The Garden Corner

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.

-John Nowak, Plant Sale co-Chairperson

CNPS Education Program

CNPS Education Program

CNPS Education Program

Ocean Elementary School, Arroyo Grande

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.




Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana

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.

-Cathy Chambers

Seed Collection of Early Bloomers

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.

-by Marti Rutherford


Matilija poppy

Matilija poppy

Matilija poppy, Romneya coulteri

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.

-Alice Myers

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).



Matilija poppy, Romneya coulteri

Matilija poppy, Romneya coulteri



Congratulations to our newest Hoover Award winner!

Congratulations to our newest Hoover Award winner!

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

A Discussion about Environmental Justice

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.

-Bill Waycott

The Garden Corner

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: Sylvia Sharnoff has also written about lichens and people.

by Cathy Chambers

Photo: Red Usnea rubicunda at Los Osos Oaks Reserve; photo David Chipping

Calochortus (Mariposa lily, fairy lantern and star-tulip)

Calochortus (Mariposa lily, fairy lantern and star-tulip)

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 ( 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.

-Dirk Walters

A Monterey Pine Tree Threw a Seed at Me

Technically, the Monterey pine tree threw the seed at my spouse who was standing on the deck outside of
our house enjoying some sun. After the loud crack of a pinecone bursting open, one papery-winged seed
wafted down onto the deck. Even though we live in the Monterey pine forest of Cambria, I had never seen
a Pinus radiata seed.

I planted the seed in a pot and placed it with the other pots containing native plant seeds I obtained at the
fall seed exchange. In preparation for collecting seeds later in the year, I have been checking out the CNPS-SLO website.

Some of the things you will find on the Resources page are:

  • An explanation of why native plants are important with links to more information.
  • Beautiful illustrations and photos accompanied by detailed information about specific featured plants.
  • Seed Collection and Saving for the Casual Gardener, by Marti Rutherford gives tips for collecting,
    cleaning, and saving seeds.

On the state CNPS website, I found a post entitled California Native Plant Propagation by Matt Teel that
includes seed collecting how-to tips and photos. If you do not already have a copy of Seed Propagation of
Native California Plants by Dara Emery, check out June’s book sales table at the next meeting.

by Linda Poppenheimer

Pinus radiata Radiata_Pine large

A Monterey pine seed with the wing that
enables the seed to flutter downward
slowly like a descending helicopter,
enabling a further dispersal than would
be allowed from just dropping a seed out of
the cone. Photo by Phil Bendle


Succulent Smuggling Comes to the Central Coast

Succulent Smuggling Comes to the Central Coast

Last spring, the story of a Dudleya smuggler in Mendocino County hit the news when an observant person noticed something odd while waiting in line at the local post office. (Here’s a link to one of the news outlets covering that story.)

Now we have our own case of Dudleya smugglers caught stealing the native succulents from the cliffs in Big Sur. Read about that story here.

In both these instances, a concerned observer noticed odd behavior and acted on it. Customs was called to check the shipments from the Post Office, and the woman observing the poachers in Big Sur took photos of the smugglers and their license plate. If you see something, say something.

John Chesnut has created a beautiful article on propagating Dudleya – you can read it here. And if you are out and about and see someone stuffing plants in to a bag or prying Dudleya’s off a cliff, contact local law enforcement or CDFW. Our local office doesn’t have a phone number, but you can send an email to

Belmont Field Office and Laboratory350 Harbor Blvd., Belmont, CA 94002No general lineNo general fax
Eureka Office and Laboratory619 2nd St., Eureka, CA 95501(707) 445-6493(707) 445-6664
Fort Bragg Field Office and Laboratory32330 N. Harbor Dr., Fort Bragg, CA 95437(707) 964-9078(707) 964-0642
Los Alamitos Field Office and Laboratory4665 Lampson Ave., Suite C, Los Alamitos, CA 90720(562) 342-7100(562) 596-0342
Monterey Field Office and Laboratory20 Lower Ragsdale Dr., Suite 100, Monterey, CA 93940(831) 649-2870(831) 649-2894
Sacramento Field Office1812 Ninth St., Sacramento, CA 95814No general line(916) 445-6458
San Diego Field Office and Laboratory3883 Ruffin Rd., San Diego, CA 92123(858) 467-4201No general fax
San Luis Obispo Field Office and Laboratory3196 South Higuera St., Suite A, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401No general line(805) 542-4609
Santa Barbara Field Office and Laboratory1933 Cliff Dr., Suite 9, Santa Barbara, CA 93109(805) 568-1231(805) 568-1235
Santa Rosa Field Office5355 Skylane Blvd., Suite B, Santa Rosa, CA 95403(707) 576-2882(707) 576-7132

Maintaining Garden Tools

Maintaining Garden Tools

February is pruning month and with all the rain its time to get out the pruning tools. A dull, unsharpened tool can be dangerous to use so it is wise to sharpen them before use. Some general rules about sharpening tools.

First, always wear gloves when sharpening tools. Most of us remember the old sharpening stone used to sharpen steel tools and implements through grinding and honing. My father had a hand driven sharpener and I love to sharpen tools so as to watch all the sparks fly. This type of sharpener has now been replaced with electric motors, but the idea is the same. Electric sharpeners are only to be used for sharpening lawn mower blades, shovels, hoes, and hand held hedge clippers. Again wear gloves and eye protection when sharpening tools. Never use electric sharpeners to sharpen hand pruners – it’s not safe.

