The Santa Monica Mountains Native Plant Nursery has existed in near obscurity since its inception 20 years ago on National Park Service lands at the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) in Newbury Park. His goal was to grow native plants for use in ecological restoration projects in the Santa Monica Mountains, but not on a large scale, perhaps 2,000 plants per year.
That all changed in 2019 when SMMNRA received a grant from the Metabolic Studio / Annenberg Foundation to support the nursery upgrade and revitalization. The grant was awarded to the SAMO Fund, the fundraising arm of SMMNRA.
The money couldn’t have come at a better time. The Woolsey Fire burned nearly 100,000 acres of ARMS in November 2018, causing more damage than any other fire in recorded history. The cultivation of replacement native plants had to be greatly accelerated to begin to restore the large areas of burnt burn.
The blaze, fueled by years of drought that were already stressing local plant communities, was just a sign of the effects of climate change. Not only did the plants have to be replanted, but the seeds had to be kept safe from future disasters to ensure that the species would not be wiped out.
Antonio Sanchez was appointed head of the SAMO Fund nursery in 2019, a man passionate about native plants and sharing his knowledge. He immediately began to expand his plant growing business with the help of employees and student interns in the outdoor areas of the old ranch with equipment, storage areas and offices located at the interior of converted old ranch buildings and stables.
“In the nursery’s first 20 years, they made 900 seed collection trips. In the year and a half since I’ve been here we’ve done 200 collections, ”said Sanchez, illustrating a five-fold increase in seed collection activity. “And we never shoot from a single plant in an area. We go to all known places of this plant and collect seeds from at least 50 plants to diversify the gene pool. Some seeds are then stored in the freezer and others are used to grow new plants.
“Our main goals are restoring the plants and saving the genetics of the Santa Monica Mountains,” Sanchez continued. “The plants used in the initial restoration must grow and adapt quickly and are important for birds, pollinators and erosion control.”
The native plants most often used for the initial restoration are giant wild rye, which grows five and a half to seven feet tall, narrow-leaved milkweed for monarch butterflies, and purple needle grass.
The nursery also grows very rare local plants, including the Conejo buckwheat – the rarest – which only grows in three known local spots on the cliff sides.
There is now a strong push to grow more native Coast Live oaks, valley oaks and scrub oaks, as they are relatively fire resistant and important to the ecosystem, so the groups are collecting acorns that are viable. as seeds. They currently have thousands of small oaks in the process of becoming great oaks.
Additionally, there are rows and rows of outdoor raised tables, each containing 1,000 newly sprouted seedlings of some of the 100 different native plants grown by the nursery.
Sanchez tries to give students and volunteers experience and exposure in all aspects of growing native plants. They take “scouting” trips to areas of the Santa Monica Mountains, including Zuma Canyon, Solstice Canyon, and Charmlee Park, and learn to identify, collect, clean, dry, and catalog native seeds. Then, they learn how to plant and grow each type of plant until it is ready to be transplanted into its natural habitat.
The mountains are complex with diverse microclimates and over 600 native plant species constituting 26 distinct communities, ranging from freshwater aquatic habitats to wetlands, oak forests, valley oak savannas, coastal sage and chaparral. More than 50 threatened or endangered plants and animals inhabit the mountains, which contain some of the highest concentrations of rare species in the United States, according to the NPS.
Paramount Ranch, Cheeseboro Canyon, and Rancho Sierra Vista are the areas where the nursery is most focused on replanting right now.
“We call these areas The Big 3,” Sanchez explained in an interview earlier this month. “These are all challenges because they are all different. Paramount could take up to a million plants, but since last year four to five thousand have been planted. We planted 1,400 plants in Cheeseboro last week.
The nursery is also developing its own herbarium – a collection and catalog of pressed flowers to aid in botanical research, with 200 to 300 different wildflowers now kept for reference.
There will be some exciting news for native plant enthusiasts: by next November, the nursery plans to start offering some of its native plants to the public.