5. Native Plants in Public Spaces

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Native Plants in Public Spaces

Thursday, October 20 at 10:00-11:40 am, Cedar Room

Session Description: One of the best ways to get native plants into landscapes across California is through ordinances and other requestions. This track will discuss examples of public native gardens, what is needed for broad scope regulations, and plans for the future.

Session Chairs: Ann-Marie Benz (California Native Plant Society, Cazadero, CA, USA) and Maya Argaman (California Native Plant Society, San Francisco, CA, USA)

5.1 Three Problems and a Spark – Community Gardens

Catherine Capone (Tule River Parkway Association, California Native Plant Society, Porterville, CA, USA) 

This session will report on the processes, successes, and challenges of starting a native plant adopt-a-community-gardens program. The Tule River Native Plant Demonstration Garden Project is an adopt a garden program within a city park, led by the Tule River Parkway Association in southeastern San Joaquin Valley. The river corridor originally had few native species remaining, the Porterville community lacked knowledge of the existence of the public park, and the surrounding area lacked resources and examples of native gardens and places to purchase native plants. With a grant and collaboration with USFW, Audubon Society and the local CNPS chapter, the Tule River Parkway now contains 18 native plant gardens adopted by 16 different groups, 3 valley oak restoration areas, and an additional 30 trees. This session will be a deep dive into the process, along with video and stills of the gardens and the Native Plant Week Video of the project created by David Bryant.

5.2 Building a Living Shoreline in Bayview’s Heron’s Head Park Through Community Stewardship, Youth Education, and Workforce Development

LeeAndrea Morton and Nina Omomo (Literacy for Environmental Justice, San Francisco, CA, USA)

Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ) is an ecological restoration, environmental education, and workforce training organization in Southeast San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. LEJ has been working for the Port of San Francisco to restore the Heron’s Head Park wetland, one of the last remaining wetlands in the county, in partnership with San Francisco State University. The project received funding from 2016’s Measure AA, the clean and healthy bay measure, through the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority. LEJ prepares the site by removing invasive species, grows and plants all of the native plants for this project, performs follow-up monitoring, planting, and maintenance, and trains local, underrepresented BIPOC young adults in every phase of this process.

This talk will feature the 5-year project at Heron’s Head Park and discuss the technical work involved in growing salt marsh plants in the nursery and in the field, youth and community engagement through stewardship activities, and workforce development training toward green careers.

The project at Heron’s Head Park yields an array of ecosystem and community benefits. Building a living shoreline helps to make the Bayview community more resilient against rising sea levels, as a living shoreline can adapt to and absorb the impact of rising tides. LEJ has seen invasive Limonium ramosissimum (LIRA) inundate the wetland at Heron’s Head Park and destroy vital habitat for shorebirds and other wildlife. LEJ has found ways of removing LIRA without the use of herbicides, through hand pulling and follow-up maintenance. We have also successfully grown and reintroduced over 300 Suaeda californica plants. In partnership with San Francisco State’s Estuary and Ocean Science Center, LEJ has participated in cutting edge research focused on building an intact native wetland in Heron’s Head Park. Through this work, LEJ has established a pipeline for underrepresented young adults to establish green careers.

As one youth participant put it, “The health of the community is tied to the health of the environment.”

5.3 Working with city and county governments to expand their use of native plants

Harry White (California Native Plant Society, Sierra Club, Roseville, CA, USA)

Cities and counties in California have significant land holdings and properties where native plants can be used. While more progressive communities are transitioning to low-water and no-water landscaping, the tendency has been to use non-native plantings instead of CA native plants. Some common objections to increased use of native plants by governments include Availability, Maintenance, Survivability, Appearance, and Cost. To help CNPS overcome this inertia, there is a need for us to share and promote the most effective practices for getting city and county governments to use more native plants. Some chapters seem to be making good progress on this, while it has been more difficult for other chapters, depending on resources, local politics, etc. This panel discussion, with involvement from the audience, will be a forum where our experiences can be shared and we can standardize on best practices.

5.4 Lake Cunningham Native Garden: Where Ecology and Community Intersect

Arvind Kumar (California Native Plant Society – Santa Clara Valley Chapter, San Jose, CA, USA)

Lake Cunningham Regional Park was built in 1983 as a flood control project on the site of the historic Laguna Socayre, a shallow seasonal wetland that never drained to the bay. The 30′ deep lake was excavated, and the dug up clay/fine silt shaped into the surrounding berms. Nearby streams were diverted/channelized along the perimeter. The original landscaping made little use of native plants. CNPS members started the Native Garden project in 2002 to show that native plants could succeed in an area overrun with invasive annuals and perennials. 

The Native Garden has grown steadily to its present 2 acre size at the southern shore of the lake. It is a project of the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of CNPS and part of the city’s Adopt-A-Park program. Over time, volunteer activities have expanded beyond the 2-acre garden itself to encompass other areas of the park. In 2017-2019, 100 native trees were planted along Inner Lake Path. Invasive plants like stinkwort have been nearly eliminated from the park. Volunteers are now focusing on tumbleweed and curly dock. Upwards of 1500 volunteer-hours are logged each year. 

This park and the Native Garden has become the site of the quarterly 1st Day of the Season Bird & Plant Id Walks for beginners and enthusiasts alike. These walks attract over 100 visitors to the park each year, many first time visitors, and introduce them not only to species identification but also to the concepts of native habitats, co-evolution, and vegetation succession.

What are the lessons learned? Can a native plant project get going in your own neighborhood? How to find volunteers? How to pay for plants? How to interface with city staff? These and other issues will be addressed.

5.5 Restoring Local Biodiversity and Healthy Ecosystems are Nature-Based Solutions for Equitable Climate Action in San Francisco

Peter Brastow (San Francisco Department of Environment, San Francisco, CA, USA)

In December, 2021, the Mayor of San Francisco released a new Climate Action Plan for the City and County. The San Francisco Department of the Environment has been the chief architect of the Paris-compliant CAP, in collaboration with many other City agencies and numerous community stakeholders. While the City’s 2013 Climate Action Strategy contained a brief section on expanding the urban forest, the 2021 CAP contains a comprehensive chapter called Healthy Ecosystems, which directs actions for carbon storage and sequestration while simultaneously promoting local biodiversity and habitat. The HE Chapter intentionally promotes urban greening with and ecological restoration of all vegetation types, not just trees, as well as promoting healthy, carbon-rich soils through composting and other tools. The HE Chapter constitutes a large menu of nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and as such is a municipal-level application of the synthesis of climate action with ecosystem restoration, as promulgated in 30X30 initiatives at the California, national and international intercity scale. The HE Chapter has seven strategies and 32 actions. Strategies include two specifically about trees and the urban forest, in which planting native trees and promoting biodiversity is a significant feature. A strategy called “restore and enhance parks, natural lands and large open spaces,” focuses on larger-scale ecological restoration initiatives, while a “biodiversity in the built environment” strategy showcases the many options that exist throughout the urban fabric for restoring nature everywhere, using local native plants for the achievement of the multiple simultaneous goals of carbon sequestration, ecosystem restoration, equitable community access to nature and a cleaner and greener, more biodiverse city.

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Please join us in thanking our major sponsors for making this year’s event possible! Become a sponsor today.

Giant Sequoia


Valley Oak


Moulton Niguel Water District

White Sage

H.T. Harvey & Associates Ecological Consultants
East Bay Municipal Utility District

Melo Gardens

California Poppy

Westervelt Ecological Services

Carol Witham

Jepson Herbarium
Helix Environmental Planning