Building a Pollinator Garden

It’s late February 2021 and we are running an online plant sale with our pick up date in SLO on March 20. CNPSSLO contributor Jen Lopez put together the following notes on creating a pollinator garden with the plant selections we are currently offering. 

These plants are appropriate for gardens throughout SLO County and most of California. All are drought resistant, tolerate some summer water, and will look beautiful when planted together.

Start with a slightly staggered row of shrubs along the back – possibly planted as a hedgerow with close spacing so that they intermingle as they grow

  • Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ (if you don’t have a deer problem) or Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’ (if you’re in North County with deer) or Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ (if you’re in South County or along the coast and have deer)
  • Frangula californica syn Rhamnus californica – Although the blooms are almost unnoticeable to us, they’re essential to some of our smallest native insects. Very garden-tolerant, slow-growing shrub, with a neat and attractive appearance year round.
  • Prunus ilicifolia ssp. lyonii – Beautiful shrub with tremendous wildlife value.
  • Heteromeles arbutifolia –  Toyon is one of the most valuable wildlife shrubs, the others being willow, coffeeberry, and elder. Although sizable, you’ll never regret finding space for toyon in your garden.
  • If you have more space and clay soil or a high water table, add native elder and willow.

Next, add subshrubs in front and in between

  • Salvia leucophylla ‘Point Sal – will grow taller in partial shade, but stays low in full sun. Surprisingly tolerant of summer water and clay soils, but will rot in standing water.
  • Eriogonum fasciculatum ‘Warriner Lytle’ – buckwheats are some of the most valuable natives for our pollinators and are almost always buzzing with activity when in bloom. This variety grows2-3 times as wide as tall but its size is easily controlled by late-winter pruning.
  • Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus ‘Yankee Point’
  • Baccharis pillularis ‘Pigeon Point’

Complete your pollinator banquet with native perennials and deer grass

  • Epilobium canum – bumblebees cut hole in the base of the flowers in order to reach the nectar! These will spread gently but won’t wipe out surrounding plants.
  • Asclepias fascicularis – plant a minimum of three of these as they are essential food for Monarch caterpillars. More is better! If they begin to look weedy they can be cut back to stimulate new growth -but please leave trimmings at the base of the plants in case there are butterfly eggs present.
  • Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Blue Springs’
  • Sisyrinchium bellum ‘Rocky Point’
  • Muhlenbergia rigens
  • Solidago spp.

COVID-19 Announcement

A Message from the President

Out of concern for the health and safety of our members and dedicated volunteers, the Board of the San Luis Obispo Chapter of CNPS has had to make some heart-wrenching decisions. As you know, in response to the Covid-19 virus pandemic, state and local agencies have ordered all individuals to stay home except as needed to maintain essential needs. We do not know exactly how long this will last. Of course, this makes it difficult for us to count stamens and pistils together and share in person the “epic” flower displays we’ve come to know and love. We will, however, come through this. We encourage you to visit native habitats within walking distance of your home (while maintaining physical distancing, of course.)

In the meantime, though, we have decided the following:

  • All field trips, including the Santa Rita Road bike ride scheduled for April 19, are cancelled;
  • May 7 General Membership meeting is cancelled;
  • May 16 Plant Identification Workshop has been cancelled; we hope to reschedule it in spring, 2021; and
  • June 4 General Membership meeting is cancelled; we hope to bring you an alternative format with possible virtual reports from our McLeod scholars.

We are still working out the details of our coordination with UC Berkeley on the 2020 Sudden Oak Death Blitz scheduled for May 15-18 to ensure it can be conducted consistent with social distancing guidelines. We will keep you informed as details emerge.

As we move into the summer months, we will revisit our meeting schedule; perhaps we will be able to hold an August general membership meeting as we did last year, but at this time we just don’t know. This will be a “wait and see” event.

To those who worked so hard on setting up these activities: especially Mindy Trask, Kristen Nelson, Melinda Elster, Gage Willey, Judi Young, Cindy Roessler, our speakers who had to change their plans, Bill Waycott, and so many others – I can’t name them all -we thank you for all your time and effort.

We are learning new things! The Board met last week via Zoom videoconference, and we have plans to use this venue again in three weeks or so to see how things have progressed. We also plan to use this tool for the Board meeting currently scheduled for May 12. Who knows, perhaps this can become a tool for our general meetings also.

We want to stay in touch with you, and we want to hear from you. Our newsletter will continue to be produced electronically, and we hope to reformat it and produce it more frequently, with exciting tidbits for the stay-at-home nature of our lives these days. There will no longer be a mailed hard copy. Our newsletter editor, David Chipping,, is open to receiving contributed content from members, as well as ideas about desired content. If you have a special story, article, or photo, or just want to say hello, please drop us a line or check in on our Facebook page. Stay safe, and I hope we all stay healthy.

