Why Back to Natives does not grow, sell or plant hybrids or cultivars.

At Back to Natives Restoration we use only locally native species with no hybrids or cultivars in the mix.  Cultivars and hybrids are two of the leading causes of species loss, right alongside habitat destruction and exotic species. California is one of 35 biodiversity hotspots, we are home to over 5,000 native species (and subspecies and varieties) within the California Floristic Province, with more than 2120 endemic to this floristic province. Most of these species are very much localized in the various parts of California, and taking those localized species to other parts of California is the same as taking other exotic species to those parts.

Hybridization with closely related nonnatives means the loss of the local species, not the spread of biodiversity as so many believe. This is not taking a “purist” point of view,  this is being a scientist that performs habitat restoration. Being scientists means that we must acknowledge that the spread of exotics means heavy competition with local natives. Being scientists means that we must  realize that pop tarts are a poor substitute, nutritionally, for breakfast food, just as nonnatives are poor substitutes for locally native species for our locally native animals.

If butterflies will NOT use hybrid Ceanothus, what else will not use them? And then, what about the animals that feed on the arthropod that are now absent because of the incredible numbers of commercially created hybrid Ceanothus?

This is where science comes into play, not purism. The ripples that commercially created hybrids, as in hybrid species that would not naturally ever come into contact with each other in the wild (because naturally occurring hybrids are cool, but just as volatile, and the next step in speciation), are untold but far spreading. They can cause numerous cascade failures in an already unstable eco system that is the California Floristic Province.  There is no room for compromise on what is native to a region, area, county, etc. We must be true, scientifically speaking, to the species historically found here, or risk losing all.

Friends and Community members, please hear me when I ask you to please NOT purchase any “named’ plants. Quotes around their names indicate that they were named by their creators in the nursery or horticultural center. These are NOT California Natives. They are NOT native anywhere as they were created in a commercial nursery or propagation program usually crossing two or more species that would NEVER have come in contact with each other in the wild. Margarita BOP Penstemon is NOT native to California. It is biological pollution and doesn’t even perform as it is supposed. Just use the real species, if it is native to where you are, namely Penstemon heterophyllus, Foothill Penstemon (which by the way is special enough as it is ENDEMIC to California!).

In California, There are over 6,000 species of native plants, in the California Floristic Province (which excludes the eastern sides of the Sierra Nevada and Peninsular and Transverse ranges, and includes a small portion of Oregon and a small portion of Baja California) there are 5,000 native species of Plants.

The Californica Floristic Province is one of only 35 recognized Biodiversity Hot Spots in the world! To be a Biodiversity Hot Spot, as recognized by Conservational International, the floristic province in question must pass two main points:

  1. It must have more than 1,500 species of vascular plants Endemic (found no place else on earth) to that ecoregion. California has 2,120 species of plants that are Endemic!
  2. 70%of the original habitat area must have already been destroyed. California has lost some 80% of its original natural areas. In Orange County alone we have less than 20% of our open space left, and less than 15% of that open space is still covered with native plants.

These endemic species, as mentioned above, are highly localized within our California Floristic Province. If you move them around to areas they were never found naturally, you risk causing the loss of another locally endemic species that is closely related to the endemic you moved. Hybridization is one of the main stressors causing loss of species, aka extinction. For instance, Laguna Beach Dudleya, Dudleya stolonifera, is found on only two boulders in the entire world, both in Laguna Beach. But all 38 species of Dudleya (all endemic to the California Floristic Province by the way) will hybridize readily, causing the loss of numerous locally specialized and endemic species and sub-species.

So no. We at Back to Natives Restoration are not being purists, we are being Scientists. I welcome your questions! Please send them to me via email and I may include my answer in this blog post for others to see.

