The time for California’s native plants is now.
Over the past year, climate change, wildfires, inequity, and the pandemic have challenged our communities as never before. Yet we’ve seen a groundswell of actions from people like you—our partners, members, and supporters—to hold decision-makers accountable to ensure that native plants and their habitats thrive. We’ve led the way with boots-on-the-ground research and resources that help scientists around the world understand the impacts of our changing climate. And we’ve shown that by connecting with native plants, we also connect with each other.
The stories you’ll read here show what’s possible when we work together for our native plants and all who depend on them.
Interim Executive Director
On New Ground: Centennial
Tejon Ranch is one of California’s last truly wild places. Located in Los Angeles County, it contains 270,000 acres of native grassland, a third of California’s native oak species, and 14 percent of our native plant species. With enough rainfall, these hills transform into lush wildflower displays that rival those of the Carrizo Plain National Monument and Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. Yet until April, 12,000 acres of this pristine landscape were slated for destruction.
The Centennial development project, led by Tejon Ranch Company, aimed to replace wildland habitat with a new city of 19,000 units in a high fire hazard zone. After a decade-long fight and dedicated grassroots campaign against the project, CNPS turned to the courts and co-filed a suit against the development—and won. Our message that Californians should not have to choose between safe, affordable housing and biodiversity captured the public’s attention far beyond Southern California, garnering features in publications like Vogue and The Guardian. By advocating for policies that benefit our native plants and diverse ecosystems, CNPS is also supporting safe development and human health.
Working together, CNPS members, partners, and supporters stopped the bulldozers. The battle is far from over and there will be more opposition ahead. But as the voice for California’s flora, CNPS will be there. Learn more here.
CNPS AT WORK
Important Plant Areas
Our Important Plant Areas initiative—a project that works with volunteers and communities to identify unusually biodiverse areas—has identified two regions within Tejon Ranch that are crucial to the conservation of our state’s botanical heritage. Going forward, the IPA project will continue to help protect these special regions from development projects like Centennial.
Field research is a critical component of our conservation and scientific work. Between 2010 and 2015, our vegetation team collected approximately 130 surveys within Tejon Ranch, furthering our understanding of this biodiverse area.
Eastwood's fiddleneck (Amsinckia eastwoodiae) coat a hillside on Tejon Ranch
Photo: Nick Jensen
In the foreground, the broad leafed plants you can see are California baneberry (Actaea rubra) and California spikenard (Aralia californica).
Photo: Alexis LaFever-Jackson
North Table Mountain
A stunning carpet of spring wildflowers at North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve
Photo: Neal Uno
IN DEFENSE OF DUDLEYA
One of California’s most iconic plant groups, succulents in the genus Dudleya, or “liveforevers,” can be found dotting cliff walls and rocky outcrops across the state. Many Dudleya have brightly colored blooms and a waxy coating that offers protection from bright sun, but their beauty also makes them a target for commercial poaching. Of the 26 species of Dudleya that are native to California, more than half are considered rare, with ten classified as threatened or endangered. Thousands of poached plants have been illegally sold through the international horticulture trade, some up to 100 years old.
Stephen McCabe, Conservation Chair of CNPS’ Santa Cruz Chapter, had seen Dudleya poaching for decades, but never on this scale. “We’re not talking about pounds of plants, but in some cases tons.”
As one of California’s foremost experts on these plants, Stephen worked with local agencies and CNPS chapters across the state to take action. Together, they led statewide efforts to return healthy confiscated plants back to the wild. To help undercut the market, they collected thousands of seeds and grew hundreds of Dudleya for free plant giveaways. But without stronger laws in place, prosecutors rarely pursued legal action in poaching cases—meaning the trade was still thriving. This spring, CNPS mobilized a campaign in support of Assembly Bill 223— a first-of-its-kind legislation. Introduced by Asm. Christopher Ward of San Diego—the bill would make Dudleya poaching explicitly unlawful. Because of the calls, letters, and social media campaigns by 30,000 native plant supporters, Assembly Bill 223 was unanimously approved in May 2021 and was signed into law by California Governor, Gavin Newsom, in September 2021. This historic legislation is proof that, together, we’re changing the game for native plants.
“This isn’t just a problem with Dudleya,” Stephen notes. “By getting out this story and getting publicity, international publicity, that not only the native plants and native succulents get preserved, but native succulents to Mexico, natives to Madagascar, South Africa, Zimbabwe.” Through the work of members like Stephen, CNPS is bringing rare plants across California—and even around the world— one step closer to protection. Read more here.
"CNPS mobilized a campaign in support of Assembly Bill 223: first-of-its-kind legislation that protects native plants"
CNPS AT WORK
Rare Plant Protection
Succulents are among the most sought-after rare plants in the illegal horticultural trade. To protect them, we need to know—and show—that they are rare. For more than 50 years, CNPS has researched, ranked, and reviewed native flora to assign them a protective status. Check out the newly updated Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants here.
