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


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.

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 www.wildlife.ca.gov.

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

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 occnps.org 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 (www.floralpark.com/home-garden-tour)and $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

Learning to Lead

Back to Natives and USFS offer hands-on training courses in Habitat Restoration and Volunteer Management

Successful habitat restoration program provides training for volunteers and agency staff for an eighth year.

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. This successful program is now in its eighth year. A new Volunteer Leader Training class will also be offered for those interested in improving their leadership skills, and helping others improve local wildlands.

Participants in the USFS Training class will learn how to remove invasive non-native plants 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. After passing a final exam, they will become a BTN “Green Shirt”. Once they fulfill a yearlong volunteer commitment they will be certified to lead groups of volunteers in the Cleveland National Forest.

Participants in the Volunteer Leader Training class will learn to lead groups of volunteers while learning a little more about native plants and how to protect their habitats. Successful students will attend at least five of ten scheduled Sunday volunteer events with Back to Natives in the San Mateo Wilderness in the Cleveland National Forest. After passing a volunteer leadership test, they will receive a certificate and become a BTN “Dirt Shirt”.

Students gathered for a safety meeting before beginning hands-on training in the USFS BTN Restoration Training class.
Students gathered for a safety meeting before beginning hands-on training in the USFS BTN Restoration Training class.

Individuals interested in attending either of these series of classes, which begin on January 24, 2016, can visit backtonatives.org/education for more information and to register.

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.

What I Learned from Back to Natives

Santiago High School NHS_10-31-15_1_smallMy time as the communications intern for Back to Natives was well spent. It gave me insight in things I had no previous knowledge of; habitat restoration, biodiversity, invasive plants, etc. BTN also taught me how diligent you have to be to successfully run a non-profit organization. Both Lori and Reginald are incredibly dedicated to BTN. They showed me the effort one has to put forth if they really want to see things change for the better.

My favorite part of working with BTN was getting to see the high school volunteers participate in a volunteer event. I saw first-hand the positive impact BTN has in the community. A group of teens came together to improve the environment we live in. That’s something you don’t see too often these days. I will take the skills I learned during my tenure as an intern at BTN, and apply them to the real world.

As for my future, I hope to get accepted into a social work graduate program. I plan on applying to the Cal State University, Fullerton social work program for fall 2016. My ultimate goal is to work with kids who have been lost in the system. Juvenile hall, group homes, foster care, etc. I want to effect change, and the best way I feel I can do that is by working with the youth, because they are our future, and if we’re not investing in our future, there will be no future. Seeing how BTN worked hand-in-hand with the community, gave me profound insight on how to genuinely connect with people. I’ll take that with me on my journey. – Darrell King, BTN Communications Intern