– Reginald Durant, Executive Director, Back to Natives Restoration


Farewell Fountain Grass

by Cassandra Winston, ENC Communications Intern

The rainy season is upon us, and the aftermath is perfect for some weed pulling. Saturday January 14th, Back to Natives and roughly 20 volunteers took part in a habitat restoration effort at Santiago Creek. Santiago Creek is overpopulated with Pennisetum setaceum, also known as fountain grass, and this grass is not native to Orange County.  Back to Natives’ Board President Mark Sugars explains in depth, how this effects the ecosystem below:

Biodiversity is crucial for our environment, and to maintain it in this particular region, the fountain grass must be pulled up. It multiplies much faster than the native plants – it outcompetes them – hence throwing off the balance needed for a healthy ecosystem. The weeding of the pennisetum is the main focus of the ongoing restoration program at Santiago Park Nature Reserve. During the event, BTN staff, Green Shirts (volunteer leaders) and volunteers alike work together to remove as much of the fountain grass as possible from the roots to the seed fronds, replacing them with willow and mulefat saplings.

A few volunteers even shared their experience with us! Here’s what Winston, a loyal Back to Natives Volunteer, had to say:

“I am an environment lover, and Back to Natives is a perfect organization to help make the environment a better place and to save it…(the restoration)’s a very fun and interesting way to develop one’s ability and also to learn more about plants and the environment.”

Other volunteers, new and old had similar experiences! Cindy, a volunteer who attended a Restoration event once prior and returned for more, was more motivated by the joy of the work, but shared the same outlook on the event as Winston.

Back to Natives has plenty more restoration projects and volunteer opportunities to come! Join us in Orange County’s Cleveland National Forest in our efforts to restore the San Mateo Wilderness! You’ll get to play a part in saving the environment while getting a one-on-one experience with nature. For more information or to register, check our website. Don’t forget to bring a friend (they need to register too)! Unable to participate? Leave your mark with a donation to keep the earth moving. Every dollar makes a difference and what you put into the world, you will get out of it. Nature thanks you!

9th year of habitat restoration training scheduled!

A student learning how to use a weed wrench, which is used to remove larger invasive plants like Scotch Broom. Photo by Mark Bowler
A student learning how to use a weed wrench, which is used to remove larger invasive plants like Scotch Broom. Photo by Mark Bowler

Back to Natives Restoration, in a cooperative agreement with the United States Forest Service in the Cleveland National Forest, will lead a hands-on training course for restoration volunteers from January 19 to March 4, 2017. This successful program is now in its ninth year.

Participants will learn how to remove invasive non-native plant species using tools rather than herbicides.  They will learn how to keep themselves and others safe in the field, how to manage restoration volunteers, and how to identify native and non-native plants.

Graduates are eligible to lead volunteer groups in the National Forest. Volunteers and staff from all wild land agencies, organizations and non-profits are welcome to participate, and then share their new knowledge and skills with others.

ScotchBroomRemoval_smallIndividuals interested in attending the series of classes can visit https://www.backtonatives.org/education

Ecological restoration is a means of sustaining the diversity of life on Earth and reestablishing healthy ecosystems.  Successful habitat restoration ensures that native species are protected while non-native species are removed with minimal impact.  Nationwide, invasive plants cost us an estimated $33 billion per year. Invasive plants degrade wildlife habitat – they are the second-greatest threat to endangered species, after habitat destruction.

Back to Natives strives to involve the community in the process of ecological restoration and conservation because it believes that a little “ecological enlightenment” and a chance to “get your hands dirty” is the best way to improve relations between people and nature.

Join Craig Torres for a Native Tea Workshop at the BTN Nursery!

IMG_20141025_143132Back to Natives is hosting a native plant tea workshop on, Saturday November 12, 10AM – 12PM. Craig Torres, a descendant of the Native American Tongva people who inhabited the Los Angeles Basin, will talk about the uses of different native plant teas, provide materials to make tea bags, and have sample teas to drink (bring a small cup!) Register and prepay at backtonatives.org.

During this workshop, Torres will focus on ways to use different native plants in teas, including white sage (and other sages), wild rose (petals, blossoms, and hips), elderberry (blossoms and berries), yerba santa, yerba buena, and California juniper. Participants should come prepared to sample (bring a cup). Torres will also demonstrate making reusable, recyclable tea bags. This workshop will help attendees identify, cultivate and care for native plant teas they can grow on their own.