Melissa Mooney

President, SLO Chapter CNPS

Invasive Species Report: Purple Ragwort (Senecio elegans)

Invasive Species Report: Purple Ragwort (Senecio elegans)

An attractive member of the Asteraceae (Sunflower) family Senecio elegans is an erect annual herb, up to 1 ft. tall and to 1.5 ft. wide. It is native to Southern Africa and is distributed along coastal California. In northern San Luis Obispo County there are groups at San Simeon Point and at the other end of the county in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. Local CNPS members have located them in the Dunes as follows–1984: Hidden Willow Valley by Malcolm McLeod and Austin Griffiths; 1986: Kathleen Jones; 1990: south of Oso Flaco Lake by Lynne Dee Althouse and David Keil. Germinating following rainfall, leaves have blades which are deeply cut (pinnately lobed), into several toothed lobes and are sticky to the touch. The spectacular fuchsia colored, daisy-like inflorescence bears flower heads lined with black-tipped phyllaries (leaf-like plant part located just below a flower). They contain many (100+) deep yellowish disc florets at the center. Each has 13+ fuchsia colored ray florets. The flower heads turn into fluffy white seeds, ready for the wind to disperse the seeds. Senecio elegans is an escaped invasive weed where it spreads rapidly, displacing indigenous vegetation such as Dunedelion (Malacothrix incana). Control is achieved by pulling it before flowering. I’ve been able to easily pull many hundreds in the Dunes south of Oso Flaco.

Mark Skinner: Invasive Species Chair

Photo: Mark Skinner

The Morro Manzanita Chaparral Natural Community

The Morro Manzanita Chaparral Natural Community

by Melissa Mooney

In our November 2019 newsletter we discussed the Los Osos Habitat Conservation Plan, a plan prepared by the County of San Luis Obispo to address the impacts of development in Los Osos. In that plan there is a great deal of discussion of the Morro manzanita, Arctostaphylos morroensis, a plant that is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as Threatened under the authority of the federal Endangered Species Act. It is also a list 1B species, indicating rarity in California and elsewhere. What may not be as well known is that Morro manzanita is also the dominant vascular plant species of a rare natural community known as Morro manzanita chaparral, the Arctostaphylos morroensis Shrubland Alliance, as defined by the Manual of California Vegetation (Sawyer, Keeler-Wolf and Evens, 2009). This is an example of a natural community that is dominated by a listed species. Not all sensitive natural communities are.

Morro manzanita chaparral has a global ranking of G1 and a State ranking of S1, which is the highest (and rarest) ranking a natural community can have. Remember the Giant coreopsis scrub that we reviewed in our last newsletter? That community was G3, S3, also sensitive, but not as sensitive as the Morro manzanita chaparral, at least according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) VegCAMP program. The Program and the CNPS Vegetation Program review the rankings, which are based on the NatureServe’s Heritage Methodology.

Morro manzanita chaparral occurs in three primary areas in the Los Osos/Montana de Oro area. It occurs north of town in the Elfin forest and northeast of the Middle School; south of town on the north-facing slopes above Highland and Rodman Drive; and in two large stands in Montana de Oro State Park. The Plant Communities committee of the SLO Chapter has sampled each of these areas using the Rapid Assessment techniques of the VegCAMP program, and we have found that in the 4 stands sampled, the cover of Morro manzanita varies from 23 to 85 percent, with the average being 53 percent. Other species occurring in these stands include chamise, wedge-leaved Ceanothus (Ceanothus cuneatus), and coast live oak. There are many other species, such as monkeyflower, black sage, and phlox-leaved bedstraw (Galium andrewsii), but they occur at very low cover values. The stands are almost impenetrable due to the low shrubby branches of the manzanita, and if it weren’t for already created trails in some of these areas, it would be difficult to walk through them. Two stands we sampled are located on north slopes; one on a south slope, and another on a fairly flat surface. On the Geologic Map of the San Luis Obispo-San Simeon Region (1979), all are shown to be on dune sands, but there are outcroppings of soft shales in the Cabrillo Heights area.

Many interesting mushrooms, bryophytes, and lichens occur in this community.

Pixie cup image

Pixie cup

Coral fungus

Coral fungus

Manzanita flowers

Manzanita flowers

One of my favorite lichens is the pixie-cup lichen (Cladonia sp., see photo), which can be found on the moist soils alongside the trails beneath and sometimes on the lower bark of the Morro manzanitas. There are several species in the area. One very rare species, Cladonia firma, occurs primarily in the coastal sage community just north of the Morro manzanita chaparral in the Morro Dunes Ecological Preserve, but it also filters into the chaparral in some areas where the two communities intermix as a mosaic. A unique mushroom I found two years ago in the stand south of Highland Drive is the coral mushroom (Ramaria sp., see photo). I almost felt as if I was underwater when I saw it! It was growing under the manzanita in colonies with other mushrooms.