To get the message out, CNPS created 18 animated Dudleya “mascots” to help chapters across the state promote the #SaveOurSucculents campaign. These cute characters serve as ambassadors for Dudleya messaging, sharing fun facts about the genus and providing updates about the legislation. Each chapter is invited to develop a personality for their mascot and use these characters to drive engagement related to the campaign in their region. Meet your mascot here.
Canyon dudleya (Dudleya cymosa)
Photo: Elizabeth Kubey
Salt Point State Park
Thrift seapink (Armeria maritima), seashore lupine (Lupinus littoralis), bluff lettuce (Dudleya farinosa)
Photo: Alexis LaFever-Jackson
Bluff lettuce (Dudleya farinosa) at home with a view of the ocean
Photo: Amy Patten
Resilience and Recovery
Marisol Villareal has spent countless days walking CAL FIRE roads and fire breaks through the Stebbins Cold Canyon Natural Reserve burn site and the adjacent unburned chaparral. The charred landscapes here tell a story.
“As I walk, I can kind of make sense of what happened,” Marisol says, referring to soil accumulation at the bases of hillside trees, which provides evidence of erosion.
A conservation biologist and long-time hiker, Marisol visited Stebbins Cold Canyon and nearby Cache Creek Canyon prior to the Wragg Fire of 2015, which burned 8,051 acres in this area. Before this, she had never experienced the impacts of fire up close—and says that until just a few years ago, she avoided the site altogether.
“Honestly, I was almost afraid to come back because I thought it would be too depressing,” she admits. But as Marisol gradually began visiting again, she noticed something: while there were many notable losses, the chaparral had a renewed, mosaic-like composition. After the area burned again, in the LNU Complex Fire in October 2020, Marisol started making field trips to the burn site as often as she could—learning more about the habitat each time.
Marisol is part of Fire Followers, CNPS’ time-sensitive effort to enlist communities to record California’s rich pyrodiversity, launched after the historic wildfires of 2020. By posting plant photos to designated projects within the iNaturalist app, she and nearly 3,000 observers like her logged thousands of records of the fleeting, diverse vegetation found in post-burn sites throughout the state. Through friendly competitions and prizes, Marisol and naturalists, scientists, and outdoor enthusiasts like her have found a way to be apart together: “I couldn’t hang out with friends, but I could still go outside safely.”
Community science projects like Fire Followers offer participants a chance to connect with each other, through their shared experience of the impacts of wildfire. “To plants and animals, all the borders we make are imaginary. Understanding the plants that evolved here alongside fire helps you to be a good neighbor.” Marisol says. “Even though it’s cool to see the recovery, the real recovery is going to be centuries long.”
Thanks to Marisol and dedicated observers like her, we’ll know what happened along the way—and so will future generations. Check out Marisol’s observations here.
CNPS AT WORK
In 2021, our Vegetation program initiated a study of fire response in the redwood forests of Santa Cruz County, in which the CZU Lightning Complex fires started in August, 2020. By describing and mapping pre and post-fire vegetation, mortality, and other structural characteristics with students, chapter members, and agencies, CNPS and partners can better assess wildfire risk, evaluate wildlife habitat resilience, and determine how to monitor and restore vegetation. CNPS shares this data freely with the public through our online Manual of California Vegetation, a site that ranks the sensitivity of natural communities, and the BIOS public website.
Wildfire and Vegetation Management
More than a century of fire suppression has left California’s wildlands—and neighboring communities—vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire. To restore healthy fire to our state’s ecology, CNPS has partnered with like-minded organizations to help communities advocate for best-practices in land management, including the reintroduction of prescribed fire in forests and environmentally-responsible fuel breaks. Click here to learn more about our Redbud Chapter’s work.
Fire Followers Project
Glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum)
Photo: © ynaturalesa, iNaturalist CC BY-NC
Community scientists participanting in a search for fire following plants in the Creek Fire burn area, Sierra National Forest.
Photo: Jen Aguilar
2014 flames stand out against the night sky on the Happy Camp Complex Fire
Photo: US Forest Service
When community organizer Jesse Chang created a school nature garden in 2015, he couldn’t have imagined what it would mean for the world we live in today. “There are so many studies showing that being out in nature is beneficial for mental health. With kids coming back that have been cooped up at home for so long, we need more spaces like this.”
Native plant gardens like the one Jesse helped kickstart at Garvey Intermediate School in the San Gabriel Valley offer students and their communities a place to learn about plants and ecosystems, and space for safe gathering and for respite after months of uncertainty and isolation. These landscapes serve as public showcases, living laboratories, outdoor classrooms, community hubs—and foster a lifelong love of plants.
Jesse is one many Californians who turn to CNPS for resources, support, and inspiration. Jesse used the CNPS tool Calscape.org to find native plants best suited for his garden. Calscape and the friendly CNPS volunteers at local native plant sales help to ensure that plants come from nurseries that follow best practices and thrive in their new homes.