“For thousands of years, the indigenous people of the Los Angeles Basin relied on native plants for food, clothing, shelter, and medicine to support their health,” said Craig Torres. “These days, however, many of us are out of tune with our natural, native habitat and we rely on synthetic supplements to support our health. Learning how to use native plants as food and medicine allows us to reconnect with nature the way my Native American ancestors did.”

Back to Natives’ Native Plant Teas workshop will be held on Saturday November 12, 10AM – 12PM at the Back to Natives Nursery at Santiago Park, located near 600 E. Memory Lane in Santa Ana. Register and prepay at backtonatives.org.

What Native Plant Landscaping is NOT

A Back to Natives Native Plant Design. Want your own? Click HERE.

Sometimes native plant landscaping gets a bad rap. That is because there are those who feel that a native plant landscape simply means deciding to not mow, and neglecting to research the plants that are actually native to their area. They do not create a design or develop a plan. I perform habitat restoration, but I also use my skills to create beautiful and sustainable native landscapes here in California. I always use a plan and then maintain the landscape for the animals, but also considering the aesthetic appearance of the plantings. Without some modicum of design, your neighbors will not appreciate the beauty of locally native plants and want them in their yard.

A beautiful, mature native plant landscape by Back to Natives.
A beautiful, mature native plant landscape by Back to Natives.

Don’t fall prey to hubris and think that just because you planted it, or just didn’t bother to mow it, that you created a natural wildland beneficial to you, your neighbors and to local wildlife. Yes some native animals can use a nonnative weed lot, but it is subsistence living for them, not thriving, quality habitat. A weed lot with no rhyme or reason in your front yard creates enmity around the idea of native gardens, not encouraging the use of local natives in landscaping! This gives a bad name and a black eye to what I and so many others are trying to accomplish, namely to show the real beauty of native landscaping, with little to no maintenance and little to no irrigation.

Just ceasing to mow is not landscaping. It is being an inconsiderate neighbor, and an irresponsible environmentalist by allowing nonnative invasives to establish a seed base from which to invade nearby natural areas! Yes some native animals can use nonnative weed lots to subsist, but weed lots are not viable long term habitat for native animals to thrive in. We must work to turn weed lots into habitat areas. – Reginald Durant, BTN Executive Director

Looking to buy some native plants? The Back to Natives Nursery is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10AM to 3PM. We have numerous species of locally native plants for sale! Please email us to inquire about plant availability, and PLEASE obtain directions before getting in your car! The best directions can be found on our website. See you soon!


What I learned from Back to Natives: So many moving parts!

anneInterning for BTN has been a very educational experience. I have developed a knowledge of Native Plants that is more expansive than what I had before becoming involved in BTN. I wish to continue to strengthen my understanding of native plants as I move forward outside of the organization as I, now more than ever, understand their importance to our communities. I spent most of my time in the nursery and this allowed me to gain a lot of knowledge on plant care and consideration of what needs keeping plants healthy and thriving. While most of my time was spent at the nursery, I was also able to work on landscaping, irrigation, volunteer events, invasive control, and the list goes on. Furthermore, I have a better grasp on what it takes for an organization, like this one, to keep running. There are so many moving parts that play into its success. Interning here has opened my eyes to what other doors could be open for me to pursue in the future. I have valued my time here immensely and look forward to keeping the BTN mission with me as I move forward. Thank you to everyone I worked with/for/next to for making this experience be so great. – Anne Gvildys 

Giving back to those who give so much

Andrew Sotoby Andrew Soto, BTN Communications Intern

Internship programs provide college students with the opportunity to learn new skills supplementing their education with real world experience. Oftentimes, internships are unpaid and offer experience as the only form of compensation. It takes true dedication to complete an unpaid internship. This is why it is imperative for students to research and determine whether or not their internship employer has their best interest in mind.

