California Native Plant Society
Orange County Chapter
Location, Time, Contact
UCI Arboretum; Thursdays 10-1; Celia Kutcher, 949-496-9689
Golden West College; Tuesday & Thursday, 10 – 1; Dan Songster, 949-768-0431
Chapter meetings are held at the Duck Club in Irvine on the third Thursday of the month, September through June. Doors open at 6:45PM, Circumvistas allenii (Bob’s Look-around) 7:15 – 7:30, program starts at 7:30.
Directions to the Duck Club:
Driving south on the 405, exit on Jamboree, turn right. Left on Michelson to 3rd signal. Right on Riparian View. Pass the IRWD water treatment plant. Follow signs to Audubon House and the Duck Club.
Driving north on the 405, exit on Culver and turn left. At the second signal, Michelson, turn right. Continue on Michelson to third signal, Riparian View, turn left toward the IRWD treatment plant and follow signs to The Duck Club. [Thomas Guide to Orange County, page 859 J-7]
Speaker: Bob Allen
Join us as the energetic Bob Allen takes us to different Orange County locations to discuss and illustrate tips for photographing our local wildflowers-All while we relax in the comfort of the Duck club!
This unique presentation will appeal to many; those just starting out photographing in nature will certainly learn more than enough to point them in the right direction, while those who have been snapping away for years will pick up those “tricks of the trade” that will make their images just that much better.
Those of you who have taken Bob’s photography class know he has a deep knowledge of nature photography and a knack for making it all understandable. Besides the photography tips and tricks he will also show us where in Orange County to go for great wildflower shots, the importance of timing your trips, and ‘specialties’ (the rare and unusual) to add to your life list of must have photos.
Of course, like all Bob’s talks we should expect a dash of humor and we will likely learn several things about our wildflowers we did not know, so it will be an enjoyable night for all.
Bob Allen is a nature photographer, author, instructor, and consulting biologist. Raised in San Juan Capistrano, he studied insects from a very early age. In high school, he was introduced to plants, became hooked, and bought his first copy of Philip Munz’s Flora of Southern California at age 15. He is currently preparing his eagerly awaited second book, A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains.
Speaker: Barbara Eisenstein
“Both in the landscape and in the intimate detail of form, movement, sound and smell, native grasses add richness and poetry to our lives.” From Wild Lilies, Irises, and grasses-Gardening with California Monocots, Nora Harlow & Kristin Jacobs, editors
Although many gardeners think of grass as “that plant” that has to be mowed every week, Barbara Eisenstein will dispel that notion and help us appreciate the many species of native grasses that often rival garden flowers for beauty and always seem to add movement, seasonality, and an element of timelessness and grace that few other plants can impart.
These easy to grow plants often reach their mature height in just one growing season and can be used as ground covers and turf substitutes, meadows that rarely have to be pruned or mowed, specimen focal points, unusual hedges, perennial borders, companion plants for drought-demanding bulbs, naturalized plantings, and even rock garden plants. Who wouldn’t want to try them in their landscape?
Barbara’s engaging talk will range from the small and fine textured to the large and robust grasses, showing us how easily these California grasses can add that special something for your garden!
Barbara Eisenstein is the former Horticulture Outreach and Education Coordinator at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, California. She graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in geology, and from Rutgers University with an advanced degree in science education. Before joining the staff at Rancho, Barbara worked at Rutgers University producing science related educational materials and more recently worked as an environmental education consultant for non-profit organizations and governmental agencies on projects focusing on sustainable living and gardening, with an emphasis on the use of Southern California native plants in home gardens.
Her horticulture background derives from course work at Mount San Antonio College, volunteer work in the Cultivar Garden at Rancho, and her own native plant garden in South Pasadena where she has developed a garden that attracts interesting insects, birds, lizards and more. Her garden successes and challenges are candidly posted on her garden blog, Wild Suburbia (www.wildsuburbia.blogspot.com). If you missed her talk at the recent “At Home with Natives” symposium, don’t miss her new presentation on our wonderful native grasses.
This is our special celebration meeting, in which we honor past achievements and thank our members. There will be delicious refreshments, some exciting and unique items up for bidding in a silent auction, and a raffle drawing. In fact, if you bring an item to the raffle table, you will receive 5 free raffle tickets, a great opportunity to exchange something you have enjoyed but no longer need!
