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

My Time with Back to Natives Restoration

Crystal with Director of Education Lori Whalen.
Crystal with Director of Education Lori Whalen.

By Crystal Sayphraraj

My name is Crystal Sayphraraj and I am a senior about to graduate California State University, Fullerton. My experience with Back to Natives Restoration was truly incredible and an amazing self-learning experience. When I first started this internship, I was a bit skeptical on what I can do or learn from the organization.

For example, what are native plants? How does working for a native plant restoration non-profit help me in pursing and gaining experience for my Communications degree? All I knew when I began this journey was that I loved being outdoors and active so I thought to myself that working for an organization that spends a lot of time out in the wilderness would be exciting. In fact, this was one of the most beneficial learning opportunities I received from an internship.

Crystal (right) and Alex (left), BTN's Spring 2016 interns posting to social media during the I Heart OC Giving Day event.
Crystal (right) and Alex (left), BTN’s Spring 2016 interns posting to social media during the I Heart OC Giving Day event.

Back to Natives Restoration has a passionate team of leaders that wish to inform and inspire the community about habitat restoration through service learning and native plant education.

Their mission is “To encourage and actively participate in the restoration and conservation of Orange County and California wildlands, through education and restoration programs featuring native plants and biodiversity as a centralizing theme.”

Even though I had no knowledge about native plants beforehand, the internship gave me the opportunity to brush up on some research skills. Instantly, I was assigned tasks to write press releases, create a video for the training class, media alerts, graphic design and social media posts.

Being a virtual internship, I did a lot of the assignments from the comfort of my own home computer. Director of Education, Lori Whalen, responded to my emails immediately and gave me direct feedback on what needed to be changed or what I succeeded on. After the changes were made, each document was scheduled for release.

I received the best feeling when I knew that an assignment I had worked on was being published.

The reason why this internship was so valuable was because we were assigned projects that corresponded with real events. I had the opportunity to go to a USFS training course, an IHeartOC event, and also the Spring Garden Show. These were all new events that I have not known about but had a positive experience attending all of them.

Executive Director, Reginald Durant, always displayed a leadership role in teaching the class, workshops or seminars on certain topics such as how to create a native habitat for Monarchs. You could hear the passion in his voice for every speech he gave.

Working for this non-profit organization has also made little affects in my daily routine. I remember during winter, they had construction on the whole campus and took out all the grass and some trees. I wondered what plans they had for these planters around school.

Walking around the CSUF campus, I noticed pretty flowers blooming in the spring. Instantly, I was able to recognize that all the plants were native plants. I was surprised myself that I could recognize these plants but it was a nice feeling to know that not only did I write for the organization but I was able to learn a little about the plants itself. Plants on campus range from Monkey Flower, Small Fescue, Coreopsis Lanceolata, Baby Blue Eyes and 16 more California Native and Adaptive Plants.

It’s interesting because initially, you don’t see how communications and native plant restorations correlate with each other but after completing this internship, I learned that communications is needed everywhere!

Yes, you can work for something you truly have a passion for, but how will you share your passion with others if you cannot market and display your work efficiently? With communications, the non-profit organization is able to gain followers on social media, receive grants, increase attendants at events they hold and just inform others of the good they are doing for the Orange County community.

Communications is the key to “inform and inspire” the community about habitat restoration through service learning and native plant education.

I was able to help Back to Natives Restoration for these short 3 months to achieve their marketing goals and also gain experience in communications writing and native plants.

I am truly thankful for the experience I received from Back to Natives Restoration and will take the knowledge I have learned to future endeavors.

Native Plant Books

alan schoenherrFolks often ask us about our favorite native plant books. There are so many! Here is a list of a few. I’m sure we’re forgetting some. We’ll add them as we remember them.

