BTN Receives Donation of Land!

IMG_3954 Back to Natives just received a donation of land! The 2.5 acres of land along Del Obispo Drive in Dana Point are about a mile from the Pacific Ocean, less than a ½ mile from San Juan Creek, and less than 2 miles from the Dana Point State Marine Conservation Area. It is undeveloped and will remain so to provide habitat for birds and butterflies.

Check out more photos HERE.

Wild open spaces like this, while small, provide way stations for wildlife like birds and butterflies in urban Orange County where development has limited the amount of habitat available. We are extremely grateful to have received such an amazing and openly generous gift from Kato Properties, and we look forward to being able restore the land.

Restoration of the land will begin in 2016. Back to Natives will recruit volunteers from the community to remove invasive non-native species and plant Cuesta Kato seed dispersalnative plants. Restoration events will occur twice a month on Sundays. Volunteers will have the ability to register for events on the Back to Natives Website,, in late December.

It is our hope that this is the first of many land donations to Back to Natives. Properties like this one – on a slope – are not ideal for development, but are ideal habitat areas. Now we need your help to raise funds to help restore the land. We have our work cut out for us, but we know our amazing supporters are ready for the challenge.

If you’re like me your inbox is filled with donation requests from dozens of great non-profits. You wish you could give to them all, but you must decide where your dollars will make the greatest impact. Donating to local, grassroots organizations like Back to Natives is a great place to start. Back to Natives works to restore habitat and provide environmental education here in Orange County were you live.

Cuesta Kato_goldenbush and prickly pearWe are so grateful for your support, and for sharing our mission of connecting the community to habitat restoration through service learning and native plant education. Your financial contribution – of any amount – will help support our programs, and make a real impact on our local environment. We hope you will partner with us so we can continue to promote native plants and improve habitat in Orange County. – Reginald Durant, BTN Executive Director

Keeping it Clean

sanitizingBack to Natives is very concerned about the potential for introducing and spreading pathogens into our restoration sites.

We always sanitize our tools after each use so that we do not transport anything from one site to another – or into our Nursery, or into a client’s yard. We sanitize the undercarriage and tires of our vehicles before visiting restoration sites in the Forest. We wash our shoes in between visiting different sites, and we do not use gloves at our restoration sites that have not at least been washed (usually we have gloves dedicated to a site). We do not allow volunteers to EVER bring their own tools – we do not even let them bring those little pads to kneel on, since they could be carrying something from their garden, etc.

At the Nursery we ALWAYS sterilize our pots before using them, and we never overuse water.  The procedures we take at our restorations sites are used at the Nursery as well, and we recently began instituting a sanitizing shoe bath for all visitors who enter the premises (everyone must step into a tray filled with a shallow layer of bleach solution at the gate). If you have questions about sanitizing, feel free to send us an email!


Frightening Fountain Grass

Local high school students say farewell to fountain grass at Halloween volunteer event.

By Darrell King, BTN Communications Intern

Santiago High School NHS_10-31-15_1_smallOn Halloween volunteers from Santiago High School National Honor Society in Garden Grove, CA assisted Back to Natives by digging up tons of fountain grass, an invasive species that harms the environment in Santiago Park.

Originally native to Africa and the Middle East, fountain grass was introduced because of its popularity as an ornamental plant. In California it is spreading (by vehicles, humans, wind, and water) along the coast from the San Francisco Bay Area to Baja California. It endangers native plant communities and raises fuel loads increasing the intensity and spread of fire.

Students broke up in groups, and began digging up fountain grass for three hours.

One person pulled out the grass, while others placed them in trash bags.

Santiago High School NHS_10-31-15_5When 17-year-old Santiago High School student Tony Nguyen was asked to describe his experience in a few words, his response was playful, but firm, “Hardwork,” Nguyen said smiling.

