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“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The mighty oak is an iconic California feature symbolizing endurance and strength. Oak trees dot the hillsides in Laguna Canyon, providing food and shelter for wildlife as well as beauty and inspiration for nature lovers. Oak communities are a vital component of our Southern California landscape, supporting countless native plant and wildlife species. Oak trees are a keystone species, meaning that they are incredibly important to the other species in their habitat – if they were removed, the whole ecosystem would change dramatically.

There are nine oak species found in California. In Laguna Canyon, the most common oak is the Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), an evergreen species that ranges from Mendocino County to northern Baja. The genus name Quercus is derived from two Celtic words that translate to “good tree.” Oak trees are slow growing and take 60-80 years to mature, making oak woodlands especially vulnerable to the effects of drought and fire.

Even the tallest oak tree began life as a small acorn. Acorns contain everything needed to grow into a mighty oak, including carbs, proteins and fats that the seedlings will need to grow. All those stored nutrients make a tasty snack for hungry wildlife. Out of the thousands of acorns that a tree produces, only a few will survive their first year. Oak trees depend on animals to help them to disperse their seeds. A California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) may bury 5000 acorns in one season for food storage. Many of those acorns will never be claimed and will germinate and grow to be oak seedlings.

Wildlife makes their home among the oaks and depends heavily on this tree for both food and shelter. You can find birds such as the Blue-gray gnatcatcher making a nest in the large canopy and the Acorn Woodpecker building a nest within a tree cavity. The dusky-footed woodrat makes a meal out of oak leaves while the pocket gopher can be found dining on the roots of oak seedlings. The leaf litter found under a tree supports an astounding variety of life, including fungi, bacteria, millipedes, ants and springtails.

Animals aren’t the only ones that have historically relied on oak trees for food and shelter. Native American tribes used the acorn as a major food source and early colonial Americans used the wood for boat construction, wagon parts and charcoal. Nowadays, oaks offer visitors a shady place to stop and take a break while out exploring our parks.

You can enjoy a walk through an oak woodland by visiting Laurel Canyon in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park or Wood Canyon in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. You can help protect our local oak trees! Sign up for one of our upcoming stewardship events or considering donating to support our restoration efforts.

Upcoming events:
Tuesday 12/12 – Pecten Reef Restoration Stewardship
Saturday 12/16 – Keep it Wild in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
Tuesday 12/19 – Restoration Stewardship in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
Saturday 1/6 – Keep it Wild in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
Saturday 1/13 – Native Plant Nursery

Sign up at lagunacanyon.org/volunteer.

Laguna Canyon Foundation is thrilled to announce the funding of the Pecten Reef Habitat Restoration Project! The Pecten Reef project is being funded by a $677,400 grant through the California State Coastal Conservancy. Laguna Canyon Foundation and the Coastal Conservancy have a long history of partnership, with numerous projects funded totaling 12.5 million dollars. This total includes over $10 million towards land acquisition to preserve 310 acres of sensitive habitat and $160,000 towards designing and installing new interpretive signage in Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.

The Pecten Reef project is located in the northeastern extension of Aliso and Wood Canyons, within the Aliso Creek watershed. Aliso Creek is one of the major stream systems in Orange County, running for a little under 20 miles from the foothills of the Santa Ana mountains to the Pacific Ocean in Laguna Beach. It’s one of the last remaining natural creeks in Orange County and is an important wildlife corridor that connects the mountains to the sea.

Human impacts on the creek include increased water flow, the introduction of non-native weeds, and high bacteria levels. These factors have led to the creek being added to the Clean Water Act list of impaired waters. 4.8 million dollars have already been invested in rehabilitating the creek through efforts including invasive weed control, habitat restoration, and the construction of the 2-acre Dairy Fork wetland to capture runoff water from surrounding communities.

The Pecten Reef project is in one of the most sensitive and important areas in the Aliso Creek Watershed, and contains critical habitat for sensitive, threatened, and endangered species such as the Southwestern Pond Turtle and Least Bell’s Vireo.

In addition to improving the habitat surrounding the creek, another goal of this project is to revegetate an exposed portion of Pecten Hill. Pecten Hill is made up of the limestone remains of an 18-million-year-old tropical shell reef (and is what gives Pecten Reef its name); this is in fact one of the only preserved portions of the ancient marine reef.

Our vision of this project is to create a resilient home for wildlife, help to improve water quality in Aliso Creek, protect sensitive paleontological resources, and offer hands-on stewardship events for the public.

Interested in getting a closer look at this area? Ready for some hands-on habitat restoration? Join us on the second Tuesday of the month at our Pecten Reef stewardship events! Sign up at lagunacanyon.org/activities.

