Lightning Night - Local Students and Researchers share their Passion and their Projects

Doors open 6:45pm, Main presentation begins 7:30pm

@ the Murray Community Center, Mission Viejo

Also Via Zoom by clicking here (starts at approximately 7:30pm)

Bonus: sales of 2 or more species of milkweed


Southern California is home to exciting and relevant environmental research emerging from several of its colleges and universities. Many of them are doing studies related to aspects of our native plants (floristics, population studies, restoration, genetics, climate change effects, etc.) Join us, as students from Cal State Long Beach, CSU Fullerton, San Diego State, Concordia University Irvine, and UC Irvine each present an 8-minute exploration of their student projects. They are quite interesting  – in fact the following fast-paced lightning talks are not to be missed!

Daniel Donovan - “Vascular Plant Flora of Ladd Canyon, Santa Ana Mts”. Intriguing Ladd Canyon… areas with no recorded fire, steep topography, serpentine soil, three CA Rare Plant Rank 1.B plants, and 692 new voucher specimens.

Haley Heesch - “Post-fire Restoration at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve”. Uplifting Spoiler… local weedy reserve burns and becomes restoration opportunity for native plants!

Mel Letterman - “Documenting the Flora of the Brea Dam Park”. Good news… this park has almost no herbarium collections, but the gap in north Orange County flora is about to get smaller with this project.

Xinyu Li - “Effects of post-fire age on vegetation recovery and flowering - A study of inland coastal sage scrub in Orange County”. The beautiful science you will see… detailed pre-fire vs post-fire vegetation comparisons.

Niveditha Ramadoss - “Consequences of being a unisexual”. Highlighting… the rare Wolf’s cholla (Cylindropuntia wolfii) and other Cylindropuntia.

Tyler Zarubin - “Plant-herbivore interactions and the forces that mediate them”. The Focus… how a plant’s water availability/use responses affect associated insect communities.



DANIEL DONOVAN, who recently received his Master’s degree from California State University Long Beach will present “Vascular Plant Flora of Ladd Canyon, Santa Ana Mts". Limited access to Ladd Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains has made it a botanical black hole within the Cleveland National Forest. The canyon, covering 18.2 km^2, is dominated by chaparral and coastal sage scrub and includes significant knobcone pine stands and riparian woodland. Features that make it an intriguing area to study include the only serpentine soil in the Santa Ana Mountains, large tracts of habitat that have no recorded fire history, steep topography that one observer has suggested funnels moist marine air through the canyon, and relatively low human impacts. To help close the gap in our knowledge of this area, I collected 692 voucher specimens over 79 field trips from 2020 to 2022 and produced a vascular plant checklist of 324 taxa, including the rare plants Lepechinia cardiophylla (California Rare Plant Rank 1B.2), Calochortus weedii var. intermedius (1B.2), and Monardella hypoleuca subsp. intermedia (1B.3) and several watchlist taxa. 

Daniel received his M.S. from CSU Long Beach this February and is “now working as a field botanist for the San Diego Natural History Museum. I am married with two kids and split my time between Long Beach and San Diego, but I still consider the Santa Ana Mountains my backyard.” Daniel was the 2021 Charlie O’Neill Grant Recipient, from OC CNPS.


HALEY HEESCH, a Field Researcher at UC Irvine’s Environmental Collaboratory Department will present, Post-fire Restoration at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. When wildfires burn heavily invaded landscapes, it provides an opportunity for restoration by increasing bare ground for the seeding and planting of natives. The Bolsa Chica Mesa is a unique habitat due to its proximity to the coast and the rarity of undeveloped coastal sites in Southern California. On July 26, 2020, 26 acres of the Bolsa Chica Reserve Mesa burned in a wildfire. The resulting bare ground provided an opportunity for native species to be established through restoration plantings. Our overarching objective was to determine the best method for increasing native diversity and reducing non-native plant cover at a recently burned site within the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. Our results provide information on how wildfire can be used as an opportunity for restoration.

“My role at UCI’s Environmental Collaboratory includes maintaining infrastructure, implementing experimental manipulations, and collecting data across Orange County. I also help run UCI’s Center for Environmental Biology’s undergraduate internship program, which seeks to engage interns in authentic environmental research and outreach experiences.”


MEL LETTERMAN is a Master’s student working in the Der Lab at California State University, Fullerton will be speaking on their project, Documenting the Flora of the Brea Dam Park. Within urban Orange County, there are very few nature parks and fewer documentation of the plant species inhabiting them. Brea Dam Park, located in the center of Fullerton, is an open space park full of hidden native plants within a jungle of exotic ornamental and invasive plants. With only two herbarium records collected in the Brea Damn Park area, there is a strong need to document the native and

invasive plants residing in the area. Additionally, iNaturalist is one of the tools being utilized to record the plant species within the park by Mel and community scientists.

Mel is an undergraduate botany student at CSU, Fullerton. Their love for plants has led them into many different paths such as Herbarium Assistant at the Faye A. MacFadden Herbarium, Program Technician at Irvine Ranch Conservancy, Native Plant Specialist at Tree of Life Nursery, and Restoration Coordinator at Fairview Park. In their free time, you can find them exploring the Santa Ana Mountains looking for plants, insects, and other critters.


XINYU LI, is a PhD Student of the Campbell Lab at UC Irvine, who has been working on the influence of fire on plant-pollinator relationships in OC plant communities. Her presentation Effects of post-fire age on vegetation recovery and flowering - A study of inland coastal sage scrub in Orange County will focus on their long-term vegetation monitoring data to better understand the recovery of local coastal sage scrub (CSS) and grassland communities, with the inclusion of detailed pre-fire vs post-fire vegetation composition comparisons. Coastal sage scrub flowering and pollination at different post-fire stages will also be glimpsed.

“I grew up in New Zealand where I first gained an interest in ecology from learning about the work done by our (New Zealand’s) Department of Conservation, and came to the United States to do my undergraduate degree at Duke University.”


NIVEDITHA RAMADOSS, a PhD candidate in Evolutionary Biology in the Joint Doctoral Program of San Diego State University and University of California Riverside, working in the Lluvia Flores-Renteria Lab will present Consequences of being a unisexual.

This presentation will inform about the sexual systems of native Cylindropuntia species and the ecological consequences of having the sexes separated in some species. I will focus on Wolf’s cholla (Cylindropuntia wolfii) a rare native cactus bordering California and Baja California which possesses six different flower color morphs within the same location. Although it produces beautiful flowers, this plant rarely sets mature seeds. We have explored different factors that might be influencing this reduced seed production. Moreover C. wolfii works as a great model to study sexual dimorphism (the physical difference in characters between individuals of different sex in the same species) which is a widely studied phenomenon in animals but little is known about sexual dimorphism in plants.

“I did my Masters at California State University Northridge in Molecular Biology where I studied stress tolerance of plants. I did my undergraduate degree in Biotechnology in Chennai (India), which is my hometown. While there I studied the antimicrobial activity of native plant extracts. In my free time, I enjoy fostering kittens for San Diego Humane Society.”


TYLER ZARUBIN, a PhD Student at UC Irvine’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology working in the Mooney Lab (additional affiliation Concordia University Irvine) will present Plant-herbivore interactions and the forces that mediate them. His project aims to understand how a plant’s water use strategy mediates its response to changes in precipitation and how these responses then scale up to affect insect arthropod communities on these plants. Study plots are at Concordia University, Irvine.

“Professor Zarubin is Assistant Professor of Biology at Concordia Univeristy Irvine and also serves as the Director of the CUI Heritage Garden, where students, faculty, and the local community have the opportunity to ecosystem gardening.”