"The Great Central Plain of California, during the months of March, April and May"
Excerpted from John Muir's essay “The Bee-Pastures”
“One smooth, continuous bed of honey-bloom
a distance of more than 400 miles
a hundred flowers pressed at every step…
The radiant, honeyful corollas, touching and overlapping,
glowed in the living light like a sunset sky—
one sheet of purple and gold…”
Please send your three-line glimpses, Poemsis trilineata, (or other works) to . Visit. Thea’s website at www.theagavin.com.
We have had a busy year in the Orange County chapter. After a summer retreat board meeting in July of 2008 set our goals and attitude for the year, we embarked on an ambitious schedule of meetings, field trips and special activities, all with the goal of promoting the understanding and conservation of California native plants.
We held our fall plant sale in October at Tree of Life Nursery. We adopted bylaws in November and elected officers and board members, including new recruits Jennifer Mabley as Treasurer and Gene Ratcliffe as Secretary, in December. We hosted two photo workshops by Bob Allen in January. Several of us attended the CNPS Conservation Conference in January. We hosted our first "At Home with Natives" all-day symposium in March. During April, we reached out to the public during Green Scene at the Cal State Fullerton Arboretum, at the South Coast Plaza Garden show, and at the botanic garden luncheon for the Great Park. On May 2nd, we will host a tour of a very special native garden. We made over a dozen field trips available this spring.
Our chapter boasts several members who serve CNPS at the statewide level, including Brad Jenkins as Treasurer of CNPS and Laura Camp as Secretary of the Chapter Council. In addition Nancy Heuler is our new 2009 representative to Chapter Council, Dan Songster is on the CNPS Native Gardens Committee, and Sarah Jayne and Celia Kutcher are consistently active with stateside issues.
Many people deserve particular thanks for their contributions, large and small, to the success of the chapter. Sarah Jayne, Celia Kutcher and Dan Songster have been leading this chapter for many years, and they continue to contribute many hours in too many areas to list. Brad Jenkins has done so much for our outreach and as treasurer, and we count on his continuing steady leadership. Bob Allen is our teacher extraordinaire; Joan Hampton arranges field trips and handles membership issues; Rich Schilk coordinates our books and assists with field trips; Nancy Heuler ordered our great new tshirts and is our liaison to the Great Park. Bill Neill works diligently to help eradicate non-native invasive plants from our parks. Fred Roberts and Dave Bramlet consult and educate about rare plants. Jennifer and Gene have been jumping in to assist in many areas, as new board members are wont to do.
"At Home with Natives" was such a big event that it has its own article and thank yous elsewhere in this newsletter.
Green Scene outreach happened thanks to Laura Camp, John Gossett, Joan Hampton, Nancy Heuler, Sarah Jayne, Brad Jenkins, Celia Kutcher, Monique Miller, Mary Olander, Gene Ratcliffe, and Debbie and Ralph Sugg. Thank you!
The South Coast Plaza Garden Show was staffed by volunteers Jeanne Carter, Dee Epley, Kathy Glendinning, John Gossett, Sarah Jayne, Brad Jenkins, Celia Kutcher, Diane Wollenberg, and Tree of Life Nursery staff Debbie Evans, Monique Miller, Junior Rodriguez and Laura Camp, plus Bobby Cressey.
Finally, all this would not be possible without all of our members. You attend our monthly meetings and our field trips (and lead them too!), you bring your friends, and you enthusiastically participate in our events. You inspire us and make our community special.
We hope you will join us at our June general meeting to celebrate our chapter's accomplishments, and enjoy our social hour. This summer we will have our second all-day board retreat at Starr Ranch on July 11, 2009. We will be working to maintain our momentum and re-focus our goals. The board members and committee chairs always get a chance to have their say. Please let me know if you have ideas about where we should go from here.
ENDANGERED SPECIES DAY is May 15. As we well know in SoCal, if it were not for the Endangered Species Act our natural heritage would be hopelessly lost. It is a day to celebrate the Act’s many successes—especially SoCal’s own California gnatcatcher! ACTION NOW: See stopextinction.org for celebration events. No events are officially scheduled in OC—celebrate the Endangered Species Act in whatever you do on May 15!