While the work was somewhat strenuous, volunteers enjoyed the experience. “I really liked it. I love the smell here, and how we’re just here with nature,” 17-year-old Emily Huynh said. “I liked the event. I hope I can come back sometime,” Huynh added.

Students were appreciative of Back to Natives Executive Director Reginald Durant.

“He’s very nice, and helpful. He’s extremely experienced about native plants.” 17-year-old Marina Zaky said.

“They showed us what to do. We could easily follow their instructions. I would volunteer again. I just have to make sure to bring my water,” Nguyen joked.

Santiago High School NHS_10-31-15_2Durant didn’t just teach the students the art of digging up fountain grass, he explained why their work was important, then joined the volunteers in the trenches, showing his commitment to restoring habitat.

“Thick infestations of fountain grass interfere with regeneration of native plant species,” said Durant. “Fountain grass is difficult to eliminate – it can reproduce by either fertilized or unfertilized seeds, and seeds may remain viable in the soil for at least seven years. The work these students are doing here today is essential.”

To volunteer with Back to Natives please visit our volunteer webpage for upcoming opportunities.

Farewell to one of our Own

farewell elisabethBack to Natives says au revoir to one of its brightest workers.

Elisabeth Leblanc, 35, A French native, with a bachelor’s degrees in project management and sustainable development, has been interning as a “Site Manager,” with Back To Natives for roughly seven months. Her job includes organizing, overseeing projects, assisting with databases, BTN’s website, among other things.

Leblanc will be headed back to France soon. “I was offered a position to be a GIS (Geographical Information Software) project manager for all French administrations,” she said excitedly. “Back to Natives was a huge help in me getting the job. I just want to thank them,” Leblanc added.

While Leblanc will be leaving Back to Natives she is forever grateful for her time as a volunteer. “The people here are just so committed. Reginald is here all the time. Lori is working all the time. We have long-time volunteers that are here everyday we’re on site. The work never ends.”

Leblanc offers some advice for the person taking over her position. “Take one thing at a time. We’re working on so many projects, just never lose sight of what you want to do.”

Back to Natives isn’t just a non-profit organization. Everyone involved from staff, interns, and volunteers treat each other like family. “I’m really glad I had the opportunity to work here. I love working with people that are so passionate and community oriented. I really hope I’ll be able to come back,” Leblanc said.  Back to Natives hopes so too. – Darrell King, BTN Communications Intern

Biological Pollution: non-native Plants

Artichoke ThistleInvasive non-native organisms are one of the greatest threats to the natural ecosystems of the U.S. and are destroying America’s natural history and identity. These unwelcome plants, insects and other organisms are disrupting the ecology of natural ecosystems, displacing native plant and animal species, and degrading our nation’s unique and diverse biological resources. Aggressive invaders reduce the amount of light, water, nutrients and space available to native species, alter hydrological patterns, soil chemistry, moisture-holding capacity, and erodibility, and change fire regimes. Some exotics are capable of hybridizing with native plant relatives, resulting in unnatural changes to a plant’s genetic makeup; others have been found to harbor plant pathogens that can affect both native and non-native plants. Still others contain toxins that may be lethal to certain animals.

Put simply:

  • Non-native plants reduce biodiversity, and reduce habitat available to native animals like birds and butterflies.
  • Non-native plants alter natural landscapes, and increase the frequency and intensity of fires.
  • Non-native plants contribute to species endangerment.       42% of the nation’s endangered and threatened species have declined as a result of encroaching exotic plants and animals. – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Non-native plants cost us money! Each year, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service spend an estimated 2 and 10 million dollars, respectively, on controlling exotic plants (Westbrooks, 1998).
  • Non-native plants also cause great economic losses and expenditures each year, measured in billions of dollars, for agriculture, forestry, range lands and roadways management (Westbrooks 1998).

