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

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

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 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

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. ( 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 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.

Fostering the Growth of much more than Native Plants

Trina and Reginald with the bobcatby Andrew Soto, BTN Communications Intern

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) believes internship programs are critical for student success. The AACU believes providing a physical location outside of a school setting in which students can test out theories and methods they have learned in the courses they have completed, fosters much more than academic growth. ( It fosters learning rich with real world experience working as industry professionals.

There is no better time to explore the wide range of professional and community experiences available, than when attending college. By becoming involved in an academic internship or service-learning program at a business, government, or nonprofit organization, students can gain working skills and build a network of professional contacts. These skills and experiences increase the likelihood students will find employment in their desired fields of study.

“My internship with Back to Native was so WONDERFUL and I love talking about it. The creative freedom you gave me was very empowering (and quite frankly spoiled me a little, LOL).” - Kari Dahlgren, Communications Intern
“My internship with Back to Native was so WONDERFUL and I love talking about it. The creative freedom you gave me was very empowering (and quite frankly spoiled me a little, LOL).”
– Kari Dahlgren, Communications Intern

Back to Natives Restoration is uniquely equipped to provide a place where students and those entering the green collar field of native habitat restoration, can implement the skills they have acquired during their education.

Back to Natives Restoration (BTN) impacts the communities it serves on many levels. Our habitat restoration projects are part of a wide array of community engagement efforts set in motion to save habitat, one person at a time. BTN’s service learning workforce development program provides students and recent graduates the opportunity to gain real world hands on experience in various fields of study.

Knowing why an organization does something is equally, if not more important than what that organization does. Back to Natives Restoration is motivated by its mission of saving habitat, one person at a time.

“We’re truly making a difference in the lives of the students we mentor, and in turn they are making the world a better place.” – Reginald Durant, Executive Director

For more information on what intern programs are available or how to volunteer, please visit our website and discover what the green collar field of native plant restoration has to offer.

Saving the Earth, one Habitat at a Time

By Andrew Soto, BTN Communications Intern

Elsinore PeakAccording to the latest news from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, California’s drought is not likely to ease any time soon.

“La Niña is favored to develop during the Northern Hemisphere summer 2016, with about a 75% chance of La Nina during the fall and winter 2016-17”.

La Niña and El Niño are recurring and fluctuating weather patterns in the tropical region of the Pacific Ocean. These warming phases (El Niño) and cooling phases (La Niña) have an enormous impact on weather systems that make landfall. El Niño’s warming effects has not lasted as long as it used to in years past. As a result, cooling of ocean surface temperature exacerbates the draught problem worldwide.

This news comes at a time when California residents are living through their fifth year of consistent drought conditions. On January 17, 2014 Governor Brown proclaimed a state of emergency due to persistent and prolonged drought conditions.

Centaurea solstitialisCalifornia residents know firsthand the effects dramatic climate change can have on the local flora and fauna, including the increased risks of wildfires. The devastating effects of wildfires are exacerbated by invasive plant species such as Yellow Star Thistle (Centaurea solstitialis), which rapidly colonize and replace native plant life after a fire or other disturbance. A Yellow Star Thistle infestation decimates biodiversity; it quickly colonizes and forms dense patches which out-compete surrounding plants for water and space. Native plants are starved and die, only to be replaced by more Yellow Starthistle.

With wildfire season on the way, it is important to ensure any and all burn sites are closely monitored for infestation. The soil conditions after a fire are the perfect environment for Yellow Star Thistle to take hold and replace all the native plant life. When invasive plant species take hold, they create a plant monoculture which drive out all native plants. This also drives out the animal life dependent on this vegetation for survival.

As the first week of June comes to an end, Back to Natives Restoration is hard at work fighting against this noxious weed. Back to Natives will be hosting events at Elsinore Peak in the Cleveland National Forrest giving the public hands-on experience in dealing with Yellow Starthistle infestations.

In 2015, 29 Back to Natives volunteers logged 353 hours on Elisnore Peak removing the infestation from the area completely before going to seed. Yellow Star Thistle seeds remain viable in the soil for years after removal creating a need for constant maintenance. Back to Natives Executive Director Reginald Durant makes it clear what his organization’s mission is.

“We want to save the Earth. We do it by restoring habitat.”

For more information about this program and other events aimed at native ecological restoration, please visit

Taking Action with California in the Fight against Invasive Species

by Andrew Soto, BTN Communications Intern

Back to Natives is joining the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to celebrate California Invasive Species Action Week.  Beginning Saturday June 4 through Sunday June 12, multiple organizations will partner to raise awareness about invasive plant and animal species. Back to Natives Restoration will be one of the many organizations raising awareness and holding events during this year’s Action Week.

Back to Natives Restoration has placed Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) squarely in its crosshairs this year as summer approaches. Fountain Grass is a strain of African bunchgrass that is planted as an ornamental plant in many regions of the United States where warm winters are commonplace. Volunteers from a local Boy Scout Troop will be assisting Back to Natives in removing Fountain Grass from Santiago Creek in Santa Ana on Saturday June 11.

On June 5 and 12, BTN volunteers will remove invasive, non-native yellow star thistle from around Elsinore Peak in the Cleveland National Forest. You can sign up to help HERE!

To raise awareness of the threat of invasive non-native species, BTN has developed a “Plant this not that” social media campaign, as well. Each day during California Invasive Species Action Week BTN is posting a new infographic showing an invasive non-native plant commonly used in landscaping, as well as an alternative native plant that can be substituted.

“There are over 800 plants native to Orange County,” said BTN Executive Director Reginald Durant. “There is certainly a beautiful, drought tolerant, locally native plant appropriate for any landscape. And bonus! They attract birds and butterflies to your garden!”

California is no stranger to warm winters. The state has experienced some of the warmest and driest years in recorded history. This lack of rain and increased heat have lead the Governor of California to issue a severe drought warning and state of emergency. These conditions create the perfect environment for a plant such as Fountain Grass which is uniquely suited for surviving hot and dry environments.

Fountain Grass has no natural enemies in California. This allows the plant to out-compete native plants which are home to many insect and animal species. If you plant it on your property, you will soon have seedlings of Fountain Grass popping up wherever there is bare soil.  It will even grow vigorously in the gaps between sections of concrete and bedrock of natural slopes.

Fountain Grass’ ability to reproduce virtually anywhere there is bare soil converts this invasive plant into raw fuel for wildfires when temperatures rise. It has shallow roots that do not stabilize soil like many of the plants that are displaced by this invasive species. When rain does fall, these shallow roots are not strong enough to stabilize slopes which causes mud slides and soil erosion.

Back to Natives Restoration will take the Fountain Grass situation head on this year as it hosts events aimed at offering sustainable solutions and alternatives to Fountain Grass. For more information regarding the Invasive Species Action Week 2016 please visit