Natural Perspectives: Time for weeklong celebration of native plants

April 13, 2011|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • New patio of pavers is finished in Vic and Lou's backyard.
New patio of pavers is finished in Vic and Lou's backyard. (Lou Murray, HB Independent )

In September, the California State Legislature designated an annual California Native Plant Week to begin each year on April 17. Sunday marks the first such celebration of our state's abundant natural plant heritage.

A native plant is any species that grew here before the arrival of Europeans. Among these natives are the tallest trees on earth (redwoods), the largest trees (giant sequoias) and the oldest trees (bristlecone pines). Our shrubs and annuals are beautiful, fragrant and wonderfully diverse.

Unfortunately, California's native plants have been under constant assault over the past 200 years from invasion by introduced plant species and loss of habitat due to development.

California is unusual in having more than 6,000 native plant species and subspecies. Of those plants, 2,150 are endemic to California, meaning that they exist nowhere else. California Native Plant Week celebrates this rich horticultural heritage.

One of the goals of this weeklong celebration of native plants is to encourage people to conserve and restore native plants, and to make use of them for landscaping.


Southern California boasts a large number of different plant communities, several of which include species that will do quite nicely in our yards. The primary plant communities that landscapers in our area draw upon are riparian and coastal sage scrub.

Riparian plant communities are those that grow alongside streams. They require a bit more water than coastal sage scrub plants, which get by fine on just our 15 inches of annual rainfall. Riparian plants need about 32 inches of water a year, which is only 17 inches more than they get from rain. In contrast, a grassy turf lawn requires a whopping 52 inches of rain a year.

Water is a scarce commodity, and we can all help by planning our landscaping to conserve water.

Vic and I have a drought-tolerant landscape that is a mix of Southern California native plants and ornamentals from other parts of the world. Our front yard has a swale that I converted to a small pond many years ago. Near the pond, I planted some native Douglas irises that I bought from Friends of Shipley Nature Center. The irises bloom in April in shades of purple and lavender. They remind me of our wonderful nature center and all that the Friends do to help educate the public about native plants.

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