Also occurring within this community is the Indian Knob mountainbalm (Eriodictyon altissimum), a species that is listed by the USFWS and the CDFW as Endangered. It is also a 1B species. This species occurs in only a few other areas in San Luis Obispo County, at Indian Knob near San Luis Obispo, and in Hazard Canyon at Montana de Oro. It appears to establish clones from rhizomes, and, like the Morro manzanita chaparral, is fire-dependent.

Morro manzanita chaparral is a very rare natural community that is seriously threatened. It’s location near Los Osos provides a unique habitat for contemplation, exercise, and enjoying nature. However, in some areas, it is being loved too much. Individual plants are being trimmed haphazardly by unofficial trail makers. Erosion of the very sandy soils is sometimes severe, creating extensive scars, exacerbated by foot and horse traffic. The issue of fire clearance to keep the public safe needs to be studied and addressed if it proves to be detrimental. And, although some populations are preserved, as always, we need to be ever vigilant of development being proposed within the area.

Photo Credits: Inside the Manzanita Canopy: David Chipping, Coral Fungus: Melissa Mooney, Morro Manzanita Flowers: David Chipping, Cladonia sp. Melissa Mooney


Two components of the Morro Manzanita Chaparral Natural Community. Left: Galium andrewsii; Right: Ceanothus cuneatus var. fascicularis Photos: David Chipping

Meet our Social Media Intern, Kieran

Kieran Althaus joined our team last fall doing Social Media work along side Judi Young for the chapter. He is soon going to start his Masters Degree at Cal Poly in Biology with Dr. Matt Ritter and Dr. Jenn Yost. In the mean time he is staying occupied with the Plant Science Club at Cal Poly, as well as working on a variety of Botany projects.

Poetry Initiative for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day

This is a Call for Ecological Poetry/Prose/Art and Discourse throughout SLO County to unite with the cause initiated 50 years ago. Gathering stories to be Stewards of the Earth, this perspective can help direct hope for Earth, Forever.

If you have a venue or poem and would like an Earth Day Poem reach out to Mary Uebersax, EarthTones Gifts, Gallery & Center for Healing 805-238-4413

Garden Maintenance

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.

John Nowak

Matteo Garbelotto’s Letter on our next Sudden Oak Death (SOD) Blitz

We had some great results last year and participation continued to be good, but we need to work hard to keep a solid involvement of our communities. The USFS has just released the 2019 tree mortality data, and in 2019 alone, a million tanoaks were dead because of SOD. SOD is moving to new Counties outside of the current area of infestation, and even in our Bay Area neighborhoods, SOD of 2019 is not the same SOD of 10 years ago: different distribution, new local outbreaks, and new hosts are emerging, as the disease becomes more and more established in its new home. Two new dangerous SOD strains are at the doors of our forests, and – believe it or not- the SOD Blitzes are the only hope for their early detection. If these new strains arrived and spread in our forests, they could deliver a fatal blow to our forests: by collecting symptomatic plant material in your neighborhood, volunteers will make the most significant contribution possible to intercept these strains. Starting in 2019, we are asking participants in the SOD blitzes to quantify their effort to stop SOD: this information will be essential to leverage assistance money from the State. We also have enhanced the benefits for tree care professionals who participate in the blitzes: besides offering free bay and tanoak tests for their clients, we now offer them free enrollment in a satellite program called Oakstep, that allows them to test oaks for infection by SOD. Let’s try to increase participation by tree care specialists: it could be enormously beneficial to everybody.

Set aside May 15 and May 16 for the SLO County SOD Blitz. Details in the next issue of Obispoensis.

A Few Rare Dune Natural Plant Communities

A Few Rare Dune Natural Plant Communities

Everyone’s been to the beach, yes. But how much have we looked around to see what vegetation patterns are there to greet us? San Luis Obispo County dunes, and the Oceano dunes surrounding Oso Flaco Lake in particular, are awesome places that are full of rare plants and at least three rare natural communities, as defined by the Manual of California Vegetation (Sawyer, Keeler-Wolf and Evens, 2009). Let’s explore them. And remember, we give these communities names only to make it easier for ourselves to talk about them. We draw lines around them as we see them repeating in nature, but plants don’t always adhere to our neat little coloring books and boxes. There is really a continuum in vegetation; we separate areas mostly for our own convenience.

