What Did We Plant?

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

The most common question that park visitors asked us as we were working on establishing the Native Pollinator Habitat this past weekend was, “What are you planting?” Here’s the answer.

Coffeeberry (Frangula californica). It’s also called the California Buckthorn. It’s a California native that forms a dense evergreen shrub that may get to 15 feet tall. The flowers are too small to make a show, but then come berries, bright red, then purple and finally black. They’re a bird magnet. More than ten butterflies and moths make their homes on this plant, including Gray Hairstreak, Pale tiger Swallowtail, Ceanothus Silkmoth, Elegant Sheepmoth, Orange Tortrix Moth, and others. We’ve planted five of them.

California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica). This California native gives off a strong aroma when you brush it. It’s a member of the sunflower family, not a true sage, which limits its popularity for cooking. Indigenous medicine practitioners used it for pain relief. This plant is a home to the endangered California Gnatcatcher bird (Polioptila californica) and is attractive to quail. At least five species of butterflies and moths make it their home. We planted five of these plants. In ideal conditions they can grow to 8 feet tall. We have some growing in the park that have reached about five or six feet.

Purple Sage (Salvia leucophylla). We also planted five of these. This one is a true sage. The flowers make a beautiful springtime and early summer show that strongly attracts bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. Their native range is Southern California but some have been growing here for years and are doing well, especially since we freed them from the aggressive Kikuyu Grass that was stealing their nutrients and sunshine.

California Lilac (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus). This California native is often called by its Latin name, ceanothus. They produce lush mounds of blue or purplish flowers. Ceanothus is a major pollinator magnet. All kinds of bees, butterflies, and other flying pollinators converge on this plant when in bloom. On a warm sunny day, it literally buzzes with pollinator wings. Their normal life span is 15-30 years. The founders of the Native Plant Area planted a number of them in the early 1980s. Only a few still hang on; most have expired. We have planted 20 new ones.

California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum). This California native is a top performer in butterfly and bee gardens. The bush can grow to about six feet tall. It puts out a profusion of white, cream and pinkish flowers in Spring. These turn red as the dry summer advances. This plant is said to be the most important native source of honey in California, attracting numerous species of native bees as well as the introduced European honeybee. It also supplies nectar to at least 15 species of butterflies, and acts as host to the larvae of others. We planted five of these.

Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens). This plant made its home on the Channel Islands west of Los Angeles, but it has adapted to the park as well. We know this because one of them managed to survive in the Native Plant Area under a nasty blackberry bush. Check it out. Like the mainstream California buckwheat, this one has abundant flowers and is a magnet for pollinators. We planted five of them.

Coast Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium). Like the other buckwheats, this California native is a pollinator magnet. It likes to grow near the coast, where it spills its blanket of pink flowers out as a feast for many kinds of bees and butterflies. We planted five of these; they will be the first of their species here in the park.

Rock Phacelia (Phacelia californica). This California native puts out dense flower clusters consisting of small bell-shaped flowers that may be pale blue shading to lavender. This plant is a food source for the Mission Blue Butterfly, an endangered species endemic to the San Francisco Bay Area. It also supports at least three other butterfly and moth species as well as native bees and other pollinators. We planted 10 of these.

Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). We have a couple of scattered patches of this plant. It’s not at all “common” but has an ancient history as a medicinal plant. Although known already to the classical Greeks, it’s been in California so long that the Native Plant Society classifies it as native. Its abundant white flowers attract several types of butterflies and bees. We planted five of these.

Marsh Gumplant (Grindelia stricta var. angustifolia). These California natives excel for their ability to thrive in the poorest of soils. You can see them at the outer edges of the west side path bordering on the rip-rap. There is a lot of very poor soil in the park, including in the Native Plant Area, so these are valued. Butterflies of several species visit the mature flowers, as do bees. The buds show a head of sticky white latex that sometimes traps ants. We planted ten of these plants.

Bee Plant (Scrophularia californica). The name of this California native says it all. Although its flowers are tiny, they pack a truckload of nectar, and bees come from long distances to tank up there. Hummingbirds also know about them and visit, as do at least seven species of butterflies and some pollinator wasps. We have a few already growing in the park but in border areas where mowers have cut them down. We are planting five of them in spots where they will be safer.

California Aster (Symphyotrichum chilense). We planted a couple of these California natives a year ago as a test, and they took and thrived. Now we planted five more. This plant, also known as Pacific Aster, is a classic choice for butterfly gardens. It’s a host plant for the Northern Checkerspot, Field Crescent and Pearl Crescent butterflies, and offers nectar to many more. Its pale blue flowers are also lovely to look at.

California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum). We had a California Fuchsia growing on the ridge in the Native Plant Area two years ago, but over-aggressive cleanup by contractors took it out. We’ve now planted five new ones. This isn’t a real fuchsia, just looks like one. But it’s a major magnet for hummingbirds, whose long tongues sip the nectar deep in the flower. It’s said that there’s no better California native for bringing hummingbirds.

Purple Needlegrass (Stipa pulchra). This California native grass became the California state grass in 2004. It can grow up to three feet tall, and send its roots more than 20 feet deep, which helps it survive droughts. Its tiny flowers and fruits attract numerous insects, birds, and small mammals. It’s the most widespread California native grass. It produces large amounts of seeds that are pointed and can easily bury themselves. In this way, Purple Needlegrass helps suppress invasive plant species and also supports native oaks. We’ve planted 20 of its seedlings.

Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia). We’re planting one small seedling of this California native oak. It will join almost a dozen others that grow in scattered locations in the north half of the park. Ours is probably the only one planted with human intention. Birds and squirrels can carry the acorns long distances and bury them. Although these oaks can grow gigantic, here in the park they are shrubby bushes rarely more than head high. Native oaks are among the most important wildlife plants. At least 40 butterflies and moths use these oaks as host plants.

Quiz: The photo below shows one of the plants from the above list, as seen in the Native Plant Area three years ago. Can you tell which species it is?

Answer below

Tomorrow: Planting five-gallon native trees. To learn more about the plants growing in the park, both native and other, go to the Plant List.

Burrowing Owl Update

The Burrowing Owl this morning perched in the same spot as yesterday. If you knew where to look and were tall enough you could see its head from the paved perimeter pathway outside the fence. I took this video with my tripod max extended so I got a bit more than the bird’s head. The bird appeared calm, alert in a quiet sort of way, and at moments a bit sleepy. Excerpts from a longer video below.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Nov. 21 2022

Thanks to California Native Plant Society’s Calscape for plant images and info used on this page.

Answer to quiz: Eriogonum arborescens

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One thought on “What Did We Plant?

  • November 21, 2022 at 6:37 pm
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    Thanks Marty for adding this note. I had been getting some questions about what was being planted and couldn’t remember all the names. Helen

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