California Native Plant Society

CNPS eNewsletter

March 2010

Bee-friendly Gardening:

Attract the world’s most effective pollinators with nectar- and pollen-rich native plants

Arvind Kumar

One cannot overstate the importance of bees to humans and the environment. Bees are called the world’s star pollinators because they pollinate one-third of our food crops. The almond crop of California, for example, is entirely dependent on honey bees for pollination.

Pollinator populations worldwide have been declining due to habitat loss from human development. Honey bee populations in particular have plummeted since 2006, a phenomenon dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. No one fully understands the reasons why, but pathogens and pesticides are among the suspects.

Most people are familiar with the European honey bee (originally from South and Southeast Asia), but few know that California is home to 1,600 species of native bees. Most are solitary in nature, do not build hives, and do not produce honey or wax for human consumption.

However, native bees are 200 times more efficient at pollination than honey bees! According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, pollinating an acre of apples requires 60,000-120,000 honey bees; the same area can be pollinated by 250-750 mason bees. Native bees can play just as vital a role in agriculture as they do in the ecosystem.

You, the home gardener, can support and rejuvenate the bee populations in your neighborhood. Dr Gordon Frankie of the University of California, Berkeley, has been studying bee habitats, and his recommendations are:

  • Eliminate the use of pesticides
  • Plant a diversity of nectar- and pollen-rich plants (10 or more species)
  • Mass each plant in patches 1 square meter or larger
  • Choose plants that bloom in succession over the seasons
  • Avoid excessive manicuring
  • Set aside some bare patches of soil for nesting

Many native plants provide nectar and pollen to bees of all kinds. Here is a short list of native plants I have grown successfully in my garden, arranged in order by time of bloom.

California is home to an amazing diversity of two sun-loving shrubs: manzanitas (Arctostaphylos sp) and ceanothuses. They come in a variety of forms, from groundcovers to subshrubs to large shrubs and tree-like forms. Manzanitas burst into bloom in the winter, while ceanothuses bloom around March. The flowers are decorative as well as a rich nectar and pollen source.

Spring provides a floriferous feast for bees with a riot of wildflowers, among them: California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Tansy-leaved Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia), Blazing Star (Mentzelia lindleyi), Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata), Bird’s Eye Gilia (Gilia tricolor), and the shade-loving Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophylla)

Spring-flowering subshrubs include Sticky Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus) and Woolly Bluecurls (Trichostema lanatum). Coffeeberry shrubs (Rhamnus californica) have insignificant flowers, but the bees have no trouble finding them. California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) and Holly-leaved Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) are flowering trees loved by bees and other pollinators. (Note that California buckeye is mildly toxic to honey bees, who will avoid it if other choices are available.)

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A Garden that is Alive:

Natives add more than color and fragrance to our landscapes

Dan Songster

"Once a garden comes alive ecologically, it displays a humor and richness of meaning that have been missed by narrow views of horticulture. Significance expands. Meanings multiply. Each plant or planting becomes much more than what nurseries believe they sell, or gardeners suppose they grow, or visitors would notice."  Noah's Garden, by Sarah Stein

We are in love with the wilderness. California’s natural areas are Rubenesque in their fullness and diversity, richly endowed with color, scent and texture. They are authentic landscapes and they are alive! Birds gobble insects, berries, and seeds, hummingbirds magically move about sipping nectar or gathering cobwebs to soften their silken nests. Our native bees, flies, dragonflies, and butterflies in various activities and stages of development are fascinating, using the native landscape both as home and food source. And beneath our feet fungal and bacterial alliances operate silently in the soil itself. How can we not be in love with such active, fragrant, and adventuresome landscapes and desire a similar experience in our home garden?

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Lose the Lawn or Just Shrink It?

Orchid Black

“Most people only walk on the lawn when they are mowing it,” said Mike Evans of Tree of Life Nursery in a presentation to the San Gabriel CNPS.  I am always in favor of killing the whole lawn, and replacing it with local native plants, sometimes including a small meadow of flowering perennials and sedges.  A well-designed garden with inviting paths, seating areas and water features can turn a formerly featureless and ignored lawn area into enjoyable and usable space.

Lawn has very little to offer in the way of habitat value, so every square foot dedicated to traditional lawn can be thought of as habitat stolen from butterflies, birds and all the other critters that live in Southern California.

Sometimes the choice is a cultural one. An arty neighborhood or hillside community is more likely to accept the removal of an entire lawn than a neighborhood of cookie-cutter houses with lawns to match.  One of my favorite quotes is, “People who have never voted maintain their civic duty by mowing the lawn.”  While some of us are courageous ground-breakers, willing to take on their neighbors or their city, others prefer ease in the neighborhood. 

Lawn is functional if you have toddlers or dogs and prefer lawn areas for them to run around on.  If you are making the choice on behalf of a small child, remember that uneven ground with different surfaces to walk and run on may stimulate more connections to form in the brain.  Flat lawn may not equal smart child.  Having butterflies, hummingbirds, lizards and other local critters in the yard teaches kids that they are part of an ecosystem.  A family I know had a toad come to their Glendale native garden.  For some families, playing ball is important, and that does require some type of lawn, though it doesn’t need to be grass.

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Native Here Nursery

Delia Taylor

Do you live in the Bay area? Check out Native Here Nursery!

