Go to a Native Plant Society Plant Sale

You will be glad you did.

If you live in a temperate climate, a fall native plant society sales event is an ideal place to shop for native plants and obtain free expert advice. For readers living in other climates, there is sure to be an event for you sometime during the year.

On the California Central Coast, where I reside, a good time to plant native plants is in November before the rainy season begins. This gives the plants a chance to become established in their new homes well ahead of dry summertime conditions.

Why should you plant native plants in your yard or garden? The short answer is because they are beautiful, good for the environment, and connect you to the place where you live.

A few additional reasons for growing native plants are because it is fun, rewarding, and good for your wellbeing.

This post contains three examples that illustrate the wonderfulness of native plants.

A Tale of Three California Native Plants

The first of the three California native plants described below is one that I grew from a seed I obtained at a California Native Plant Society San Luis Obispo (CNPS-SLO) chapter seed exchange. The second I grew from a tiny seedling I bought at last year’s CNPS-SLO native plant sale (this year’s sale is coming up on Saturday, November 2). The third volunteered to grow in our yard, meaning we did not purposefully plant it.

California Buckwheat

Regular readers will recognize Becky the California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) in the top photo above as this individual plant has been featured in other stories I have written about native plants. For new readers here is a brief recap.

As an amateur native plant enthusiast wanting to learn about native plants, I joined CNPS-SLO in October 2017. The first meeting I ever attended coincided with the chapter’s annual seed exchange where I selected seeds for five California native plants I wanted to try growing, including California buckwheat.

Of the California buckwheat seeds I planted, only one germinated and grew into a plant. Once it seemed big enough to try to make of go of it in our mostly wild yard, I named the plant Becky and transplanted it into a carefully selected spot where I hoped it would receive enough sun and would have adequate room to grow.

I decided to provide supplemental water during Becky’s first year living in the yard. It was thrilling to watch the plant double in size. I was astonished when Becky had spread out to cover a space with about a five-foot radius. The plant looked happy but I wondered if it would ever bloom and attract bees.

In early July, I spotted the first buds forming and waited in anticipation for flowers to appear. At first, there were just a few flower clusters and then more and then many more.

Recently, when I was taking photos of Becky, I just stood there for a minute admiring this magnificent plant that I had grown from a tiny seed.

California Fuchsia

Before last year’s CNPS-SLO native plant sale in November, I had made a list of plants I wanted to try growing in our yard. California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) was one of the plants on my list that I was able to buy at the event. I bought six of the small seedlings (about 2-3” tall) to try in various places in our yard.

When we got home, I planted the seedlings in 1-gallon pots and placed them on a landing for the stairs that lead up to our front door. Apparently, raccoons (or someone else) discovered the pots and decided to dig for bugs leaving the seedlings overturned.

Fortunately, I noticed the mishap the following morning. After repotting the seedlings, I moved them to a safer area on the deck outside of our dining room.

With regular watering, the seedlings soon grew taller and continued to grow and fill out the pots.

In February of this year, I deemed the plants were ready to try living in the yard so I transplanted one to see if the deer would eat it or not. They did not so in March I planted the remaining five plants. For insurance, I planted one California fuchsia within the small fenced-in area of our yard near Becky.

All the plants seemed like they were doing okay at first, but after a few months, I noticed that there was a large variance in growth. I have been giving them supplemental watering and as far as I can tell the plants are not being eaten by the deer. Perhaps the variation is due to the amount of sun they receive, the soil conditions, or something I have yet to discover.

California Fuchsia Blooming - October 2019
I did not expect the plants to bloom during the first year, but this California fuchsia that lives in the fenced-in area of our yard gave me a lovely surprise – October 2019.
Coast Live Oak

Our home is on a tiny piece of land in the midst of a native stand of Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) forest where Monterey pines and coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) trees live together. The oaks in our yard volunteered to grow in various locations from acorns dropped by neighborhood oak trees or by the squirrels and birds that collect and store them.

During the first several years that we lived here, I observed the various trees, plants, and wildlife sharing our yard with us. I knew that oaks are generally slow-growing and long-lived trees but our oak trees seemed exceptionally slow growing.

On a spring day in 2013, I found out why. I had gotten up from my desk to stretch and walked over to look out one of our home office windows. You cannot imagine my amazement to see a mule deer buck munching on the leaves of one of the tiny oak trees.

I was used to seeing deer cruise through our yard eating various things but I had never seen a deer eat anything on an oak tree. I had just assumed that they did not like to eat the spiky edged leaves. That day I learned that deer do eat oak leaves and that they had been doing it for years when we were not looking. Who knew deer were so sneaky.

The oak trees living in our yard were not exceedingly slow-growing. They were stunted from years of deer grazing.

