Where Do Western Monarchs Spend the Spring?

Despite the fact that Western Monarch butterflies are universally loved, their numbers have plummeted in recent years.

Two monarch butterflies cruise together under a Coast Live Oak tree.

What can you do to help? Join the Western Monarch Mystery Challenge–a campaign created to increase awareness of locations where Western Monarchs spend the spring in California after leaving their coastal California overwintering sites.

Male and female Western Monarchs together. Photo by Jeff Wallace.

If you see a monarch from February 18 through April 22, take a photo (it can be far away and blurry). Then report the siting to iNaturalist, the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, or email it to MonarchMystery@wsu.edu.

Far away and blurry photo of Western Monarch on baccharis pilularis cultivar and coffee berry.

Your photo will help scientists better understand Western Monarchs’ locations and activities in February, March, and April. When you share your springtime Monarch observations, you help conservation efforts for the butterfly.

In between reporting your spring Western Monarch sitings, plant more native plants in your garden, especially California buckwheat, salvias, manzanitas, narrow-leaf milkweed, and maybe a scrub oak tree!

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is partnering with National Audubon Society to encourage all of us to go outside this weekend and count the birds we see in our backyard or favorite place.

Sandpipers at Laguna Beach, CA.

I spent about 30 minutes this morning with a pair of binoculars and my Birds of California Field Guide by Stan Tekiela. I counted five American Robins, one Yellow-Rumped Warbler, a Cooper’s Hawk, and three White-Crowned Sparrows.

Cooper’s Hawk in search of breakfast. Photo by Kris Ethington.

The count continues through the Presidents’ Day holiday on Monday, February 17. Audubon encourages people from around the world to count wild birds and then submit the data online for scientists to use in their research. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an easy-to-use phone app to help you record and identify the birds you see. It’s called Merlin.

The Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology helps you record the birds you saw during the Great Backyard Bird Count.

You can add this app to your phone for free and quickly identify and record the birds you observed this weekend. It’s easy and fun and will help scientists better understand trends in bird populations worldwide.

Pelicans at sunset in Irvine, California. Photo by Yana Bridle.

After you’ve finished counting birds, join us in April at the Fullerton Arboretum Green Scene. We will be giving away free buckwheat and also offering other California native plants for sale.

California buckwheat plants are flowering machines that attract hundreds of pollinators. These pollinators are an important food source for birds. I look forward to seeing you this Thursday.

Tiny masked bee visits California buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Saying Good Bye to a Billion Birds

Did you know that in 2016, North America had more than a billion fewer breeding birds than 40 years ago?

Blue birds eating insects. Photo by the Louis Gintner Botanical Garden.

What is contributing to the decline in bird populations? Scientist Doug Tallamy has discovered that when non-native ornamental plants are installed in the landscape, insect populations plummet because insects are co-evolved to feed from native plant species, not from introduced plant species.

Insects make up 96 percent of terrestrial birds’ food source.

Carolina chickadee prepares to feed young. Photo by Douglas Tallamy.

 

Thousands of lady beetles hibernating in a canyon area in a southern California woodland in the winter of 2020. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

We have 3,300 species of ornamental plants (from other areas of the world) introduced in the United States. These plants are cultivated and promoted by nurseries and home improvement centers because they are unusual, pretty, and easy to grow.

Ornamental Pampas Grass (from Argentina and Brazil) invades a creek in Southern California.

Introduced ornamental plants do not support abundant insect life, and without insects–humans, birds, and animals cannot survive. Other factors contributing to the reduction in bird populations include pesticide use, bird strikes on windows and plexiglass fencing, and feral cats. To learn more, you can read Tallamy’s research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS).

Ornamental fountain grass (from Africa) planted in a residential landscape in Southern California.

What can you do to help? Start by learning about native plants from your region. If you live in California, you can go to CalScape.org and type in your zip code. You will find a list of plants that are native to your area, and the insects and pollinators the native plant supports.

California Native Plant Society

Returning birdsong to the outdoors is one of the reasons why the Orange County California Native Plant Society is giving away one free ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat to Orange County homeowners. Buckwheat supports 15 species of butterflies and moths, not to mention all of the native bees and other insects that thrive with this plant in the landscape. Plant a California buckwheat today and help birds find enough to eat.

Lady Beetle Visits Buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Caring for Buckwheat During a Dry January

If you picked up a four-inch California buckwheat at A Buckwheat in Every Garden event last fall, hopefully you planted it and watered it deeply, then spread a light layer of mulch to keep the soil moist.