Centaurea solstitialisImpacts to Native Animals

Native insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and other animals are dependent on native plants for food and shelter. While some animals have a varied diet and can feed on a wide number of plant species, others are highly specialized and may be restricted to feeding on several or a single plant species. For example, caterpillars of the monarch butterfly have evolved to feed primarily on plants in the genus Asclepias (milkweeds) that contain special chemicals. The term host plant is generally used to describe a plant species that is required food for at least one stage of an insect or other animal. As exotic plants replace our native flora, fewer host plants are available to provide the necessary nutrition for our native wildlife.

Approximately 4,000 species of exotic plants and 500 exotic animals have established free-living populations in the United States. Nearly seven hundred are known to cause severe harm to agriculture at a cost of billions of dollars annually. Over 1,000 exotic plant species have been identified as a threat to our native flora and fauna as a result of their aggressive, invasive characteristics.  While Back to Natives discourages the use of ANY plants not native to your local area, some plants are more harmful than others. To see if you have an aggressive, invasive plant in your garden, visit

ScotchBroomRemoval_smallWhat You Can Do

  • Avoid disturbance to natural areas, including clearing of native vegetation and planting of non-native plants.
  • Do not purchase or use invasive exotic species in your landscaping or erosion control projects.
  • For landscaping, use plants that are native to your local region as much as possible.
  • Control exotic invasive plants in your landscape by removing them entirely.
  • Discuss your concerns about invasive exotic plants with nurseries and garden shops and ask them not to sell these species. Provide them with printed material (such as this) explaining the problem to read later. Ask for non-invading alternatives instead.
  • Work with your local government to encourage the use of native plants in their urban and suburban landscapes.
  • Notify land managers of invasive exotic plant occurrences.
  • Offer to assist in exotic plant removal projects. Contact to volunteer!

Why Landscape with Locally Native Plants


Bladderpod_PricklyPear2Promote Biodiversity

In California, there are over 5,000 native plant species, more than in the central and northeastern US and Canada combined. More than 1500 of these plant species are endemic to (found only in) California, and most of these endemic species are found in Southern California. Southern California is one of the 25 global biodiversity “hotspots.” Hotspots are where the largest number of different species can be found, especially those species found nowhere else. More than 60 percent of the Earth’s total species live in hotspots, which cover only 1.44 percent of its surface. Orange County is “a hotspot within a hotspot”, with more native plant species per square mile than Yosemite National Park. Orange County has 806 species of native vascular plants. As the human population grows, many of Orange County’s open spaces are vanishing, and with it the native plants. By growing native plants in our gardens, we are restoring some of the natural biodiversity of our area. Many species are dependent on the habitat provided by native vegetation and taken in aggregate, home plantings can enhance the wildlife populations of an area.

bflyReduce the use of water

Native plants are adapted to the unique climatic conditions of their growing area and once established they require little or no supplemental irrigation. When we grow plants found in our resident plant community, we use far less water than traditional garden landscapes. Using drought tolerant natives in our California gardens conserves a scarce natural resource and saves money on water costs.

20080318_2968_21Reduce the use of pesticides

Many native plants are not severely effected by insect pests and diseases that afflict traditional ornamentals. Often, natives have adapted defense mechanisms to pests common in their habitats or have a high tolerance for pest damage. Eliminating pesticide use in the garden promotes biodiversity, reduces our exposure to toxic substances and saves money.

Enjoy a low maintenance garden

Native LandscapingSpend more time enjoying your garden and less time maintaining it. Natives require less work at garden chores such as mowing, pruning, fertilizing and dividing. California native plants are adapted to a wide variety of growing conditions and fine native plant choices exist for virtually any garden environment. The biodiversity promoted by a native plant garden will reward the owner with satisfying experiences of discovery and observation, not only of the plants themselves, but a host of other species… birds, insects, mammals, etc. A good native plant garden complements the indigenous habitat and by growing plants found in our resident plant community, we bring in all sorts of nearby creatures dependent on that habitat. In a small but significant way, we as native plant gardeners begin to help secure a connection with the natural world that is infinitely more satisfying than mowing the lawn.