A Natural History of California by Allan A. Schoenherr

Living Wild: Gardening, Cooking, and Healing with Native Plants of California by Alicia Funk & Karin Kaufman

California’s Changing Landscapes: Diversity and Conservation of California Vegetation by Michael Barbour, Bruce Pavlik, Susan Lindstrom, Frank Drysdale

California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien

Early Uses of California Plants (California Natural History Guides) by Edward K. Balls

Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification by Thomas J. Elpel

A Flora of Southern California by Philip A. Munz

A California Flora and Supplement by Philip A. Munz and David D. Beck

How to Remove your Lawn

A woman removing a lawn at a Back to Natives lawn removal workshop.
A woman removing a lawn using a sod cutter at a Back to Natives lawn removal workshop.

The best practice for removing lawn, in my experience, is either using a sod cutter or a flat shovel to cut under the rhizomes. If you spray with chemicals then you just have dead grass that you now have to handle directly with the cancer causing chemicals on it. However it does not kill the rhizomes! Only the foliage, hence the term defoliant. Rototilling breaks the rhizomes into neat ½” and ¼” pieces if it doesn’t wind around the till. Bermuda and Augustine grass can regrow from ¼” or smaller pieces of rhizome bits. This means that you will have a nice healthy lawn all neatly de-thatched within a week after you rototill! =]

Sod cutters are available for rent at A-1 rentals, some Home-Depots, USA Rentals etc. set it for the 6” depth and then run it along like a vacuum cleaner with nice straight lines up and down the lawn area. Then go through and using a flat shovel cut into two to three foot lengths so you can move them easier. I suggest piling them onsite to allow to dry out and reclaim the soil from the rhizomes. This also reduces the weight for waste hauling costs. Remember the rhizomes cannot be put into green waste only trash. If they find grass rhizomes in a truck hauling green waste they transfer the entire truck haul to landfill. Rhizomes will not die during hot composting and are considered an invasive pest for green waste facilities.

Another good technique would be to solarize the area after you have removed as much of the sod as possible and gone through the area for any rhizomes not removed in this manner. Solarizing is a method of seed and root kill by placing a large CLEAR polyethylene sheet over the area, sealed to the ground at the edges with bermed soil. Then left onsite for 3-4 weeks. The heat buildup will sterilize the soil, hopefully killing the remaining rhizomes. Two caveats, 1. This kills EVERYTHING in the soil good and bad 2. Bermuda and Augustine Grass are highly resistant to chemicals and heat applications. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden found that the Bermuda grass under an area they solarized did not completely die. One rhizome grew over twenty feet to escape under the edge of the plastic.  Most of the Bermuda grass present did die, but this rhizome persisted. This just clearly points out that there is no one silver bullet. It is a mixture of different physical techniques that work in the long run with persistence. Once you have accomplished these steps the war of attrition begins. This entails pulling any green you see that may pop up from stray rhizomes. Just 6 hours of daylight allows the rhizome to store another 30 days of starch so you must pull it as soon as see it. Don’t allow yourself the luxury “I’ll pull that when I get home.” Unfortunately that leads to a very long battle indeed.

Best of luck!

– Reginald Durant, Executive Director, Back to Natives

The Spring Garden Show is right around the corner!

Spring Garden Show Social MediaThe Spring Garden Show transforms South Coast Plaza into a gardening sanctuary, featuring inspiring display gardens created by local landscape designers. The event from April 28 – May 1 also showcases a diverse and outstanding selection of garden tools and art from California vendors, children’s programs, an informative speaker series as well as an extraordinary floral centerpiece.

Back to Natives will promote native plant landscaping once again at the Show – it’ll be our 7th year! Two free “Native Plant Landscaping for Birds and Butterflies” seminars will be presented by BTN Executive Director Reginald Durant. The first will be presented on April 29 at 1:00p.m. in Williams-Sonoma and the second on April 30 at 11:30a.m. in west elm. Durant will show examples of beautiful, drought tolerant native plants that provide habitat for birds and butterflies.

Social Media_SeminarsBack to Natives will also have over 30 species of locally native plants available for sale at the Show. By gardening with native plants, you can bring the beauty California offers into your own landscape. 

“50% or more of the water we use daily goes on lawns and outdoor landscaping,” said Back to Natives Executive Director Reginald Durant. “Planting natives is one of the best ways for homeowners and businesses to help solve the crisis brought on by one of California’s worst droughts.”

