GOING WILD WITH NATIVES: Celebrate Native Plants w/CNPS & Leave The Wild Ones Be

By Susan Lewitt for Let's Talk Plants! October 2021.

 Photo credit: Susan Lewitt.

Red Bush Monkey Flower, Diplacus puniceus aka Mimulus aurantiacus var. puniceus, has a wide range from the coast to quite far inland and from the Mexican border, all the way through Los Angeles.



In the coming months as the invigorating rains descend on San Diego County, and the cooler weather rolls in, the native plants will get ready to put on a show. We don’t know from year to year when a super bloom will occur, or if there will just be a few scattered splendors here and there. It is tempting to go out there and take home some of these wild beauties, but there are several things to keep in mind. Many of these plants are deep rooted allowing them to survive droughts. If you dig them up, you may end up killing the plant by not getting enough roots. While just a few people pick these wildflowers, over time this will impact the survival of native plant species, and pollinators and other animals that are intricately connected to them. Some of these species are threatened or endangered which makes collecting more problematic. Collecting from the wild is poaching.

Susan Lewitt.
Please don't pick us!

This California law pretty much covers it: “Under California Penal Code Section 384a -


- a person shall not willfully or negligently cut, destroy, mutilate, or remove plant material that is growing upon state or county highway rights-of-way. In addition, a person shall not willfully or negligently cut, destroy, mutilate, or remove plant material that is growing upon public land or upon land that is not his or hers without a written permit from the owner of the land, signed by the owner of the land or the owner’s authorized agent. In addition, removing or damaging plants from property that a person does not own without permission may constitute trespass and/or petty theft.”


Rather than taking plants out of natural areas, the best options for having your own native plants are the local native plant nurseries, and the plant sales by organizations such as California Native Plant Society (CNPS). Beware of buying seed packets labeled “wildflowers”. This labeling is misleading because the seeds may be native to somewhere, but not necessarily to San Diego. The seed packets may include exotic and invasive species, with only a smattering of wide-ranging native species. Some companies even claim that their seeds are native since many of these plants were introduced around the turn of the 20thcentury (about 1905), but native plants take longer than that to adapt to each other and form a biotic community (several different species grouped together occupying the same area and intermingling with one another.) These communities take centuries to evolve.

Photo courtesy: Stickpen, public domain.

Weed’s Mariposa Lily, Calochortus weedii, occurs in San Diego and all the way north past Los Angeles.



On the other hand, if you obtain native plants legally through nurseries and plant group sales, you can help biodiversity which helps human health. If most lawns and exotic gardens were converted to native gardens, native pollinators would have more support.

Photo courtesy of Calscape.

Coast Sunflower, Encelia californica, attracts pollinators including bees and is found throughout San Diego and north to beyond Pismo Beach.



“If half of American lawns were replaced with native plants, we would create the equivalent of a 20-million-acre national park, nine times bigger than Yellowstone or 100 times bigger than Shenandoah National Park (located in Virginia.)”

- According to Doug Tallamy, professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. This is a quote from his book, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard, published in 2020.


Learn more about our wonderful native plants at this following CNPS event:

Photo Courtesy: CNPS-San Diego.
Lower left and right side with bee: Lacy Phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia, and upper left: Bristly Fiddleneck, Amsinckia tesselata.

The CNPS-San Diego Chapter is pleased to announce its first annual California Native Plant Festival to be held on October 9, from 9 am to 3 pm in Balboa Park. The festival will feature a variety of native plant-themed activities for kids and adults, including speakers, artists, vendors, exhibitors, and live music. A selection of chapter-grown native plants will be for sale. This will be an opportunity to spotlight both the importance and the joy of California native plants for both enthusiasts and novices alike. Funds raised will benefit the activities of the CNPS-San Diego chapter. Hope to see you all there!


Please check the CNPS website (cnpssd.org) for information on the event, and to learn of future events including native plant sales and workshops.


A seasonal reminder: If you have Tropical Milkweed, cut it back in winter! Tropical Milkweed, which doesn’t die off naturally, is less desirable than native milkweed because over the winter it harbors Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE), a protozoan parasite infecting only Monarch and Queen butterflies. OE decreases migration success and causes body deformations which can be fatal to a population. To keep Monarch populations safe, cut back Tropical Milkweed to the ground in the early winter to prevent the parasite from overwintering on the plant.


Sources and resources:

· California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, “California Laws Protecting Native Plants,” https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Plants/Laws

· Doug Tallamy, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard, Timber Press, 2020

· USDA Us Forest Service, “Wildflower Ethics and Native Plants”, https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/index.shtml


Susan Lewitt is a member of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), participating in their Native Gardening Committee, and their Conservation Committee. As a member of the CNPS gardening committee, she has spent several Saturday mornings helping prepare a couple sections of Bird Park for native plants by removing non-native weeds.


As a San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance volunteer, she works on enrichment items for animals, composting and special events. During the past 1½ years, she was able to do many helpful volunteer tasks from her home computer. Now she is glad to get back to in-person volunteering and gourd cleaning, among other enrichment projects.


She trained last summer to be a member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project Leadership Program. She is a member of the local chapter of the Climate Reality Project, as well as their Gardening for Everyone Pod. She has written or co-written several related presentations including “Composting and What We Throw Out”, “The Importance of Native Plants” and “California Fire and Drought”. These issues relating to protecting our environment and reversing Climate Change are especially important to all of us.