ALISO CREEK WATERSHED: On May 7 the public input process for proposed watershed improvements/restoration in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park will begin with a public Scoping Meeting, 6:30 - 8:30 PM, Mission Viejo City Council Chamber, 200 Civic Center (near corner of Marguerite Pkwy. and La Paz Rd.), Mission Viejo. The Corps of Engineers and the County of Orange will present their Intent to Prepare an EIR/EIS study that will evaluate an approximately 7-mile reach of the Aliso Creek and 1,000 feet of its tributary Wood Canyon (all within the Park), and take public comments on the proposal. The study area encompasses parts of the cities of Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel and Aliso Viejo, and unincorporated OC. The project will focus on watershed improvements to restore the creek’s dynamic function and habitat for endangered species by developing alternatives for ecosystem restoration for impacted reaches of the creek. Additional stakeholder meetings on the study will be scheduled. Contact: Zoila Verdaguer-Finch, or 714-955-0618. ACTION NOW: Become involved in this public process! The final version of this project will set important precedents and have ramifications well beyond OC.
SANTA ANA MOUNTAINS:
1. The California Chaparral Institute (CCI) has proposed designation of a Grizzly Bear National Monument (GBNM) within the Trabuco District. This would honor the last grizzly bear in Southern California, which was killed in Trabuco Canyon in 1908, and also give National Park/Monument protection to a pristine portion of SoCal’s chaparral ecosystem. GBNM would encompass District lands roughly between Ortega Hwy. and Silverado Road. The proposal is contained within CCI’s Forest Plan, see californiachaparral.com/images/Final_Chaparral_Preservation_Plan.pdf.
2. The application by The Nevada Hydro Company (TNHC) to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), for a license to build a transmission line through the Trabuco District has been rejected by a CPUC Administrative Law Judge on the grounds that that the application is not complete. One of the main objections was that the required full and complete evaluation of the proposed project was not possible because TNHC had not completed negotiations with the U.S. Marine Corps, Camp Pendleton, for permission to use USMC land to construct a substation and attendant transmission lines. Furthermore, the USMC has submitted a document to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stating that they have concluded that the site proposed for the new substation and transmission line is in an important operational area of Camp Pendleton and would severely impact USMC’s use of the area. Thus USMC will no longer negotiate with TNHC and will not permit the proposed project on their land. This is very good!
—Celia Kutcher, Conservation Chair
[As always, you may contact Celia at if you have questions or would like to become actively involved.]
On March 28, 2009 your Orange County Chapter of CNPS and Golden West College Native Garden (GWCNG) hosted an all-day symposium "At Home with Natives", sponsored by Tree of Life Nursery. Speakers, including Dan Songster of CNPS and GWCNG, Debbie Evans of Tree of Life Nursery, and Bart O'Brien and Barbara Eisenstein of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, provided information and inspiration to an enthusiastic sold-out audience of 95 attendees.
Dan's presentation, "Horticultural Lessons Learned over Thirty Years" covered many practical tips and tricks for planting and maintaining a native garden. Debbie featured thirty plus native plants that are important staples in the Southern California garden. Bart focused on Ceanothus and Epilobium, talking about some of the most beautiful and reliable selections and how to maintain them to best advantage. Barbara's talk utilized her experience developing her own home garden, and covered important design and method considerations.
In the afternoon, Dan Songster and Celia Kutcher led tours of the beautiful 20-year old garden under blue skies, talking especially about design and maintenance. Of course, attendees wanted to know "what is that?" and were introduced to many of the native plants growing in the garden. A tea and brownie social with a native plant sale rounded out the day.
Many thanks to our volunteers and organizers for the day, especially Dan Songster, who inspired, led and coordinated the entire event. Thea Gavin ably organized the volunteers and kept the show running behind the scenes. Jennifer Mabley handled all the registration beautifully. Brad Jenkins volunteered other crucial assistance. Elizabeth Songster along with Georgia and Floyd Cone (Elizabeth’s sister and brother-in-law from Vermont) kept the food flowing. Other volunteers included Mary Arambula, Laura Camp, Thomas Flood, Kathy Glendinning, Joan Hampton, Nancy Heuler, Celia Kutcher, Alan Lindsay, Monique Miller, and Rich Schilk. Please forgive if your name was inadvertently omitted. A final thank you to all the participants—you were tremendous.
Co-chairs: Joan Hampton and Richard Schilk
A message from the Field Trip Committee
Most of the field trips listed below do not require prior registration—but we recommend that you do so anyway, giving us your name, email, cell phone number, and perhaps a second phone as well. Why should you pre-register? There are several reasons:
§ Notification of cancellations, detours or other changes.