Closest to the beach, but not actually on the beach, are what are called dune mats, the Abronia latifolia-Ambrosia chamissonis Herbaceous Alliance and its associations. Some of you may know this as central or southern foredunes (Holland’s Preliminary Descriptions of Terrestrial Natural Communities of California, 1986), others as pioneer dune communities (Holland and Keil’s California Vegetation, 1995). In this community, sand verbena and beach bur-sage are characteristically present. It has a global ranking of G3 and a State ranking of S3, meaning it has less than 21-100 viable occurrences, or occupies a certain rather small area. Dune mats are characteristically found on small hummocks in between sandy areas within about a quarter mile of the surf zone. You might also see sea rocket and the invasive European beachgrass here. Rare plants found here include the surf thistle (Cirsium rhothophilum) and beach spectaclepod (Dithyrea maritima).

Remember that dune communities exist in an unstable environment, with frequent winds, salt spray, and shifting sands. As mentioned above, the communities also shift and sometimes blend into each other. And in extremely protected areas in between the hummocks we often find dune swales containing wetland vegetation. We’ll save those wetland types for another time, but let’s move on to another upland dune community.

Inland from the foredune community and on slightly more stable soils, we find silver dune lupine-mock heather scrub, the Lupinus chamissonis-Ericameria  ericoides Shrubland Alliance and its associations. Again, this community has other names such as central dune scrub (Holland 1986, referenced above), and dune scrub communities (Holland and Keil, 1995). Hoover’s Vascular Plants of San Luis Obispo County, 1970 refers to these areas as coastal sand plains. In this community, either silver dune lupine or mock heather is “conspicuous.” This community also has a ranking of G3 S3. This community can extend far inland, to almost 3 miles (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016). Here you might also see sea cliff buckwheat, California poppy, and occasionally, giant coreopsis (now Leptosyne gigantea), which blends into the next community. If you’re lucky you might find the den of a burrowing owl here, or even see an owl. Rare plant species found here include Blochman’s leafy daisy (Erigeron blochmaniae), dune larkspur (Delphinium parryi ssp. blochmaniae), and Kellogg’s horkelia (Horkelia cuneata ssp.sericea).

Giant Coreopsis

South of Oso Flaco Lake is a very rare natural community that many of us have visited and know its location well as Coreopsis Hill. Did you know that the community is called Giant coreopsis scrub? Its official name is Coreopsis gigantea Shrubland Alliance, but as we all know, the major dominant plant species, giant coreopsis, has had its name changed to Leptosyne gigantea. (But note that Leptosyne gigantea is not considered a rare plant.) In our area, this community inhabits the stabilized backdunes, but further south it occurs on bluffs immediately along the edge of the coastline. This community is ranked G3 S3 and is also considered sensitive. According to the Manual of California Vegetation, wherever the giant coreopsis occurs at greater than 30 percent relative cover, we can call the community giant coreopsis scrub. It typically co-occurs with Ericameria ericoides, Artemisia californica, and other dune-lupine-mock heather scrub species. Coreopsis Hill is its northernmost natural occurrence. This is the community shown on our front cover this month. These are only three of our rare natural communities that inhabit dunes along our coastline. Again, it is important to point out that there are variations and subdivisions within these types; these are called Associations. Some associations have been identified and classified; others have not. This means there is more work for our Plant Communities committee to do!

-Melissa Mooney


Invasive Species Report: Poison-hemlock (Conium maculatum)

Poison-hemlock Conium maculatum

Poison-hemlock Conium maculatum

A member of the Apiaceae (Carrot) family Poison-hemlock is a biennial native to the Europe and North Africa and is a common weed, widespread in California. Poison-hemlock may germinate throughout the year. First year plants are low-growing and may overwinter in mild climates and plants resemble carrot plants. Stems are erect, hollow, smooth and bright green with purple-reddish blotches. Leaves grow to two feet long and are tri-pinnately compound. In late spring, robust plants reach 5-8 feet tall and produce numerous umbel-shaped clusters of tiny, white, 5-petaled flowers. Poison-hemlock grows in moist areas such as pond sides, creek
banks and flood plains. It tends to grow in dense thickets and when the plants have dried out it is very difficult to walk through and the dead canes are toxic! It is notorious for displacing other vegetation. Plants reproduce only by seed and seeds may survive to about 3 years. Each flower produces two gray–brown seeds. There are hundreds of seeds on each plant. Poison hemlock is highly toxic due the toxin coniine. Seeds have the highest concentration of coniine. All parts of the plant are poisonous. Cattle are especially vulnerable. There are limitations to controlling this plant: do not cut, burn or graze. Pulling it is one of the best options and it’s especially important to pull out the root.

-Mark Skinner, Invasive Species Chair