CALIFORNIA NATIVE PLANT WEEK: April 17-23

by Bill Tweed, as written for his regular column in the Visalia Times Delta (printed April 9, 2011)

Here’s something to celebrate: it’s California Native Plant Week. OK, this may not cure all the world’s ills, but it is worth a moment of your time. Let me tell you why.

California possesses a natural flora of astounding richness. That should come as no surprise, considering how many different environments our state encompasses.

Lupine group, photo by John Greening

Within California, we have just about every environment one can imagine: lush temperate rains forests and barren deserts; rich grasslands and oak woodlands; freshwater marshes and high mountain meadows.

This variety expresses itself in our plant life.  California’s native flora provides some of our state’s most iconic images. Consider our native California fan palms, the Joshua trees, and giant sequoias.

Altogether, California provides a home for about 6,000 species of native plants. Individually, they are adapted to grow in almost every conceivable environment.  We have native plants that are drought tolerant and salt tolerant; plants that live in wet places both cold and warm; plants that grow on cold, dry mountain tops; plants that grace our coastline.

And they’re handsome!  Consider forests of California redwoods; fields of California poppies; wind-sculpted bristlecone pines clinging to desert mountaintops; cactus blooming in our deserts.

Buttery Mariposa, photo by John Greening

Locally, Tulare County’s flora reflects the richness of California. We have amazing plants here. The coniferous forests in our mountains provide a home for the largest trees in the world, and valley oaks add distinguishing beauty to our piece of the Great Central Valley.

Surprisingly, at least to me, we don‘t make nearly as much use of our native plants in our gardens as we ought to.  Drive around Visalia, and you’ll find that most gardens contain no native plants.  We could do better.

If you live in Visalia, why not plant a valley oak?  Consider it an investment in the future. I’m still watching one grow that my mother and I planted in 1956.  With a little luck, it will last for centuries.

Plant an elderberry.  These large native shrubs (small trees sometimes) produce handsome spring flowers and then attract birds with their tight heads of blue berries. The elderberries in my yard bring in an amazing variety of spring and summer feathered visitors.  I never know what I’m going to see.

Why not plant California poppies in your garden?  What possibly could add more color?

Field of poppies, photo by Scott Spear

California Native Plant week formally runs from April 17 through the 23rd. The timing could not be better.  In late April, California’s always amazing spring is usually at its peak.

Hop in your car and go looking for wildflowers. Close to home, try Three Rivers or the hills around Woodlake.  Visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument west of Bakersfield, or make a day-trip to the California Poppy Reserve near Mojave. For more ideas, check out the Theodore Payne Foundation’s very useful weekly California wildflower website at:  www.theodorepayne.org/hotline.

April is simply too nice a time of the year to stay indoors, especially after a nice wet winter like the one now ending.  Celebrate Native Plant Week by going outside. See what you can find. Take the family. You won’t regret it.

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