Thea Gavin and Connie Bowen plant a two-gallon California buckwheat ‘Dana Point’ at an October Buckwheat in Every Garden event in Orange, California.

We received plentiful rain in November and December. However, except for a fraction of an inch of rain in mid-January, most Orange County gardens have been cool and dry in the new year.

Sunny January day in the California garden.

It is time to check your newly-installed buckwheat to see if it needs water. If the plant is dry a few inches down, give it a deep drink using a watering can or hose with a rain nozzle to simulate rainfall.

Watering a newly-installed buckwheat.

Native plants enjoy water during the winter rainy season, and sometimes when we have a dry month like this, we may need to add supplemental water to ensure the root ball doesn’t dry out while the plant is in its establishment period.

California buckwheat.

It takes about a year, sometimes more, for a California native plant to become established in the garden. Once the plant is established, it will only need monthly watering at most.  Below are a few photos of established California native plants that are flowering in the January native garden.

Verbena ‘De la mina’ (Verbena lilacina).

Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea).

Dancing tassels (Ribes malvaceum).

Sunset manzanita (Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’).

Lester Rowntree manzanita (Arctostaphylos ‘Lester Rowntree’).

Whether it’s wet or dry, keep an eye on your new buckwheat. Send photos and let me know how your buckwheat is growing.

A pair of cactus wrens enjoy the buckwheat at the Dana Point Headlands in January.

First They Sleep

Have you heard the old adage about growing newly-installed plants in the landscape? The saying goes like this: “First they sleep, then they creep, then they leap!”

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This starter ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat is not sleeping after installation: it has doubled in size a month after being planted.

Is your new ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat sleeping, creeping, or leaping? Some homeowners who planted their free buckwheat report bunnies feasting on the tender new growth. If this has happened to your buckwheat, consider fencing it temporarily until the plant grows larger and less tasty to rabbits.

Most ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat starter plants that were planted last fall are nestled into the soil and becoming established in their new home. The rainfall has nourished the leaves, stems, and roots with pure water.

California rains soak California buckwheat.

As the weather begins to warm, the new four-inch ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants will begin to bud and eventually flower.

Budding buckwheat.

The buckwheat flowers will attract native California pollinators such as the Acmon Blue, Gray Hairstreak, Brown Elfin, Blue Copper, and Dotted Blue butterflies, as well as many species of California bees including the tiny Masked bee.

Masked bee visits a buckwheat flower.

If you haven’t had a chance to attend A Buckwheat in Every Garden event to pick up your free buckwheat, consider visiting the San Juan Capistrano Garden Club monthly meeting on January 20. The club will give away 96 ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the San Juan Hills Golf Course banquet room.

Buckwheat in flower.

The ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat is a must-have for every Orange County garden, and now is the perfect time to plant it in your home landscape. Get yours while supplies last.

Growing Buckwheat in the Garden

When cooler winter temperatures arrive in Southern California, residents wear sweaters and scarves to stay cozy. Buckwheat changes in the winter too, as the creamy white flowers turn a reddish brown when the flowers go to seed.

‘Dana Point’ buckwheat graces a garden in winter.

The ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat has a compact nature suitable for the home garden and is fairly easy to grow for first-time native gardeners.

Buckwheat mixes with other natives in the garden.

More than a thousand buckwheats were distributed last fall, and if all went well, the plants that were given away may have doubled in size by now. Thanks to abundant rains over Thanksgiving and Christmas, the new buckwheat plants should be off to a good start.

New ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat planted in late November has doubled in size.

How is your new buckwheat growing? Have you experienced troubles or success? Let me know with a comment on this blog, and share a photo if you have one. I would love to hear from you.

And if you haven’t had a chance to pick up a free buckwheat, you can pick one up at Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar on January 14, 15, and 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (while supplies last).

Roger’s Gardens

Buckwheat in Winter

Pictured here is a large expanse of California buckwheat growing healthy and wild in O’Neill Park in November, just before the rainy season began. Notice how the flowers have turned a rusty reddish brown as this shrub reflects the changing seasons.

Field of buckwheat, oak trees and clouds in November before the seasonal rains began.

The buckwheat flower is turning to seed as winter approaches. California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) is distantly related to the Eurasian crop plant common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), which is used for pancakes, bread, and porridges. Unlike its European relative, the seed of the California buckwheat is not commonly used as a grain but instead feeds local birds and wildlife. If you trim the reddish flowers in winter, lay them on the ground for wildlife to enjoy.