From education and training programs for horticulturalists and nurseries to resources and tools for landscape designers and home gardeners, CNPS is helping neighborhoods like Jesse’s across the state create healthy green spaces and educate the environmental stewards of tomorrow.
CNPS AT WORK
Collaboration with Long Beach Water District
CNPS and the Long Beach Water District joined forces to remove turf or other water-thirsty plants from nearly 100 properties and replace them with pre-designed native plant gardens. Look for these low-water, high-biodiversity sites throughout the city of Long Beach.
Getting started with native plants
The Calscape Garden Planner helps people design a garden customized to their geography, garden style, amount of sunlight, and habitat goals in just four easy steps. Interest in native planning gardening has skyrocketed as more Californians appreciate the need for a beautiful natural space close to home. Click here to try it for yourself.
A selection of native plants including Rydberg's penstemon (Penstemon rydbergii) offered at the Santa Cruz Chapter plant sale
Photo: Jackie Pascoe
Santa Cruz chapter volunteers briefly gather while Martha Ramos of Suncrest Nurseries waters a selection of native plants offered in the sale. Left to right: Martha Ramos, Karen Hildebrand, Karen Laing, Ginger Bennett, Jamie Rackley-Schiff, and Lise Peterson
Photo: Jackie Pascoe
A selection of native plants offered at the North Coast Chapter plant sale
Photo: Courtesy of North Coast Chapter
Last winter, CNPS set out a challenge: Make a festive wreath with California native plants from your home garden, local nursery or botanic garden. Hundreds of people gathered these cultivated plants and created stunning wreaths that celebrated California’s unique beauty. Three celebrity judges evaluated the entries, and thousands of viewers tuned in to celebrate and witness the ways native plants can deeply connect us and define our sense of home.
This spring—typically a time of in-person garden tours— we brought the gardens to you. Through immersive video tours, we shared virtual native plant gardens in 14 backyards, city boulevards, school campuses, and apartments. The gardens and gardeners represented a diversity of approaches and reasons for growing native plants. Tongva educator Craig Torres, for example, shared his beautiful front yard and powerful message of “Indigenizing” gardens: reclaiming and reconnecting with the land by growing the plants that have defined his ancestral homeland of Tovangaar (Los Angeles Basin). Naomi Fraga, director of conservation programs at California Botanic Garden, shared her exceptionally drought-adapted and nearly maintenance-free Pomona garden, made possible through local, low-water native plants.
In Flora magazine, as well as our newly renamed scientific journal Artemisia, CNPS explored the connections between people, places, and native plants. Flora took us to Hawaii, to discover the relationship between California tarweeds and the iconic Hawaiian silversword alliance, and into the kitchen of Abe Sanchez of the Chia Cafe Collective, a leader in the native food movement. Through these and many other expansive conversations, CNPS invites everyone to love and care for the plants that define California. Check out Flora online here.
In a year of uncertainty and transition, we’re pleased to report that CNPS has weathered the storm and remains financially sound. Thanks to our many supporters and partners, we are a rapidly growing organization with an ambitious mission and exciting work ahead. Our approach to maintaining and growing our financial health and stability is key to our success and rooted in a diversified revenue stream that includes a membership base of 11,000. As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act enacted by congress, CNPS received SBA loan support of $423k in fiscal year 2020-21, which has been fully forgiven by the SBA.
CNPS anticipates posting FY 2020-21 audited financial statements to
the Accountability page of our website by 12/31/2021.
Board of Directors
Cris Sarabia, President
Bill Waycott, Vice President
John Hunter, Secretary
Steve Schoenig, Treasurer
Judy Fenerty, Chapter Council Chair
Woody Elliott, Chapter Council Vice Chair
Marty Foltyn, Chapter Council Secretary
Our deepest thanks to the funders who invest in our mission to protect and celebrate California’s native plants.
California State Parks Foundation
Mary A. Crocker Trust
The LaFetra Foundation
One Voice Charitable Fund
Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment
The Seaver Institute
Utom River Conservation Fund
CNPS LEGACY FUND
The protection of California native plants relies on generous individuals who invest in the future of our state’s flora by including CNPS in their estate plans.
When received, these generous gifts are placed in the Legacy Fund. Each year, a portion of the Fund is allocated to projects like those featured in this report. The Legacy Fund catalyzes exploration of new ideas, funds pilot projects, and allows us to respond quickly to unanticipated threats to native plants across California.
CNPS recently received contributions to the Legacy Fund from the estates of these very special people. We are grateful for their trust, foresight, and commitment to the cause of native plants.
Frank W. Ellis
Joan R. Hampton
William E. Hauser
Park L. Loughlin
Martha J. Mallery
Elizabeth H. Rice
Marvin J. Sheffield
Janice M. Yates