When I started searching for places to meet my internship requirement for graduation at California State University, Fullerton I wanted to be sure that my volunteer efforts would benefit the community I live in. I did not want give my time to an organization driven by profits and the bottom line. After searching through many internship postings I decided I wanted to work with a nonprofit aimed at the preservation of where I grew up and the things I hold dear.

When I began my internship at Back to Natives, I had no experience in the communications industry. I had four years of theory circulating in my head never once having seen any of these concepts in action. It is easy to feel overwhelmed when learning new things, this was no different. The knowledge that my work would be posted online and read by others was always at the back of my mind.

This apprehension was quickly put to rest by Back to Natives Education Director Lori Whalen. Having helped many interns before me, she had the knowledge and experience to tailor my internship to best supplement my education. The education and service learning programs truly provide students with hands on experience in their field. There are no meaningless errands to run or coffee trips to make. Interns are treated as the future professionals they are.

If you are in need of an internship position or would like more information about internship opportunities with Back to Natives, please visit www.backtonatives.org/internships/ to find out how you can jumpstart your future while giving back.

Only YOU can Restore Habitat!

Trinaby Andrew Soto, BTN Communications Intern

In 1924, the United States Forest Service (USFS) established the first wilderness area anywhere in the world, the Gila Wilderness on the Gila National Forest near Silver City, New Mexico. This was 20 years before they introduced one of the most iconic public service announcement campaigns in American history. It was 1944 when the United States Forest Service enlisted the help of “Smokey Bear” in their efforts to preserve America’s wilderness heritage. Since that time, generations of Americans have grown up with the understanding that it was up to them to prevent forest fires and preserve America’s wilderness.restoration training

The USFS currently partners with a wide variety of nonprofits geared toward the preservation of America’s wildlands. Back to Natives Restoration (BTN) in Santa Ana, California has partnered with the USFS for several years offering training programs and plant workshops aimed at restoring native habitat in the Orange County and surrounding areas.

On August 20th, BTN will honor its volunteers of the year as well as distribute Dirt Shirts and Green Shirts to graduates of the United States Forest Service & Back to Natives Restoration joint training programs.

ScotchBroomRemoval_small“Our volunteers of the year and graduates of our joint training programs with the USFS, have selflessly dedicated their time to restoring habitat in Orange County,” said Back to Natives Executive Director Reginald Durant. “Their passion for the environment has fueled their passion for service. They play an integral role in our efforts to restore native habitat.  Back to Natives could not exist without volunteers like these!”

For more information about the event location and times Please visit  https://backtonatives.org/volunteer/

The Untold Benefits of Volunteering

by Andrew Soto, Communications Intern

John_color__smallThere is a growing body of research examining the health benefits of volunteering. A connection between volunteering, social psychological factors and social networks can be described as the “social integration theory.” According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, this theory holds that an individual’s social connections, typically measured by the number of social roles that an individual has, can provide meaning and purpose to his or her life, while protecting him or her from isolation during difficult periods. Individuals who volunteer regularly are also less likely to succumb to depression and tend to live longer lives. (nationalservice.gov) Devoting time to the maintenance and preservation of things held in close regard can help individuals find their place in life giving them a sense of belonging and community, increasing their overall satisfaction with life.

Back to Natives Restoration (BTN) fosters the growth of much more than native plants. BTN provides a professional environment where volunteers can grow personally and professionally while giving back to their communities. Regularly scheduled volunteer events in Orange County and surrounding areas provide many opportunities for those who participate to take an active part in the community. Back to Natives’ volunteer events allow volunteers to spend time in natural settings away from city life.

IMG_0994John Kaiser is no stranger to all that volunteering has to offer. John is one of BTN’s 2015-16 volunteers of the year. He logged 307 hours over the past year with Back to Natives. John has been volunteering with Back to Natives since he graduated from our first BTN USFS Restoration Training Class in 2007-8. After that he became a regular volunteer with Back to Natives, each year earning our volunteer of the year award for giving hundreds of hours of his time.  John even spent several years on the Back to Natives Board of Directors (including two as the president). He became a native plant landscape design/installation client as well! 