§ Extra information—such as directions, maps or plant lists—provided by Rich for some hikes.
§ Possible assistance for car pooling.
We use your email only to provide information about OC CNPS field trips, and your cell phone only for last minute field trip updates.
To register for hikes or find answers to your questions, please email Rich at . To contact him about last minute problems the day of the hike, phone him at (714) 351-7688. On field trips where pre-registration is required, directions and other information will be provided only to those who register beforehand.
This 1,200 acre wilderness reserve, created in 1990, includes oak woodlands, coastal sage scrub and native grasslands. It is only open to the public for docent led hikes. We will take a loop trail that is mostly on level terrain with a few gentle inclines. Pre-registration is mandatory.
Santa Rosa Plateau is unique in that this relatively small area contains six distinct plant communities: bunchgrass prairie, oak woodland, vernal pools, chaparral, riparian and coastal sage scrub. In particular, we will look at vernal pool flora and hunt for SRP’s famed brodiaeas. We will meet at the Visitor’s Center, then carpool or hike to the location.
We will join the Natural Science Section for a slow paced 3-4 hour plant walk to identify wildflowers and learn about plants.
Directions: Take the 57 or 605 freeway north and the 210 west to Monrovia. exit Myrtle Ave north to Foothill Blvd. Turn right on Foothill and left on Canyon Blvd into Monrovia Park. Meet 9:30 am at first parking area inside park. Bring lunch, money for parking, water, hand lens, and binoculars. optional $1 for plant list and $1 for hand lens. Rain cancels.
This is a beautiful and very popular trail through canyon live oak, incense-cedar, black and interior live oak, sugar, ponderosa and coulter pine forest just above Idyllwild. The trail almost immediately crosses a beautiful creek with thimbleberry, mountain pink currant, and western azalea. The trail is completely shaded for about 80% of its length, with forest treasures such as Parish's burning bush, pinedrops, little prince's pine and San Jacinto buckwheat popping up here and there. Forest openings have delights such as pink-bracted manzanita, plain mariposa lily, mountain grape-soda lupine, southern mountain woolly-star, whisker-brush, diamond-petaled clarkia, and clustered broom-rape.
Directions: Take SR-91 to its junction with SR-60 in Riverside. Go east on SR-60 18 miles to its end at I-10. Take I-10 6 miles to Exit 100 for “8th street toward State Highway 243", and turn right on “S 8th street / CA-243”, following the signs for Idyllwild. Turn left at "CA-243/W Lincoln St" and go about one mile to the stop sign. Continue following the signs "to Idyllwild" by turning right, and continue on CA-243 past Pine Cove to Idyllwild. Plan on only going 30 mph for the 24 miles up CA-243 due to curves and slow traffic that cannot be passed, taking 45 minutes for this leg.
Go past the stop sign at the entrance to downtown Idyllwild. Follow it through downtown Idyllwild to the stop sign at its intersection with Pine Crest and South Circle Drive and turn right (there is a big sign pointing to Humber Park). After one block, turn left on Fern Valley Road, signed toward "Humber Park". Continue on Fern Valley Road for 1.6 miles to its end at Humber Park, being careful to follow it through its many turns and twists by paying attention to the center stripe.
The signed Ernie Maxwell Trailhead is at the first striped parking next to the road. A National Forest Adventure Pass is needed to park within Humber Park, or you can park on the dirt roadside just below its entrance.
We will join the Natural Science Section for a slow paced 3-4 hour plant walk to identify plants and learn about fire ecology in a fire-recovered canyon.
Directions: Take the 57 freeway north and the 210 freeway east, to the Base Line Rd. exit. Turn left onto E. Base Line Rd. (CA-30). Cross over the freeway ramps, then turn right onto Padua Ave. Continue north to Mt. Baldy Rd. Turn right, going north up Mt. Baldy Rd. about 2 mi to the trailhead on the left side of road (a National Forest Adventure Pass may be required). Meet at 9:30 am at the trailhead on Mt. Baldy Rd. about 0.4 miles north of San Antonio Dam. Bring water, lunch, hand lens, binoculars; optional $1 for plant list and $1 for hand lens. Rain cancels.