Of course, getting rid of the deer was not an option nor would my spouse and I want it to be. Our neighbor’s fenced-in yard has several mature oak trees (which I have now witnessed being pruned by deer) so we deduced that maybe if the oak trees in our yard could be protected until some of the branches grew taller than the deer can reach then maybe they could coexist with the deer.

We decided to try providing a few oak trees with protective fencing and see what happened. After a few years, all the protected trees had at least doubled in height so we surveyed our yard and then enclosed more trees.

We now have seventeen oak trees of various heights living in wire enclosures. The first tree we enclosed in 2013 is about eight feet tall so in a year or so we will remove the fencing and let it spread out however it wishes. As the other trees grow beyond deer height they will have a chance to live un-fenced, too.

Coast live oak trees are an important part of the history, beauty, and biodiversity of this area so it gladdens our hearts that we can help the trees and the deer occupy the land together.

Shopping for Native Plants

Native plants are sometimes available at nurseries and big box store garden centers. However, I prefer buying native plants at a botanical garden or native plant society plant sale because you can find plants suitable for where you live and obtain free expert advice on how to care for them.

The California fuchsia described above is just one of the native plants and trees I have purchased at botanical garden and native plant society plant sales over the past several years.

Hiking around our hilly yard to observe and tend our native plants is good exercise and a continuous learning experience that brings joy into my life.

Add beauty to your own yard or garden and contribute to your wellbeing by planting native plants, grasses, and trees. Search the web for a native plant society plant sale where you live and then go to it.

Next year, you will be admiring the native plants that you bought this year that have now settled into their locations in your yard or garden.

Featured Image at Top: This is Becky the California buckwheat who has been blooming in our yard and attracting bees for that past four months – October 2019.

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  10. Why You Should Volunteer to Collect Native Plant Seeds

Why You Should Volunteer to Collect Native Plant Seeds

Have fun and lend a hand to Mother Nature.

Volunteering to help collect native wildflower and native plant seeds is an easy, enjoyable, and important activity that is good for people and the environment.

One of the things I love about native plants is that they give you a sense of place connecting you to where you live, work, and visit.

Native plants are trees, wildflowers, bushes, grasses, and other plants that are adapted to live in a particular location (small or large) under a certain range of climatic conditions. They live off the land and survive on the rainfall available where they live. Native plants provide habitat, food, and beauty for people and other denizens of nature. Healthy ecosystems with thriving biodiversity need native plants.

Nowadays, there are many threats to native plants everywhere perhaps even in your own community or a place you enjoy visiting like a state or national park. These threats include land encroachment, air and water pollution, erosion, watershed degradation, and the spread of invasive plants (often an unintended consequence).

This is where you and I come in.

We can give Mother Nature a hand by volunteering to collect seeds that will then be used to preserve existing native plant communities, restore damaged native plant ecosystems, and to create new spaces for native plants to grow in public areas and our own yards.

Keep in mind that unless you are collecting seeds in your own yard or garden you need to obtain permission from the landowner which may be an individual, an organization, or a government agency.

My first volunteer seed collecting outing occurred on a recent Saturday morning at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA.

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

My spouse and I often walk on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve enjoying the views of the ever-changing Pacific Ocean and trying to name the native plants we see near the trails.

Over the past year or so, we have participated in several volunteer shifts involving the removal of ice plant from the bluffs to make way for native plants to return. Ice plant may be beautiful along its native coast of South Africa, but here it is very invasive.

Buff Trail at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA on August 23, 2019
This is the bluff at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA on August 24, 2019. The area on the left has been cleared of ice plant and you can see that some native plants are taking hold in the middle. Photo credit Tori Poppenheimer.

A couple of weeks ago, a volunteer seed collecting activity notice from the Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve landed in my email inbox. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to collect seeds for the space we had helped clear and to learn about collecting seeds. I immediately recruited my spouse and put the date on my calendar.

Collecting Seeds

Thankfully, the Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve usually ask us to arrive at 9:00 a.m. for Saturday volunteer activities. This is much appreciated by me as I am not a morning person and unlikely to become one.

It was one of those gray and misty mornings damp but not dripping.

Holly Sletteland Seed Collecting at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, CA on August 17, 2019

When my spouse and I arrived at the Ranch, our leader for the day, Holly Sletteland and a dozen or so volunteers were already gathered at the entrance so we all headed down the trail to the location where we would begin our seed collecting forays.

Holly is always well prepared with tools, snacks, and information. This day was no different. She showed us photos of the plants we would be collecting seeds from and then had us walk over to some of the plants so we could see what the flowers and seeds looked like dried and brown.

There was a stack of paper lunch bags and a cup filled with black Sharpie markers on a portable table. Holly instructed us to write down the name of the plant, location (meaning the Ranch), and the date on the bags we were going to use for collecting seeds and to only put one type of seed in each bag.