California Buckwheat heading into the fall season.

Author Michael Wilken-Robinson reports in his book “Kumeyaay Ethnobotany” that native Baja Californians cook buckwheat flowers and leaves with water to make a tea to calm nerves. Others report using California buckwheat to cure digestive disorders. Medicinal uses for buckwheat are widespread among the Kumeyaay people.

Kumeyaay Ethnobotany by Michael Wilken-Robinson

In the spring and summer, California buckwheat is an important source of nectar for bees and is prized for the fragrant honey produced from the flower. Buckwheat honey has a delicate flavor and aroma.

Honey bee visiting buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

More honey comes from pollinated buckwheat than any other native plant in California. Visit your local farmer’s market to purchase local buckwheat honey and enjoy its sweet, rich flavor throughout the year.

Buckwheat honey.

It’s hard to resist the allure of the iconic California buckwheat and all of the benefits it will provide in your garden landscape.

Restored Habitat at Shipley Supports Wildlife

I took advantage of the break in the rain last weekend to visit Shipley Nature Center for their A Buckwheat in Every Garden giveaway in Huntington Beach.

Sycamore tree overhangs natural pathway.

The 18-acre Shipley Nature Center is a California native botanical area and wetland. The centerpiece of the gardens is a fresh water pond surrounded by various California native habitat gardens, restful seating areas, and natural pathways.

Red toyon berries flank an adirondack chair in autumn.

Shipley offers vermiculture (worm composting) demonstration sites, rain harvesting and storage examples, and a native plant nursery on site. Fallen tree branches are stacked along some of the pathways, providing perfect habitat for California native bees.

An Urbane Digger Bee in flight. Photo by Kris Ethington.

The City of Huntington Beach and the nonprofit Friends of Shipley Nature Center began restoration of the site in 1974. They removed invasive plants such as tamarisk and black mustard, then planted fifty thousand native plants. This site now supports snowy egrets, great blue herons, ducks, turtles, Cooper’s hawks, cedar waxwings, and many other species of birds, and butterflies.

Cooper’s hawk in search of breakfast. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Shipley Nature Center is an oasis in the city of Huntington Beach. Take your family to visit over the holidays and walk along 4,000 feet of trails that wander through oak woodlands, Torrey pines, willows, coastal sage scrub, and butterfly gardens. Admission is free, and visitor hours are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Matilija poppies in full flower at Shipley. Photo by Mary LeBoeuf.

Don’t forget to look for the buckwheats planted near the entrance of the site, and remember to look up! You may be rewarded by the site of a snowy egret near its tangled branch nest in the tree tops.

Do you see the ghostly figure of the snowy egret near the nest built in the sycamore tree at Shipley? Photo by Mary LeBoeuf.

More Buckwheat, More Butterflies

When you plant California buckwheat in your home landscape, you bring immediate relief to butterflies and other pollinators searching for nectar and shelter.

California native bee, solitary and docile, visits a California Buckwheat. Do you see the bee? Photo by Kris Ethington.

California buckwheats flower for months, enrich the soil with their tiny leaves, are easy to grow, and are evergreen. Buckwheat is a foundation plant for any garden.

Buckwheat graces a suburban garden.

The California Native Plant Society Orange County (OCCNPS) chapter is partnering with the Shipley Nature Center to give away 200 California ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants at the Holiday Crafts Faire on Saturday, December 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is free.

Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach.

Visit Shipley Nature Center this Saturday to pick up a free California buckwheat, select from 70 California native plants to purchase, and see 18 acres of restored wetlands, woodlands, and pristine coastal sage scrub habitat. Shipley’s address is 17851 Goldenwest Street in Huntington Beach. See you this Saturday!

Bernardino Blue butterfly on California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasiculatum). Photo by Chuck Wright.

Buckwheat with a Side of Natives

The Shipley Nature Center of Huntington Beach is partnering with STEMscopes students to host the final Buckwheat in Every Garden giveaway of 2019.

Restored coastal sage habitat at Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach.

The December 7th Shipley Nature Center buckwheat giveaway is especially exciting because along with the 200 buckwheat plants being distributed for free, Shipley will offer 70 additional California native plants for sale.

California native plants and books about gardening with natives. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Located in an 18-acre fenced natural area within Huntington Beach Central Park, the Shipley Nature Center is owned by the city of Huntington Beach. Several years ago, the Friends of Shipley Nature Center and the city of Huntington Beach joined together to remove invasive plants, upgrade the trail system, improve wetland areas, and install 50,000 California native plants.