Native plants help conserve water, eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers, and provide habitat for butterflies and birds. Many California native plants need minimal irrigation beyond normal rainfall. Saving water conserves a vital, limited resource and can also save money.

Plant sales will raise funds for environmental education and habitat restoration programs.

“We’re especially excited about our focus this year on habitat gardening for birds and butterflies,” said Back to Natives Education Director Lori Whalen.

Research tells us that native wildlife clearly prefer native plants. Native insect pollinators can increase the abundance of fruits and veggies in a food garden, while a variety of native insects and birds will help keep your landscape free of mosquitoes and plant-eating bugs. 

Whalen continues, “Our new partnership with the Monarch Joint Venture has inspired us to focus even more on host plants like milkweed that monarch caterpillars depend on, as well as a number of beautiful landscape quality nectar plants. Anyone can provide habitat in their yard – and have a beautiful garden – using locally native plants. ”

Join us at the South Coast Plaza Spring Garden Show to learn more about native plants or visit us at

We hope to see you there.  – Crystal Sayphraraj, BTN Communications Intern

Native Garden Tour coming soon!

Social Media_Native Plant SaleBack to Natives will be showcasing a drought tolerant native plant landscape on the 2016 California Native Plant Society Garden Tour on April 23 from 10AM to 4PM. The garden is located in Santa Ana’s celebrated Floral Park neighborhood. According to CNPS it is “one of 15 outstanding, successful, beautiful Orange County gardens on the tour.” Visit to purchase tickets ($10), which include a guidebook with information and directions to all of the gardens.

The Back to Natives native garden is also being featured on the Floral Park Neighborhood Association’s Spring Home and Garden Tour on April 23 and 24, also from 10AM to 4PM. Tickets are $25 presale ( $30 on the days of event.

Floral Park in Santa Ana is home to almost about 100 out of 600 vintage homes that are part of the Santa Ana Register of Historic Properties. Homes that are on the Santa Ana Historic Register but not necessarily on the home tour will be marked with signage and some information to view from the sidewalk.

The home tour will occur rain or shine. Porta Potties are available. Jerry’s Dogs is selling hot dogs, chips, and soft drinks. Families of Floral Park are selling homemade lemonade and baked goods. Pico de Gallo restaurant will have a Mexican food buffet.

The homes and gardens on the Floral Park Neighborhood Association’s Spring Home and Garden Tour are typically within a comfortable walking distance of each other. Present your tour book to the docents at the homes.

A percentage of the net revenues generated by the annual Home & Garden Tour are allocated to Santa Ana charitable organizations and scholarships. Last year there were around 1,000 tickets sold in presale and more than 400 volunteers were present at the Floral Park Home and Garden Tour 2015. – Alexandra Hong, BTN Communications Intern

I don’t want my kid to volunteer…he should be studying!

Guest blog by Allison Henderson from The All About College Blog

National Public Lands Day_longA few years ago, I was chatting with a family about a student’s  ‘brag sheet’ or ‘resumé’. When I asked whether the student had participated in any volunteer activities, the Mom shot back “you know, I don’t understand why everyone thinks volunteering is so important….we never got any help from anyone. Everything I have I worked hard for, on my own, with no help from anyone, even my ex. Why can’t everyone just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps?”

A hard question from a tough, world-weary Mom. It turns out the student did, in fact, volunteer at the public high school as a TA, in one of the Career Tech Ed classes offered. The time this teenager spent at school helping other students understand course content was beneficial in many ways. The teacher got a helping hand in an impacted classroom. By volunteering, the student had a chance to delve deeper into the topic and to explore what working in that career would be like. The volunteer also received a great letter of recommendation from her teacher for the college application. A win-win, IMHO.

Over half of teens in the US volunteer, contributing more than 1 billion hours of community service annually. Almost 2/3 of those teen volunteers are ‘regulars’ meaning they volunteer at least 12 weeks per year, primarily, through religious, school or youth organizations.