The East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society manages a native plant nursery near Tilden Park that stocks plants that are native to Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. If you are in the process of integrating local natives into your landscaping, this is one nursery not to miss. The Native Here Nursery is open 3 days a week—Tuesdays noon to 3pm, Fridays 9am to noon and Saturdays 10 am to 2pm.  It is located at 101 Golf Course Drive, Berkeley, in Tilden Park, across from the golf course parking lot.

At Native Here, you will find plants that are grown from seed and organized geographically.  We carry some local natives that are available nowhere else!  The nursery welcomes volunteers who are interested seed collection trips and nursery work.  Contract sales are also available.  Further information, access our website at  Native Here Nursery is a project of the East Bay Chapter CNPS and the East Bay Regional Parks District.

BAEDN at the Forefront of Regional Invasive Weed Management

Greg Suba, CNPS Conservation Director

Many invasive plants begin as ornamental introductions sold in our local stores and nurseries. Over the years, about 450 plants originally imported for use in ornamental horticulture in California have “jumped the fence” into wildlands and open spaces. Once established, it can take decades and millions of dollars to extirpate a non-native occurrence from an area.

The earlier weed warriors throughout the state become aware of new outbreaks of old nemeses or new invaders, the sooner they can remove weeds while sites are small. This early detection / rapid response strategy to weed control is at the heart of the Bay Area Early Detection Network (BAEDN), a partnership of conservation groups, land management agencies, and individual citizens concerned with invasive weed control across a nine-county Bay Area region.

BAEDN coordinates detection efforts across nine counties with a goal of facilitating rapid response.  Network participants include researchers and technical experts who ensure detection and response measures are based on sound science, natural resource professionals and agencies involved in land management, and trained citizens who help build the network and walk the trails of the region seeking and reporting harmful invasive plant occurrences.

As the network continues to develop a programmatic approach to regional invasive weed management, BAEDN is setting the standard for multiple-county weed management in California. Its ability to turn early detection and rapid response efforts into dead weeds will represent the foundation from which to build a coordinated system of regional early detection networks across the state. More information about the BAEDN project can be found via their website at

Chapter Events
A Sampling from Around the State

Sacramento Valley Chapter
Wildflower Weekend: Sunday April 11, noon-5:00
The Sacramento Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society is hosting Wildflower Wonders on Sunday April 11, noon-5:00 at Southside Park, 8th & U Streets, Sacramento.  Wildflower Weekend is an exhibit of native plants from our region combined with a native plant sale event. For display purposes, the plants are grouped by plant community. The event is hosted by local experts on California native plants and plant habitats, so come with all of your questions about California Prairie, Oak Woodland, Riparian habitats, Vernal Pools, and more! Our plant sale features plants that are native to the Sacramento Region. Emmy Gunterman, aka the Pipevine Story Lady, will be joining us too. The Sacramento Weed Warriors will be on site to answer questions about invasive species, and we hope families with small children will visit the Kidz Zone!

Santa Clara Valley Chapter
Going Native Garden Tour, April 18, 10:00 am-4:00pm
The California Native Plant Society, Santa Clara Valley chapter, in association with UCCE Master Gardeners of Santa Clara Valley presents the Eighth Annual Going Native Garden Tour. More and more Bay Area homeowners are turning to California native plants to save water and make their gardens aestetically pleasing, attractive to birds and butterflies, and low maintenance. You can visit gardens landscape wieth California native plants on this free annual tour. Many different gardens will be open for viewing, from town home gardens to acre lots, from newly planted gardens to established ones. The gardens are located all over the Santa Clara Valley and the Peninsula, so you won't have to go far to see one.  Some gardens will feature talks, others will have plants for sale. Visit as may as you like- for inspiration, for photos, for meeting other garden enthusiasts. Free admission. Registration required. Please visit for more information or to register.

Spring Wildflower Show, April 24 & 25, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Mission College
Sponsored by the California Native Plant Society, Santa Clara Valley Chapter the 38th Annual Wildflower show will feature over 400 species of wildflowers and native plants of the Santa Clara, San Mateo, and surrounding counties. Free classes on native plant identification, growing wildflowers, gardening with native plants, and fun children’s activities will be offered and plants, books, and wildflower related items for sale. Free admission and free parking in Lot C. For more information, visit

For Chapter Events in your area, please visit the CNPS Website at

 Photo Credits
  • Arvind Kumar: Woolly Angelica (Angelica tomentosa) supports a variety of bees and other pollinators
  • Stacey Flowerdew: Blue Eyed Gilia (Gilia tricolor)
  • Gary S. Meredith: Bladderpod (Cleome isomeris) and Hummingbird
  • Orchid Black:  Front Yard Native Plant Garden
  • Delia Taylor: Nita Stull at Native Here Nursery
  • Dan Gluesenkamp, Audubon Canyon Ranch: Helichrysum petiolare (licorice plant), an escaped garden plant, covering Mt Tamalpais
  • Chris Lewis, Redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis)
  • Arvind Kumar, Dan Songster, Orchid Black, Laura Camp, Delia Taylor, Chris Lewis, Greg Suba, Mike Perlmutter, Tara Hansen, Stacey Flowerdew, and Mark Naftzger


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