What do salt, a floating nest, endangered species, and halophytes have in common? Marine biologist Trude Hurd will share with you the ecology of the salt-tolerant plants of this popular Orange County coastal wetland. We will walk along the footbridge and 1.5 mile loop trail to examine common plants and algae in addition to learning their important role in the wetland ecosystem and the animals that depend upon them. There will be time for discovery, field sketching, and sharing with friends.
What to bring: prepare for initial hot sun and then increasingly cold winds as the afternoon progresses. Bring water, hat, jacket, and comfortable walking shoes. Handouts and writing materials will be provided.
Directions: Bolsa Chica wetland is a 900-acre wetland located in Huntington Beach along the east side of Pacific Coast Highway between Warner Avenue and Golden West Street. If you are coming north on the 405, take Golden West Street exit and immediately get over into the fast lane to make a left turn onto Golden West. Coming south on the 405, take Golden West Street exit and turn right. Drive until it ends at Pacific Coast Highway. Turn right. Immediately after the second traffic signal, turn right into the parking lot of the reserve (across from the entrance to the Bolsa Chica State Beach). Parking is free but there is limited space.
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Go to http://www.bristleconecnps.org/ and click on Summer Sojourn Information for all the details and the registration packet. Enrollment is limited so check it out soon! [I’m going. The Ed.]
This series of five plant walks will be led by Jane Strong. Beginning May 2, the walks will be held on the first Saturday of the month (July’s will be the second Saturday) through September. Please go to the San Gabriel Chapter website at www.cnps-sgm.org/events.htm#alpine for all the details.
We began at an unusual time. Instead of a morning outing, Joel Robinson, our leader, had scheduled a late afternoon hike. The group was large, about 25 people, and included many who were not members of CNPS, but were participating in Joel’s nature walks. The weather was overcast and chilly, but the sun came out just as we began. The area was lush and green, and the afternoon shadows and light wind through the trees made a very pleasant atmosphere for this nature walk. The trail meandered through an ancient riverbed that was bordered in places by steep walls, some of which showed evidence of volcanic activity. We passed three tin mine entrances, two of which had been recently closed; one completely sealed, and the other with metal shutters over the entrance that allowed bats and small wildlife to access the cave. We encountered the contractor who was closing the caves and he turned out to be very knowledgeable about bats.
There were many plants in bloom, but a few were particularly stunning. The first was a specimen of California Lilac (Ceanothus crassfolius). It was a perfectly shaped mature plant that was covered with white flower clusters, with a bare rope-like trunk and lower branches that were very picturesque. If you were looking for landscape-worthy natives, it would have been a stunning centerpiece in a planted garden. According to Joel, this was a late bloomer for its variety; the entire hillside had been covered with these blooms just a few weeks before. Similar plants, also in full bloom, included the purple flowered Hairy Lilac (Ceanothus oliganthus).
Another interesting plant was a large tangle of Virgin’s Bower (Clematis, probably lasiantha) that was in full bloom and draped over a shrub. We also saw a very lovely Wishbone Bush (Mirabilis laevis) in full bloom. Other plants in bloom included the ubiquitous Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpus), Chaparral Sweet Pea (Lathyrus vestitus), Blue-Dicks (Dichelostemma pulchellum), Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata), Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), Mulefat (Baccharis salicifolia), Wood Sorrel (Oxalis), and Milkmaids (Cardamine californica).
Plants that will be blooming soon included Fiesta Flower (Pholistoma sp.), Punchbowl Clarkia (C. bottae), Beardtongue (Penstemon sp.), and large stands of Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri). Other plants that we identified included Fuchsia-Flowered Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum), Monkey Flower (Mimulus), Thickleaf Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium), large specimens of Chalky Live-Forever (Dudleya pulverulenta) at the tops of the rock walls, Laurel Sumac (Rhus laurina), Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica), California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica) and Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia). Just leafing out were California Flowering-Ash (Fraxinus dipetala), Willow (Salix sp.), and large stands of Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversiloba) all along the trail.
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My feelings about field trips in general are mixed. The pleasures and benefits are obvious, but the downsides many: trudging up hills; crossing creeks on slimy rocks; trekking long distances; schlepping heavy equipment; getting hot, sweaty and dirty; and answering nature’s calls under daunting circumstances. There were times when I was not sure that it was worth it.
Those of us who participated in the April 4 auto tour, obviously custom-designed with couch potatoes in mind, were able to avoid all those hardships on this beautiful Saturday afternoon, as we toured the Irvine Ranch with Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff.