So, how does one safely sharpen hand pruners? There are a few new hand-held sharpeners on the market now. One is a small hand held sharpener that has two sharpening blades and has a hand guard. This is a very safe type of sharpener and is available at most garden centers. The second small sharpener is the old 8-inch long sharpening or whetstone. This type of stone requires some motor oil to allow blade-to-stone contact. This is the best way to sharpen hand pruners and branch loppers.

There are many YouTube videos on how to use a sharpening stone or whetstone and I would suggest investigating them to hone your sharpening skills. If anyone needs some extra advice on pruning techniques or what to prune, please contact me at

Until next month, Happy Gardening!
John Nowak, Plant Sale co-Chairperson

Winners and losers under the impact of intense drought

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.

-David Chipping

Wildflowers of San Luis Obispo + Wildflowers of the Carrizo Plain

Wildflowers of San Luis Obispo + Wildflowers of the Carrizo Plain

A pair of wildflower books that ship together for one low price.

SLO Wildflowers bookBook #1: Wildflowers of San Luis Obispo County

Second edition, edited by David J. Keil, Ph.D. 8.5 x 5.5 inches. City of San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

Book #2: Wildflowers of the Carrizo Plain

Fourteen pages, printed on heavy card stock paper. San Luis Obispo chapter of the California Native Plant Society.


Membership News

There is a passage in John Muir’s First Summer in the Sierra that has always stuck with me:

In the great Central Valley of California there are only two seasons — spring and summer. The spring begins with the first rainstorm, which usually falls in November. In a few months the wonderful flowery vegetation is in full bloom, and by the end of May it is dead and dry and crisp, as if every plant had been roasted in an oven.

John Muir

That pretty much describes the seasons in a lot of places in SLO County as well, although I’ve always thought February marked the advent of spring in the California foothills. In a year like this one with what used to be called “normal” rainfall, you can count on a flush of early blooms – manzanitas, milkmaids, buttercups, fiesta flowers and more. It’s the cycle of renewal we count on each year, just like we count on your support to keep our programs going. We thank all of our new and renewing members this month.

European Beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria)

European Beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria)


Ammophila arenaria is in the Poaceae family. It is native to northern Europe and spread from plantings from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. Andrea Pickart has written that European beachgrass is the most pervasive exotic plant species currently threatening coastal dunes on the west coast of the U.S. and is invasive in every major dune system from Santa Barbara County to the northernmost dunes of Washington and has widely displaced a native dune grass, the circumboreal American dune grass (Elymus mollis).

In San Luis Obispo County, Ammophila arenaria was planted for sand stabilization and has spread throughout the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes and Morro Bay. It was planted to aid construction of the La Grande Dance Pavilion in the early 1900s south of Arroyo Grande Creek. It is a perennial grass 1 to 4 ft tall, with long, rigid, tough, waxy blades with sharp tips. European beachgrass spreads from rhizomes. Ammophila rhizomes may survive in the ocean and can be redeposited onshore to create new populations. Populations may extend inland to over half a mile.

From its ability to trap and stack sand Ammophila may create tall, steep and durable foredunes that excludes other vegetation and eliminates habitat for dune arthropods, California Least Terns and Western Snowy Plovers. It is a threat to rare plant species such as Surf thistle (Cirsium rhothophilum) and Beach spectacle pod (Dithyrea maritima). Interest in controlling Ammophila began about 1980, but success was not encountered until the 1990’s. Implementation of control efforts on a large scale are underway throughout the west coast. Digging out Ammophila is labor and cost intensive and may harm archaeological sites. The most successful method involves spraying Imazapyr. This may be followed with a controlled burn to create space and conditions for native plant restoration.

Text and photos by Mark Skinner


Armchair Tidepooling: Who’s Who in the Tidepools

Marlin Harms will give a presentation in the Mind Walk series (Central Coast Parks Association) at the Inn at Morro Bay on Feb. 4. His program will feature his photography as well as aspects of biology and ecology of the organisms that live there.

Meetings start at 10:15, but may be standing room only by starting time as there is limited seating.

Free to members of CCSPA. $3 non-members. Details here.

Soils, minerals, fungi and more

The upcoming presentation is on plants that uptake nickel as a biological weapon to combat insect predation, and the insect that is beating the system reinforces the connectedness between plants and other features of the natural world. In the Carrizo Plain there are plants that only grow in salty soils, or gypsum rich soils, or iron-rich friable soils. Some are dependent on the fungal population, some on forced absence of other species generated by the soil chemistry which eliminates competition. The fungi, which have shown up in profusion this year have a completely different roster of species in the Cambria pines (great January field
trip by the way), and in the Los Osos Oaks. Without the mushrooms, dead stuff will accumulate on the ground, and the fungi chew into the pine needles and old branches to release the nutrients for the next generation of plants. That is why CNPS, in a resolution made several decades ago, stated that it was ‘more than just plants’ in considering ecosytem integrity.

There is, of course, always a problem in these days of human activity in the
natural environment. As Mark Skinner points out, we have introduced weeds that are great ‘generalists,’ have a rapid and early growth cycle, and abundant seed production. These can cover the substrate, denying the space needed for the fruiting of mushrooms, and eliminating space for natives. Sometimes the soils that are still ‘nasty’ as far as the aliens are concerned, will become the last stands for important parts of the California flora.

-David Chipping