The California Native Plant Conference only comes once every three years so I thought I would snatch up the opportunity to go, listen and participate even though I had just joined the CNPS San Luis Obispo Chapter a month before learning about the conference. There were so many topics it blew my mind! Before the 3-day conference there were 2 days of workshops and fieldtrips. I went on one fieldtrip and attended two workshops. There was some net-working pre-conference to get people together whom wanted to car pool to the fieldtrips and workshops outside of the hotel. I got lucky and met a few wonderful women to hang out with during the conference and meal times.
My first fieldtrip was to Mount Madonna County Park. We hiked into the hills where we saw the Twin Giants, a legendary, 600 year old redwood and became familiar with a typical redwood forest and related understory plants. The guide explained to us that modern times has changed the forest from being very densely planted with few understory plants to less dense and more understory plants which is a result of heavy logging around the turn of the century. We identified many plants and learned about a computer application (app) known as ‘i naturalist.’ Another app is ‘Calflora observer pro.’ Both are downloaded on my Samsung smart phone. These are databases where one can record sightings of different plants. A rare rhododendron and an uncommon ceonothus were pointed out along the trail. Manzanitas, wild ginger, tanoaks and ferns were abundant. I met a nice older couple from Gilroy who were avid bird watchers and a young college student of botany who was presenting her project poster at the conference on moss growing in Death Valley. Moss in Death Valley? Yes, it’s true!
The next workshop was at Acterra Nursery where we learned about propagating native California plants. Several techniques were shown Deanna Guiliani for cleaning seeds and taking cuttings from manzanitas and other natives. Many areas in California are being restored to their native historical habitats prior to invasive plants becoming commonplace. The plants that are believed to be native in a particular watershed are being collected by seed and cuttings, brought to a nursery like Acterra, propagated, and then planted back into the original watershed in which they came from in order to preserve genes in that region; better known as L.S.I. or Local Source Initiative.
The second workshop I participated in was one in which I was asked my opinion on the details of a new educational program to be launched (within CNPS) which will teach landscape contractors and others professionals how to install native plants.
Then the conference began! I learned more new vocabulary words relating to botany than I care to mention. There was a plethora of mini speeches given by knowledgeable botanists and students of botany. There were some classes that were more relevant to me than others. I learned what bryophytes are and how they are not being studied enough and that hundreds of new ones are being discovered all over California in recent years.
There were presentations on milkweeds and pollinator gardens which I am very interested in. There are fifteen California native milkweeds. There is a new page on the Xerces website called www.xerces.org/milkweed-seed-finder/. The Xerces Society touched on pollinator gardens and asked questions like: What are pollinators? Why are pollinators in peril? Why do we care? What can we do?
A presentation called, “Putting California on Your Plate” peaked my interest. It gave specific names of plants which are native edibles of California. One plant called a goji berry is something that I have enjoyed for a few years now. It is touted for potent nutrition packed tightly into tart, tasty, red, little, soft seeds. Purslane, a weed I have pulled a lot of is edible, as well as hummingbird sage leaves; Salvia spathacea. The fruit of ribes species are great tasting too, especially Golden Currant. Miner’s lettuce and honey mesquite are two more one would not commonly think of as edible. Honey mesquite is used as a flour. Quail bush, pinion pine nuts, elderberries and huckleberries are not grown and eaten enough in California. Unfortunately, most goji berries and pine nuts are imported from China and other countries.
Riparian, terrestrial biodiversity, vernal pools, ethnobotany and Jepson were common terms thrown around like a hackey sack during lunch break at a public high school. The scientific names of plants were common knowledge to attendees and discussions I overheard during the breaks were about the topics at the conference. It was cerebral to say the least but I enjoyed every minute of soaking up knowledge and the easy camaraderie of like-minded folks.
I learned of several educational plant hikes coming up this year as well as the ‘Sage Festival’ on March 28th and the ‘Native Food Festival’ on Nov. 14-15 which are both in Santa Ana this year.
I met Ellen Mackey, a certified senior ecologist for the Council of Watershed Health whose leadership was tangible throughout the conference. It’s evident that she wears many hats and is a very nice person whom took the time to talk to me even though she was losing her voice. Hei ock Kim is organizing the CNPS certification for landscape professionals and she personally thanked me for my comments during the workshop. There is a new ‘Rapid Response Program’ in California State Parks run by Ramona Robison. This program makes it easy for any keen observer to report the location of a non-native plant so it can be dealt with prudently.
One thing I observed during this conference was the enthusiastic participation of women listening to the talks and involving themselves in leadership. I didn’t count but I think the women outnumbered the men. 🙂