In addition to the services of Senior Field Ecologist Jutta C. Burger and Field Ecologist Susie Anon, our distinguished “chauffeurs” were long time OC CNPS members Dick Newell and Don Millar. One of the highlights of the tour was a visit to a California Trapdoor Spider colony in Limestone Canyon, which Jutta, also a CNPS member and occasional spider researcher, is monitoring.
Jutta and her staff pre-tripped the route before our visit, so that our stops included only those with the best wildflower displays. These were primarily along the Hick’s Haul Road, on a site up Loma Ridge Road, along Limestone Canyon Road and at sites overlooking The Sinks and Santiago Canyon.
In addition to providing vehicles and drivers, we were given plant checklists plus handouts with color images of local butterflies. Nice!
The flowers we saw blooming included the usual liars: Wild [not actually a] Hyacinth (Dichelostemma capitatum) and California Blue-Eyed [not actually a] Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum). There were several lupine species, plus the ever-present California Poppy, Chia, Morning Glory, Canterbury Bells (Phacelia parryi) and more. Fugitive Scrophs we saw included Monkey Flower (now in the Phrymaceae family), striking, orange-red-flowered Coastal Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis) and Purple Owlsclover (Castilleja exserta, formerly named Orthocarpus purpurascens). As Jutta noted, the latter two species are now members of the vampiric Orobanchaceae family, whose roots steal nutrients from their hapless neighbors.
The best sightings? First, seeing everybody’s perennial favorite; Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria biflora), growing alongside a stretch of road above Santiago Canyon. And in second place; watching wheezing, creaky seniors contorting themselves into unnatural postures to photograph the Chocolate Lilies while squinting through the LCD screens of their digital cameras.
Other highlights included Catalina Mariposa Lily (Calochortus catalinae), Cream Cups (Platystemon californicus), a member of the Papaveraceae, the delicate Chaparral Gilia (G. angelensis), Ground Pink (Linanthus dianthiflorus), Menzies’ Red Maids (Calandrinia ciliata) and most notably—a first for me—the Woodland Star (Lithophragma affine ssp. mixtum), a member of the Saxifragaceae.
This is the second year that the Irvine Ranch Conservancy has hosted an auto tour for our chapter. Jutta intends to make this an annual tradition. Sign me up in perpetuity!
—Laura Lyons, Nursery Manager, UCI Arboretum
Shakespeare once observed, "What’s in a name?" If you’re a taxonomist or botanist, quite a bit! It is interesting, as someone who is between two worlds—the super precise terminology of the botanist or taxonomist and the more casual world of horticulture and gardening, to consider how certain common words are used.
Today I’d like to consider the word, "perennial." Perennials are justifiably popular plants in our gardens; over the last ten years, there has been an explosion in the varieties offered. Dig deep into gardening books, though, and you start seeing all kinds of qualifiers. What is a "short lived" perennial, or an "herbaceous" perennial, or a "woody" perennial? People are surprised to hear me refer to bulbs as "perennials," but they fit the definition.
So, what is the definition of a perennial? The Royal Dictionary of Gardening defines a perennial as “A plant lasting for three years or more.” The venerable Sunset Western Garden Book defines it as “…a nonwoody plant that lives for more than 2 years” The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California defines a perennial as “Living more than two years or growing seasons; restricted in the Jepson manual to plants that are essentially non-woody aboveground.”
OK, so the commonality is that the plant lives three or more years. So isn’t a tree a perennial, then?
Now we come to our first qualifier; a botanist or taxonomist would call most of what are sold as "perennials" in our nurseries an "herbaceous perennial." Time to dig back into our sources for some more definitions….
What do they mean by "herbaceous?" Western Garden Book: "Herbaceous, the opposite of woody, describes a plant with soft (nonwoody) tissues." In the strictest sense, it refers to plants that die to the ground each year and regrow stems the following growing season. In the broadest sense, it refers to any nonwoody plant—annual, perennial or bulb.
Jepson Manual uses the strict definition cited in the Western Garden Book; Royal Dictionary of Gardening uses both the strict and broad definitions from Sunset.
Let’s look at the broad definition from Sunset, since it is closest to our common usage of the word "perennial." In this case, putting the broad definition of "herbaceous" together with “perennial” yields "A non-woody plant that lives three or more years." Note that Sunset acknowledges that a bulb is a perennial; in fact, most of them closely follow the strict definition of herbaceous: "plants that die to the ground each year and regrow stems the following growing season."