Left to right above: Duffy Burns and his granddaughter and Maria Susperreguy collecting seeds at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA on August 17, 2019 – photo credit Walt Andrus.

To ensure there are enough seeds for the Ranch wildlife to eat and for Mother Nature to replant, Holly asked us to take no more than 10% of the seeds from each plant.

We learned that one of the perks for volunteering that day was that if we wanted to we could collect some seeds for our own yards or gardens. Actually, I had asked Holly about that ahead of time because I am eager to try growing native plants from seeds that come from an area near my home. My spouse had thoughtfully brought along bags for us to collect our seeds in.

As the group dispersed to collect seeds my spouse and I headed back down the trail where we had seen some coast buckwheat bushes growing. This was one of my target species and luckily one of the species Holly had asked the volunteers to collect. We carefully selected some brown flowers and snipped them off the plant. I thanked the plant and we moved on to the next one.

Coast Buckwheat Seeds and Chaff in a Bowl

This photo shows a bowl containing the coast buckwheat seeds we collected for our yard. You can see there is still a lot of chaff mixed in with the seeds even after we carefully cleaned them.

Moving from plant to plant we slowly filled up our five collecting bags with seaside golden yarrow, thrift sea pink, bush lupine, seaside daisy, and coast buckwheat seeds. We even found a few gum plants with seeds that were ready to collect (most of them were still blooming).

We made our way back and added our bags to the table that was now crowded with bulging bags filled with seeds.

Using a wooden box with a fine mesh screen, Holly demonstrated how to separate seeds from the dried flower heads. The seeds fall through the holes and much of the chaff remains on the screen. The stems and the other bits left over are returned to the land.

After thanking Holly for a fun and informative outing, we headed home to clean and store our own seed stash.

Hopefully, there will be a volunteer day in the future when we can go back and sow the seeds we collected.

Cleaning and Storing Seeds
Native Plant Seed Cleaning Equipment
I do not have a seed sorting box at home so I used a mesh colander, a bowl, and a small tray.

The seeds from most of the plants were itty bitty and difficult to completely separate from the chaff. Perhaps we could have done it using a magnifying glass and tweezers but we decided to be satisfied with our seeds having some chaff mixed in. Hopefully, this won’t be detrimental to the seeds germinating when we plant them in November before the rainy season.

When you are collecting and cleaning seeds, you should expect a few bugs. Birds and squirrels are not the only wildlife that eats seeds. I do not like creepy crawly things, which is why I always wear gloves to do gardening. I realize that this is not a useful characteristic for a native plant enthusiast, but I have yet to morph into a bug-loving person.

A few bugs had come home in our seed bags but not many. However, there were a fair number of creatures looking like itsy bitsy spiders living inside some of the lupine seed pods. The hard-shelled seeds seemed undamaged. I picked the seeds out of my sorting tray and periodically dumped the spiders into the yard.

Bush Lupine Seed Pod and Seeds

Compared to most of the seeds the bush lupine seeds were easy to clean. The seeds grow in pods (like peas) and are easily discerned. As the seeds ripen the pods turn brown and then twist open flinging the seeds away from the plant. The trick is to collect the pods before they burst.

We repurposed several paper envelopes from the last two California Native Plant Society San Luis Obispo chapter seed exchanges to store our seeds. I left the tops open so any remaining bugs can leave at their leisure.

Native Plant Seeds in Envelopes and Stored in a Cardboard Box

After placing the seed envelopes in an open cardboard box, I set it on a shelf inside a cupboard in the garage so the seeds will have a safe and cool place to rest until we plant them in November.

This volunteer seed activity made me feel extra happy. We contributed to helping the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve continue to be the awesome and beautiful place that it is. And we are giving native plants a place in our yard with hopes that they will grow and thrive and set a good example for the neighborhood.

Volunteer to Collect Native Plant Seeds Yourself

If you are looking for a way to give back to your community and to help make Earth a better place, volunteering to collect native plant seeds might be just the activity for you. It is easy, fun, and rewarding.

Depending on where you live, there may still be opportunities to volunteer to collect native plant seeds at an open space in your own community. Use your Internet search window to look for events. If it is past collecting time, there are still things you can do.

  • Attend a local seed exchange (you don’t always have to have seeds to share).
  • Join a native plant society, botanical garden association, or seed saving group in your area so you are prepared for next year.
  • Visit your local library. Some library systems like the ones in San Luis Obispo, CA and Rochester, MN offer seeds packets for library cardholders.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Lao Tzu

Featured Image at Top: If you look closely you can see a western fence lizard sitting atop this coast buckwheat plant sunning itself and enjoying the view of the Pacific Ocean from the bluff at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA on August 24, 2019 – photo credit Tori Poppenheimer.

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