Friday, May 10, 2013

Native Chaparral Retakes Former Territory Occupied by Invasives

I discovered something remarkable when I attempted to document one of the rare cacti colonies left in San Diego County of Coastal Cholla cactus. I found a commercial center parking area landscape being invaded by California Native Plants ?
Native Plants = ( Laurel sumac - Toyon - Coyote Broom - Sugarbush - etc, etc, etc)
Invasive Plants  = ( Star Thistle - Wild Mustard - most Non-native Ornamental Landscape Plants from retail nurseries - etc, etc, etc )
Photo Credit: Mine!
While venturing over to a rare colony of San Diego Coastal Cholla near Rancho San Diego, I couldn't resist taking these shots behind the Vons Store in the Rancho San Diego Village on Hwy 94 & Via Mercado south of El Cajon CA. After all I had to park here to be able to walk over to the Cholla colony. The Chaparral shrubs in this landscape behind the Vons are California Holly or Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)  which are mature enough to produce winter berries and apparently reseeding themselves everywhere along with other Chaparral species of plants within this commercial complex's landscape. You might also take note that these trees are a hydrid cottonless Cottonwood variety from back east and they are struggling terribly. To be honest, many homeowners in general are incorporating native landscape plants in surrounding neighbourhoods as are other's into their commercial landscapes. Unfortunately, this should have been done decades ago. Originally this area caught my attention as I was driving through because of an adjacent large piece of still wild property along Hwy 94 which contains a massive colony of San Diego Coast Cholla (Cylindropuntia prolofera) which unfortunately is in one of those ever so gradually sloping properties along a major highway and ripe for development one day in the future. But the Chaparral plants were clearly fighting back with a vengeance as far as the vacant lot next to the Rancho San Diego Shopping Village was concerned. There are some simple reasons to the chaparral plant intrusion into this exotic landscape and the environmental reasons for the success should provide a valuable teaching lesson here.

Photo Credit: Mine!
Laurel Sumac (Malosma Laurina) aggressively making inroads on the Sea Fig ice plant bank. Much larger more mature parent plants of both the Toyon & Laurel Sumac in the background are no doubt donating the necessary seed base for the reoccupation of former wild native plant habitat.
Photo Credit: Mine
Here is a side view of the bank next to the parking lot with the immediate volunteering of Laurel Sumac retaking it's former prime real estate. Though you may not see them, behind all of these are several California Holly (Toyons) also making an aggressive run on the exotic commercial landscape.
Photo Credit: Mine!
This scene was a pleasant surprise. Two cousins, Laurel Sumac on the left and Sugarbush (Rhus ovataon the right. I have never in my life seen them growing side by side in the wild. Not that they don't elsewhere, I've just never seen it. Generally Laurel Sumac is associated with the lower growing coastal sage scrub, while the Sugarbush is mostly inland and mixed with taller bulkier chaparral shrub species at higher elevations. Very kool! I guess they have to meet at the border of their terrains somewhere.
Photo Credit: Mine!
This is a young California Holly or Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) seedling above appears to be in very healthy condition. It's beautiful and if the commerical property owners and their landscapers are smart, they'll leave it well enough alone. The main reason this Toyon sapling is gaining such a strong healthy looking foothold here is because water rates are outrageous in Southern California and as the drought lingers on will most likely increase water rates which will change irrigation habitats. Here the Sea Fig is incapable of choking out native plant competition. So the drought is actually helping the native plants to retake former lost territories. A smart landscaper will use that to hs advantag. Allow natives to grow, thin out some and sculpt the others in a natural artistic form to provide a pleasant nature landscape with will mostly be maintenance free and watering requirements to be greatly cutback.
Photo Credit: Mine!

Photo mine May 2014  

Coronado Hills in San Marcos
California -
Cocos Fire
This is Coyote Broom or maybe Desert Broom both are able to make an aggressive come back and actually do well when humans disturb the wild sites. The little bright green shrubs sure are pretty are they not ? Here they are invading open patches of the non-native Sea Fig more often seen as a wild naturalized plant along the sea coast of commonly used on most all banks and hillsides of freeways and other commercial infrastructure. Generally Sea Fig in the landscape settings are more densely filled in, however because of the drought I believe this is why the Sea Fig is loosely thinned out which has allowed all these native to encrouch back into their former territories. Many call it Iceplant because of it's water storing succulent leaf design and structure. It has been used as a wildfire protection because of this water storing ability, but the reality is that it has given homeowners a false sense of security because it will burn ferociously, especially when it is decades old. This is because years of thatch have built up inderneath the top greener portions of the plant sprawl unseen to the average person. The photo on the right is from the (May 2014 Cocos Wildlfire in San Marcos) where numerous home were built on extremely steep hillsides on impossible accesses where the landscapes were planted with borders of Sea Fig in the illusion that this would be a good defensive border protection in case of wildfire. But finally, below is the main reason I came here. The parking lot scenaro was just an added benefit.

Image Mine - May 2013

Photo by James Gallagher, Sea and Sage Audubon
And here is the whole original reason I came to this parking lot in the first place. In search of documenting San Diego Coast Cholla colonies which are rapidly disappearing because of prime real estate development in and around all of the San Diego city & county areas. Interestingly, the Coast Cactus Wren like the one on the right have also become a rare sight as a result of habitat loss which must include cacti colonies. I did find one nest in the arms of one of the Cholla plants, but no birds. It may well have also been a Mourning Dove nest. But enjoy the Cholla post.
(Cylindropuntia prolifera) San Diego's Coastal Cholla Colonies Still Thriving on some Wildlife Islands within the city

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