OK, so a tree clearly isn’t a perennial. What about a shrub? Why, for example, is Leonotis leonoris (Lion’s tail) considered a perennial, but a Podcocarpus is not?
To understand this, we need to dig a bit into the anatomy of a plant. The difference is actually rather simple. Woody plants have a lot of pith. Pith is defined as "the innermost tissue containing thick-walled, specialized cells, principally responsible for the structural support of the plant. Quite a bit of the pith is not living tissue." Lumber comes from pith tissue. Rigid pith allows woody plants to become much taller than an herbaceous perennial. Structurally, limited or nonexistent pith seems to limit perennials to about 5-8 feet in height. It also seems to limit the diameter of the stem. Perennials can nearly always be trimmed by pruning shears and loppers; go after a shrub or tree and you’d better have the pruning saw handy for main branches.
Another limitation appears to be age. Trees measure their life spans in decades or centuries, even millennia; shrubs like Podocarpus can persist for several decades and stay healthy if properly cared for. Perennials, on the other hand, seem to have a finite lifespan, especially in our gardens. Some perennials are defined as "short-lived." I would call that a perennial living less than six years. Nemesia and Diasica seem to be short-lived perennials, just to name a couple that readily come to mind.
At the end of its lifespan the plant either dies outright or becomes weak and spindly, usually prompting the gardener to replace them with a new, vigorous plant. We are in the process of replacing a number of the Plectranthus in the South African perennial garden at the moment; at nearly 15 years old, they seem to be at the end of their lifespan.
"What’s in a name?" Quite a lot, if you pursue any hobby, as we all pursue the hobby of gardening. The artist, the scrapbooker, the photographer all have their terminology, and so do those of us who have a "green thumb." It can save us from unpleasant surprises to know the terminology of our hobby. A photographer means something very precise when he uses the term "crop" as in "crop a picture." Scrapbookers, on the other hand, have swiped the term (we "crop" pictures too to fit them in our albums) and kind of turned it on its ear; we refer to making our album pages as "cropping" and hold "crop parties" where we get together in a group and work on our scrapbook albums. A photographer who came in to hold a workshop on digital photography at a scrapbook convention I attended was rather bemused to learn what WE meant by "crop!"
All joking aside, knowing the ‘lingo’ makes our hobbies easier and more enjoyable, and makes learning new techniques from magazines and newsletters easier. One might say it helps us avoid "perennial" problems in our gardens, and assures that our hobby will be a "perennial" joy.
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CNPS and the California Department of Fish and Game present:
Rare Plants of Coastal San Luis Obispo County workshop
Dr. David Keil, Deborah Hillyard, and Kevin Merk
MAY 29 & 30, 2009, SAN LUIS OBISPO
Course Description: The distinct combination of climate, soils and topography of coastal San Luis Obispo County are the foundation of the unique array of natural communities, which in turn support a wide variety of endemic, rare and endangered plant species. This workshop will utilize both classroom and field exploration of various local coastal communities, such as serpentine seep, grassland and chaparral; coastal dunes; coast live oak woodlands, including the local "elfin forest"; estuarine marsh; maritime chaparral; and coastal prairie. Learn to recognize these communities and their associated species, and which laws and regulations apply to their conservation.
COST: CNPS members: $310, Non-members: $335
For registration and for more information about this and other CNPS workshops, go to http://www.cnps.org/cnps/education/
Josie Crawford, Education Program Director
California Native Plant Society
2707 K ST, Ste1, Sacramento, CA 95816-5113
Following an extensive search, Greg Suba has been appointed as the new CNPS Conservation Program Director. Greg will be responsible for coordinating the development of conservation program initiatives and policies for the society.
Prior to joining CNPS, Greg worked to protect sensitive habitats at the urban/open space interface as watershed coordinator for the Laguna Creek Watershed Council in Sacramento County. His past work includes investigating reproductive strategies of seagrass populations along the west coast of North America, surveying forest inventory plots in California's National Forests, assessing riparian ecosystem health throughout Sacramento, El Dorado, and Placer Counties, and developing outdoor education and stewardship programs throughout northern California.
Greg received his B.S. in Biology from Duke University, his M.S. in Marine Science from UNC-Chapel Hill, and continues to learn from those with whom he works, lives, and plays. Greg will be starting his work with CNPS on May 1.
—Tara Hansen, Executive Director, CNPS