Shipley Nature Center field of poppies.

This Shipley garden event will help OCCNPS supply northwest Orange County homeowners with buckwheat for their home gardens and fill in the Buckwheat in Every Garden iNaturalist map. One buckwheat plant is given to an Orange County homeowner in exchange for the homeowner’s street and city to plot the buckwheats as they are planted across the county.

A Buckwheat in Every Garden iNaturalist map showing 975 buckwheats planted across Orange County as of November 29, 2019.

Join us at the Shipley Nature Center, 17851 Goldenwest Street, Huntington Beach, on Saturday, December 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to pick up your free buckwheat and buy some California natives too. While supplies last, see you December 7.

Gray Hairstreak butterfly on Red Buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Buckwheat in the Headlands

Last Friday I visited the 60-acre Dana Point Headlands for the first time. I was interested in seeing the place of origin of the ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat that is being given to Orange County homeowners in A Buckwheat in Every Garden campaign.

Ocean view of the Dana Point Headlands. Photo by Debra Kettler.

We started at the Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center and walked along a sandy trail leading to viewpoints overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was mid-November, and the Dana Point Headlands hadn’t had a drop of rain for six months. Many of the plants in this environment are summer dormant, waiting for winter rains to refresh their leaves and begin new growth.

I enjoyed the rare pristine Coastal Sage Scrub environment in this protected area. It has been a long time since I have traversed a natural environment untouched by invasive black mustard. The most noticeable hints of color in the headlands were the rusty red color of the California Buckwheat flower in autumn, along with patches of green from Laurel Sumac and Prickly Pear Cactus.

California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) at the Dana Point Headlands. Photo by Debra Kettler.

The Dana Point Headlands is a coastal promontory managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management. It is home to about 106 native plant species including, of course, California Buckwheat, and the rare California Boxthorn, Cliff Spurge, Prostrate Spine Flower, and Seaside Calandrinia.

Cliff Spurge (Euphorbia misera). Photo by Wayne D. Johnson.

Because the Headlands is home to the threatened and endangered Pacific Pocket Mouse and the Coastal California Gnatcatcher, the area is carefully managed to prevent disturbances to the vulnerable creatures. My husband was fortunate to hear the kitten-like cry of the gnatcatcher and then see the tiny bird hopping on a coastal sage for a few moments near the trail.

California Gnatcatcher. Photo by Debra Kettler.

The Dana Point Headlands is one of the few places left that protects endangered California coastal plant and animal species. Bring your family to visit the Headlands, and enjoy the beautiful swaths of buckwheat in a pristine environment and many other rare plant and animal species as well.

California buckwheat “Dana Point.’ Photo by Kris Ethington.

Our next Buckwheat in Every Garden giveaway will be on Saturday, December 7, at the Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach. Two hundred ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat plants will be distributed at this event, and many more varieties of California native plants like Encelia (below) will be for sale too. More details to follow.

Springtime fields of California bush sunflower (Encelia californica). Photo by Debra Kettler.

 

Buckwheat Giveaway in Dana Point

The city of Dana Point is partnering with the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society (OCCNPS) on an ambitious 200-plant Buckwheat in Every Garden giveaway this Friday, November 15 at the Dana Point Community Center.

Four-inch ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plant is ready to be planted in a new Orange County home landscape.

OCCNPS and the city of Dana Point will give away 200 four-inch ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the Dana Point Community Center at 34052 Del Obispo Street on Friday, November 15.

Buckwheat giveaway earlier this month. Photo by Thea Gavin.

Tree of Life Nursery selected the ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) from a buckwheat plant growing at the Dana Point Headlands. The ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat is a long-flowering shrub that grows one-foot tall and three-feet wide, making it well-suited to smaller home landscapes and gardens.

‘Dana Point’ buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

One ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plant per homeowner will be given in exchange for the homeowner’s street and city. OCCNPS is mapping the buckwheats as they are planted across Orange County home landscapes on the BIEG iNaturalist map. A recent version of the iNaturalist map is shown here with nearly 700 buckwheats planted across Orange County.

A Buckwheat in Every Garden iNaturalist map.

Please join us this Friday and help make Dana Point’s namesake buckwheat giveaway a success. The plants are ready to go into the ground. Get yours this Friday, November 15, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Dana Point Community Center at 34052 Del Obispo Street, Dana Point, California.

Newly installed ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat. Photo by Rob Skinner.