Volunteers Strengthen the Community

There are so many reasons for students to volunteer.

Here are a few reasons from a “Top Ten” list published by UCSD:

  • Make a difference
  • Encourages civic responsibility
  • Teaches the importance of giving back
  • Learn a lot
  • Strengthens the community
  • Foster empathy
  • Test our a career and gain professional experience

Read this from Psychology Today:

  • Once a volunteer, always a volunteer
  • Volunteers lead healthier and longer lives!

Volunteering is transformative for youth: Read this:

  • Empathy
  • Curiosity
  • Sociability
  • Resilience
  • Self-Awareness
  • Integrity
  • Resourcefulness
  • Creativity

And this:

  • Nobody is an Island
  • Life is easier when you are part of a family, neighborhood or network of friends
  • You start building a good neighborhood when you yourself decide to be a good neighbor

Did you know:

Volunteers Learn a Lot

Whether a student volunteers because their friends are doing so or b/c it will look good on a college application, the benefits of volunteering are real. Regardless of why they do it, all signs point to encouraging them to do it.

Spectacular Service Learning Program!

Back to Natives has a highly successful service learning program, which includes numerous internship opportunities to help students prepare for a career in the “green collar” field. Available internships include Horticultural Intern(Nursery Assistant), Landscape Design Intern, Habitat Restoration Intern, Communications Intern and Administrative Assistant Intern. Here is a little info about the great Interns who are working with us right now:

Trina and Reginald with the bobcatTrina: “I am a graduate from the University of California, Irvine with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Science and a minor in Global Sustainability. I have prior internship experience doing native plant research at California State University of Long Beach as well as being a field and nursery intern at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy. As a native plant intern at Back to Natives, I hope to continue learning more about restoration to achieve a career in the conservation ecology field. I am passionate about research, reversing environmental damages to our earth, and living sustainably. I’d like to apply these interests during my time at Back to Natives.”

Long at the Nursery 2


Long: “I am a senior year Landscape Architecture major from Cal Poly Pomona.  My emphasis is on ecological design that includes master planning sustainable communities, low-impact development, and habitat restoration.  I have taken courses on residential drafting, regenerative studies, surveying, and landscape design.  Some of my hobbies include hiking and playing guitar.  My goals as a BTN landscape design intern are to learn more about native plants and their applications in modern landscape architecture.”



Brett: “I chose to pursue an internship position with Back to Natives to increase my knowledge of native plant species and the practices of plant care and habitat restoration. I believe it is our duty to look after the earth by maintaining its natural state as much as possible because the Earth has its own inherent value that we have benefited from for our entire existence. I hope to encourage education at the community level while learning as much as I can from everyone at Back to Natives. I am a graduating Senior at Chapman University finishing up a B.S. in Environmental Science and Policy, and I am eager to obtain hands on experience in the environmental field. I see this opportunity as a valuable step towards starting a successful career working with people and wildlife.”

LeilaYoonsu Leila Jo: I am an international student from South Korea and also a senior from California State, Long Beach majoring in Environmental Science and Policy and minoring in Biology. Having taken many ecology and environment related courses, I realize that restoring native plants is a significant way to conserve the environment. I prefer field work and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, so I applied for the nursery intern position. I look forward to learning more about strategies to restore, manage, and grow native plants while working as the nursery intern at BTN.

Why do an Internship: Internships are very beneficial when searching for employment, or seeking entrance to college or graduate school. Internships are highly rewarding, work force training opportunities, which provide real world skills pertinent to many future positions and educational fields.

Why complete an Internship with Back to Natives? BTN Internship opportunities include a graduated level of training and experience within habitat restoration, native plant propagation, landscape design/installation/maintenance, and/or general nonprofit/organizational management and administration.

What sort of commitment does it take? Internships are available in 50 hour increments with a minimum of 8 hours required per week. Schedules will be set at the beginning of candidates’ internship cycle with a signed Intern Agreement. After a candidate has successfully completed 100 hours as Intern I they are qualified to apply for Intern II.

Learn more HERE.