How to Improve Your Garden with California Native Plants?

Tiempo de lectura | Reading time: 8 minutos

Article and photos by Dorabel Esparza

How often do you stop and smell the flowers? How often do you stop and notice the insects on the plants that you are smelling? Did you know that spending more time with nature could create and foster curiosity?

 California lilac (Ceanothus leucodermis).
Cobweb thistle (Cirsium occidentale) and a California bumblebee (Bombus californicus).

The California Floristic Province is a coastal area that stretches from Southern Oregon, U.S. to Northern Baja California, Mexico. It has been identified as a global biodiversity hotspot based on the number of endemic species that are found in this region (Myers et al. 2000). Personally, I feel privileged to live in this region where several different ecosystems are in close proximity to each other. 

Flowering plants are able to reproduce because of  native pollinators, which are insects, birds, and bats. Many pollinators depend on native plants to lay their eggs and to provide them with a food source for both larval and adult forms of the insects. Insects aid with flower pollination and  will ultimately be a food source for reptiles, birds and even humans. Insects  are important for the ecosystem, and the main thing that they need to survive are plants. 

Yerba santa – Eriodictyon crassifolium and a bee fly from the genus Triploechus.

In the state of California, there are over 1,500 species of native solitary bees that require native plants (Frankie, et al., 2019). Not only do these same insects provide cross pollination to support a complex food web, they provide services which include clean water and air and food for human consumption.     

Native plants in urban gardens should not be a novel idea, it should be the norm. At one time, the California Floristic Province was covered in fields and hills full of native plants. As our human population grew, these native spaces have been cleared to build houses, stores, schools, and other urban infrastructures. 

Island snapdragon – Gambelia speciosa.
Showy penstemon – Penstemon spectabilis.

Once construction is complete, very few native plants are brought back for landscaping. Because of this, native plants no longer house and feed critters such as worms, insects, arachnids, birds, small mammals and reptiles. There are specialized plant-pollinator relationships that may be altered when native plants are not used in home gardens (Bjerknes, Totland, Hegland, & Nielsen, 2007). 

If native plants are not deliberately returned to urban areas, then pollinators and their many services will cease to exist. So why don’t we all have native plants in our home gardens? 

There are a few reasons, like little availability of native plants in commercial stores and lack of information regarding native biodiversity and personal attachment. This is consistent with previous studies where the Latino and African American communities have been found to have the least amount of information when it comes to native trees and plants (Dawes, et al., 2018; Peterson et al., 2012). Perhaps this lack of native plant knowledge is due to other priorities within these communities. 

Bush monkey flower – Mimulus aurantiacus.  

The last reason I have identified is a personal attachment to certain plants as they represent part of our cultural heritage or personal history. 

I grew up in a house full of ferns, geraniums and roses. My grandma loved plants and we had lots of them, but not a single plant was native to California. Because of my own personal connection with my grandmother, I am in favor of keeping culturally and personally meaningful plants. I just think that we can come to a compromise where the available space could be shared by different types of plants that include California natives. 

There is a need for more native plant nurseries around the California Floristic Province so that once you know about the need to maintain biodiversity, there is a place to buy the plants. Great resources, such as Calscape – Restore Nature One Garden at a Time, provide how-to guides for gardeners about native plants, including water, sun, and other requirements as well as the pollinators that they aid. 

Matilija poppy – Romneya coulteri.

Next time that you are working on your garden consider plants such as bush monkey flower or showy penstemon, these two plant species have beautiful colors and would look beautiful in any home garden. Also there are options such as a delightful California lilac or any sage that would provide beauty to your garden, as well as food and shelter for pollinator insects.

I invite you to go out to nature on a more regular basis and see the beautiful plants and animals found in Baja California. If going out is not always possible, then bring the outdoors to your doorstep by using California native plants in your home garden.  Feel proud to be part of the environment and protect it. All it takes is one plant to start the change. 

Big berry Manzanita – Arctostaphylos glauca.

About the author

Dorabel Esparza is working on a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology and I have focused all of my course work in learning more about California native plants and pollinators.

References

  • Bjerknes, A. L., Totland, Ø., Hegland, S. J., & Nielsen, A. (2007). Do alien plant invasions really affect pollination success in native plant species?. Biological conservation, 138(1-2), 1-12.
  • Dawes, L. C., Adams, A. E., Escobedo, F. J., & Soto, J. R. (2018). Socioeconomic and ecological perceptions and barriers to urban tree distribution and reforestation programs. URBAN ECOSYSTEMS, 21(4), 657–671. https://doi-org/10.1007/s11252-018-0760-z
  • California Native Plant Society. https://calscape.org/
  • Frankie, G., Pawelek, J., Chase, M. H., Jadallah, C. C., Feng, I., Rizzardi, M., & Thorp, R. (2019). Native and Non-Native Plants Attract Diverse Bees to Urban Gardens in California. Journal of Pollination Ecology, 25, 16–25.
  • Myers, N., Mittermeier, R.A., Mittermeier, C.G., da Fonseca, G.A. & Kent, J. (2000). Biodiversity hotspots from conservation priorities. Nature, 403, 853-858. 

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