John is a retired Southern California resident who holds degrees in engineering mechanics from Stanford and Virginia Tech. “I enjoy growing plants for restoration projects, being outdoors, and making a difference through volunteering.” Said John of his primary motivations for volunteering.

While not everyone has the ability to volunteer as many hours as John, taking a few hours out of your busy schedule to get away from city life can do much alleviate stress. For more information on how to become involved please visit backtonatives.org/volunteer and see what events best fit your schedule. To help BTN continue our excellent volunteer and service learning programs, donate here.


Tuesday to Tuesday in the Life of a BTN Intern

Kerryby Kerry Martin, BTN Intern

After watering all the plants in the nursery on Tuesday, we were off on another landscape maintenance adventure this time in Santa Ana (coastal sage zone) with Reggie leading the team (Ryan, Kennedy and I). This particular front yard was designed by Lori and installed by the BTN team the first quarter of this year. I was blown away by how fast the native plants had grown in and how the different foliage textures and colors created such a harmonious feel. In addition to installing a flowing brick walkway, the plants were intentionally planted on natural looking berms, much like they would look in nature. The blooming milkweed, white and Cleveland sage, California fuchsias, wooly blue curls, common yarrow, monkeyflowers and bush sunflowers set the entire yard ablaze with alluring color, a true celebration of the diversity of California’s flora. Complementing the grasses, sages, wildflowers etc. were 2 young California sycamore trees.

Landscape MaintenanceThe plant selection also created an inviting environment for wildlife (hummingbirds and butterflies in particular). In addition to learning from Reggie and Kennedy about identifying the various plants, I learned how to tell the difference between a monarch and queen butterfly, the later having orange with white spots on the top of its wings but otherwise looking just identical, and why butterflies have spots that look like eyes on the back of their wings.

After the yard tour was complete and the “before” pics snapped, we checked to ensure the irrigation was working properly and adjusted the emitter heads where the flow was too low or high – one click to the left or right. After receiving excellent and funny instructions on how to properly use a post hole digger, we set about planting 3 purple three awn grass plants in a bare spot on top of a DG berm. Reggie demonstrated the proper way to plant native grasses. We then set up a new drip line and placed an emitter uphill and just outside the root ball of each plant. Next, we planted 2 sedges by the front door, breaking apart the root ball so that they could be planted in an arc shape with enough room between for the client’s German Shepard to still rest comfortably in her favorite spot! (This type of grass is the only native grass wherein the root ball can be tampered with; otherwise, it’s key to keep intact when planting). The sedges were root bound so were difficult to break up so we also received a lesson on how to carefully break apart the rhizome laterals in order to, in this instance, get the plant in the desired arc shape.

On Thursday, watering the plants first thing in the morning was again top priority. There is definitely a learning curve to watering efficiently whilst not getting the leaves wet. And, I mustn’t forget to more carefully check for kinks in the hose line before scratching my head about why the water is all of a sudden not flowing! Once all the watering was complete, Albert showed me how he was installing the new irrigation for the 4″ pot tables in the back. Kennedy and I then set about removing the blue tarp from the top of the small greenhouse where we grow milkweed, and began to replace it with the shade cloth that had been measured and gusseted by Trina. I also had the pleasure of meeting John, who was lending a hand with putting manzanita seeds into soil in a tray that was going to receive a hot water treatment. I’m very much looking forward to learning much more about propagation including growing plants from seeds and the various techniques used to ensure healthy organic plant growth.

After watering the nursery plants the next Tuesday with Kennedy, we both took the coastal sage scrub quiz administered by Trina. The fact that I can now identify the different indicator species from pictures and even spell the scientific names correctly was very gratifying. I’m getting a head start on similar homework assignments as I’m so enjoying learning how to identify the different native plant species. Trina, Ryan, and Kennedy then set off to Costa Mesa for a landscape maintenance assignment, while I stayed in the nursery to give Albert a hand with cutting PVC pipe and gluing on tees to build the irrigation manifolds for the 1 gallon plant tables in the back.

Another extremely educational week for me! Thanks Reggie and Trina for sharing your knowledge with us all.