your garden, is one that is well spent. Until next time, collect rain water and happy gardening.
It’s time to start thinking about planting your wildflower garden with the winter rains coming soon. As in years past, we are beginning our rainy season late with a dry fall so far. This doesn’t mean we will have a dry winter, but this dry pattern is important when it comes to sowing our wildflower garden.
The best gardens start with the onset of rain. But if we put out our seeds too soon, the birds will eat them and the sun will bake the rest. So keeping this in mind, we can still prepare the site to be planted by raking the area smooth. Soil amendment is not necessary. Go through the seeds you have acquired, which, of course, you bought at the plant sale. Get everything ready so that when the storms start to line up you are ready to sow your seeds. Two days in advance of a rain event, complete the following steps: First, rake the top one inch of soil to loosen it; Second, using a light hand, spread seeds over the area that is to be your wildflower garden; Third, using your rake, go over the area once again to ensure there is soil-to-seed contact. Finally, and the best part, ‘do the stomp’ by walking all over the area to compress the soil. Then wait for the rains to come.
It’s important to provide extra water, if necessary, at least every two weeks. Otherwise if the rains come, sit back and watch your wildflowers grow! Until next time, happy gardening! If you have any questions about sowing your wildflower garden, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What should I plant in my yard this fall before the rains begin? People are often asking me this. I like to consider what Doug Tallamy told us at the CNPS state conservation conference a couple of years ago about planting trees and shrubs that are foraging hubs for insects and birds. He mentioned several genera that fed lots of caterpillars, which in turn feed lots of birds.
One of these was the genus Prunus. You may recognize this as a fruit tree genus including cherries, apricots, plums, and peaches. It attracts butterflies, bees, and pollinating flies. One of my favorites is the Prunus lyonii, or Catalina cherry. It has beautiful green foliage, is drought tolerant, and according to Las Pilitas nursery, it tolerates clay soils well. It is closely related to the native shrub called Islay (Prunus ilicifolia). Islay was harvested for the kernels inside of the pit. Jan Timbrook notes in Chumash Ethnobotany that one hat of islay was worth two hats of acorns.
The kernel of the cherry needs to be removed from the pit (you may eat the thin skin of fruit in the process if it is ripe first). Then you must boil the kernels and rinse the water several times, then smash the kernels and then leach like acorns to remove the cyanide that naturally occurs in the kernels. Since the native Islay was not available at the time, I decided to try this with the Catalina cherry growing in my Mom’s yard. (Catalina cherry is used in the horticultural trade and can be bought and planted easily). I gathered the pits that had accumulated on the ground, cracked them open, boiled and leached the kernels, then made little balls out of them. They kind of tasted like cooked beans, bland but nutritious. My curiosity was satisfied. I’m not crazy about the kernels as food, but I love the shrub with its gorgeous bright green foliage. The pictures below are from Morro Bay State park where it was planted between the campsites.
As I am writing this, I am thinking about the fact that we have our annual native plant sale coming up on November 2. I have been planting the plants that I have written about over the last year in my own garden, and I hope that you find some that will be perfect for yours as well. I’ll see you there on November 2.
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.
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.
As we have just experienced an intense and prolonged drought, a team of scientists has just published in Nature Climate Change Letters an analysis of impacts in the Carrizo Plain. They quantified the responses of 423 species of plants, arthropods, birds, reptiles and mammals to California’s drought of 2012–2015—the driest period in the past 1,200 years for this global biodiversity hotspot.
The article by Prugh and others was published in Nature Climate Change Letters “Ecological winners and losers of extreme drought in California” August 20th, 2018 The report states that plants were most responsive to one-year water deficits, whereas vertebrates responded to longer-term deficits, and extended drought had the greatest impact on carnivorous animals. Perhaps surprisingly, locally rare species were more likely to increase in numbers and abundant species were more likely to decline in response to drought, and this effect was remarkably consistent across taxa and drought durations.
Of the mammals, California ground squirrel, San Joaquin kit fox and Giant kangaroo rat fared badly, while Southern grasshopper mouse and Short-nosed kangaroo rat were successful. For birds, barn owls and western meadowlarks declined, while killdeer and roadrunner populations remained stable. The rare Blunt-nosed leopard lizard suffered, but the coast horned lizard and side-blotched lizard were little affected. Spiders and scorpions declined, but certain beetles did well.
As was obvious to most people, nearly all plants were impacted, but certain hardy species such as Calandrinia were successful in the absence of competition. The study concludes that while extreme droughts can produce substantial short-term declines in the abundance and diversity of species, these disturbances may play a vital role in the long-term maintenance of biodiversity by inducing periodic die-offs of dominant species and subsequent opportunities for rare, yet fast-growing, species.
This study is especially useful as climate change projections indicate that extreme, extended droughts will become more common, as well as the maximum summer temperature, and the duration, intensity and timing of the rainy season.
As far as SLO Chapter is concerned, I am hoping we can work with Cal Poly, BLM, and the Friends of the Carrizo Plain to institute a long term monitoring program in which we can collect photographic and quantitative data on the conditions at different parts of the greater Carrizo Plain. There are already ongoing experiments in which exclosures are used to exclude larger animals and, in an inner fence, rodents from the grasslands, but I don’t know of any broad vegetation assessments apart from the CNPS-generated vegetation map which was a snapshot of conditions, and is governed by the dominant plants rather that the complete population.
I would propose that this spring, we get together a group to select a series of areas that will be linked to GPS coordinates, and that the sites would be revisited and photographed (and possibly inventoried) a couple of times per year, and over many years. I am intending to meet with faculty at Cal Poly to see if they would see a way to direct a series of student projects in a similar effort.
Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolium is a wonderful, hardy, native California evergreen shrub. It can be a good screen in the yard, growing up to 6 feet fairly quickly. It tolerates soils from serpentine to clay, to sand. It is not as flammable as other chaparral shrubs. It is a great forage plant for bees, butterflies, and other insects, as well as birds. You will find it to be a foraging hub in your yard when it is flowering, and then the fruit will feed birds. The red berries were eaten by many native Californians as well. They also contain some cyanide compounds and must be roasted, wilted, or boiled before eaten. The hard wood was used to make many tools including bows. I remember my Mom, an east coast transplant, making wreaths for the door at Christmas. The berries are ripe in red clusters in November and December making it perfect for making holiday decorations.
Photo by Stan Shebs and shared under Creative Commons 3.0 license
The extremely invasive Foeniculum vulgare is in the carrot (Apiaceae) family. It is native to Southern Europe and is problematic in coastal California and is also present throughout the western US all the way to Texas. I’ve encountered Fennel on Santa Catalina Island and Santa Cruz Island. Clusters of Fennel may be found in disturbed areas, mostly roadsides and fields. Fennel is an aromatic perennial with a thick deep taproot and which grows to 5 to 10 ft. tall forming dense stands producing thousands of seeds that birds and rodents consume. Seeds may survive several years. Feral pigs are attracted to it and love its roots! Fennel crowds out native plant species and can drastically alter the composition and structure of many plant communities, including grasslands, coastal scrub, riparian, and wetland communities.
The cultivated varieties of Fennel are seldom invasive. The leaves are finely dissected and the plants produce yellow flowers on compound umbels. Fennel is a difficult, labor intensive plant to control. Small infestations can be dug out. Large plants are hard to dig out. Preventing seed production by lopping stems is vital so cutting Fennel repeatedly is advised. Grazing with goats can knock the plants down. Burning doesn’t work because Fennel quickly recovers, but if linked with herbicide treatment may be an effective method.