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Going Native

Championing the Cause of Native Plants and their Habitats


According to Dieter Wilken, Director of Conservation at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, in his foreword to A Flora of the Santa Barbara Region, California (Clifton F. Smith), “The native flora of California is renowned for its diversity and endemism. Over 6,000 species of vascular plants are distributed over a seemingly vast topography of rugged coastline, mountain ranges, and intervening basins. These species dominate a remarkable diversity of biomes, including the temperate rain forests of its northwestern coast, chaparral and oak savannas of the coast ranges, and shrublands of the desert interior.”

Conserving these diverse resources is one of the most important activities for everyone. Agriculture, logging, mining, and urban development threaten nearly every corner of California. Luckily, there are staunch advocates among biologists, ecologists, and hobbyists alike to champion the cause of native plants and their habitats. For the first time ever, California is officially honoring its native plants. Beginning this year, the third week in April will be recognized as California Native Plant Week by declaration of the State Assembly and Senate. An Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR 173) was passed last summer to celebrate California’s unique flora.

The bill “encourages community groups, schools, and citizens to undertake appropriate activities to promote restoration and to inform their neighbors and communities of the value of native plants in nature and in horticultural settings.” Recognizing that California natives have a role in the landscape is part of the mission of many different organizations, but one, the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) sponsored this resolution and will be organizing and hosting several celebrations. Visit cnps.org for updates.

That amazing diversity of native plants means that gardeners who want to utilize these species that are naturally adapted to the environment have a really big palette to select from. It must be remembered that these plants have specialized to grow in many different habitats: riparian species that thrive along creeks, fire-adapted chaparral species, and xerophytic choices that inhabit deserts.

The movement toward water-saving, low-maintenance gardens that utilize more natives is gaining momentum. Garden designers are getting on the band wagon and savvy home gardeners are replacing thirsty exotics with more appropriate regional choices. Forward-thinking horticulturists are growing and selling hundreds of native selections, making the transition easier.

Right here in Santa Barbara, the historic Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is continuing its long (celebrating 85 years this year!) tradition of preserving California natives on its 78 acres, as well as promoting the use of natives as garden ornamentals. In April, the garden hosts the Spring Plant Sale. Specializing in California natives, the sale also features other drought-tolerant species such as Mediterranean and xerophytic succulent plants.

The public sale begins Saturday, April 2, at 10 a.m., but members of the Garden get to shop early. On Friday, April 1, members can get their normal 10-percent discount plus an additional 5 percent for a total of 15 percent off on all plant purchases. Visit sbbg.org for the whole story.

Newbies to the native-plant world in need of inspiration may benefit from a look at other gardens that feature native plants. On April 16, the Garden will team up with the Channel Islands Chapter of CNPS to offer a self-guided tour of several private gardens in the Santa Barbara area. Find details on their Web sites.

April Tips

• To encourage larger fruits, remove developing fruits on peaches, nectarines, apples, and pears, leaving them spaced four to six inches apart.

• Start warm season veggies. To avoid pest problems, rotate by family—tomatoes, peppers, potatoes; peas, beans; cucumbers, squashes, pumpkins.

• Watch for aphids, and use a strong spray of water to dislodge them.

• Call the Theodore Payne Foundation Wildflower Hotline ([818] 768-3533) to find out where the best show is each week.

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