Our vision: A resilient ecosystem

With temperatures hitting 80 degrees this week in southern California, it might be hard to believe that we marked the first day of fall on September 22nd. While we might not see dramatic seasonal changes like the leaves changing color back east, there are many changes to see if you look closely! As the days begin to shorten, watch for late season flowers in bloom, including sand aster (Corethrogyne filaginifolia), clustered tarweed (Deinandra fasciculate) and twiggy wreath plant (Stephanomeria virgate). These plants offer important resources for local birds and other pollinators.

Twiggy wreath plant

One of our most exciting seasonal changes is the fall migration of birds into and out of Southern California. As we say goodbye to birds such as the Pacific-slope Flycatcher and Wilson’s Warbler, we are able to say hello once again to the Yellow-rumped Warbler and Hermit Thrush.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The Northern Arctic Tern, which travels up to 24,000 miles a year, holds the record for the longest migration path of any migratory bird. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of energy for a bird to travel such a long distance. You may be asking yourself, why not stay in one place like most of us humans do?  The simplest answer is that birds leave one area when the resources that they rely on become less abundant and move to another area where resources are more abundant. Birds depend heavily on the plant community where they make their home to provide them with shelter, food and places to nest. Without these resources, birds are unable to thrive.

Whether you are out on the trail hiking, taking a bike ride, or volunteering at one of our stewardship events, it’s always a good time to look for birds! Keep your eye out for some of these fall migrants:

Join our next birding walk in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park on Sunday, October 29th and benefit from our volunteer naturalists’ expertise as they point out and identify both local and migratory birds!

National Pollinator Week is June 19-25! Pollinators are incredibly important to the plants and animals that live in our local wildlands. The process of pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from one flower to another through the wind or with the help of an animal that is looking to make nectar its next meal. These animals inadvertently get pollen attached to their bodies and carry it along to the next flower. Once a flower has been pollinated, it will produce fruit which provides resources for animals as well as seeds to make new plants.

The ideal home for a pollinator includes a wide variety of native plants that are clustered together. Pollinators need food all year round, not just in the spring when the wildflowers bloom, so it’s essential to have late flowering plants such as Epilobium canum (California fuchsia) and Deinandra fasciculata (clustered tarweed) mixed into the habitat.

From the miniscule Ceratina bee to the iconic monarch butterfly, pollinators come in many different shapes and sizes. According to the Xerces Society, there are 1,200 – 1,500 native bee species and over 200 butterfly species in California. Butterflies and bees aren’t the only pollinators that you can find while out exploring. Even bats and male mosquitoes can be pollinators! Next time you’re out enjoying the open space, watch for flowers that have hummingbirds, ants, flies, and flower beetles collecting nectar and pollen.

Help Laguna Canyon Foundation celebrate National Pollinator Week by doing your part to protect our open space. To promote diversity of pollinators, we need to work together to protect, preserve, and restore as much native habitat as possible. Sign up for an event at the Native Plant Nursery in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park to help participate in seed collecting, seed starting and plant care on the second Saturday of every month. With your help, these native species will be planted into the park and will help to support our local pollinators.

Have you noticed a dramatic splash of color while out on the trail? Spring and summer are the peak blooming season for the mariposa lily, a spectacular plant that is part of the lily family (Liliaceae) along with chocolate lilies and humboldt lilies. Mariposa lilies are in the genus Calochortus, which is derived from Greek and means“beautiful grass.” Although their narrow leaves do resemble grass, they are actually perennial bulbs – meaning they live for more than two years.

There are six species found in Orange County, including two rare species, Catalina mariposa lily and intermediate mariposa lily. Here are a few of the mariposa lilies that you may come across while out exploring the South Coast Wilderness.

Splendid mariposa lily (Calochortus splendens) is our most common local mariposa lily and flowers from April through early June. Look for the pale lavender-to-pink petals among openings in oak woodlands, as well as in coastal sage scrub and grassland habitats.

Catalina mariposa lily (Calochortus catalinae) is designated as a rare plant (CRPR 4.2) by the California Native Plant Society, although it is fairly common in Orange County. At first glance the white petals resemble a morning glory, but the dark centers help to distinguish these flowers. This species can be seen flowering from February through May.

Weed’s mariposa lily (Calochortus weedii) and Intermediate mariposa lily (Calochortus weedii var. intermedius) show off a variety of brillant colors, including yellows, oranges and purples. Both of these species can be seen flowering from the end of May through mid-July, although they are in bloom a bit early this year!

Looking to find these beautiful flowers out in the South Coast Wilderness? Check out the Wood Canyon Trail in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and the Mariposa Trail in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

Spring is in the air in California, and as the weather warms up, it’s a treat to see some of the animals that call our open space their home. Everyone likes seeing butterflies, birds and bobcats while out exploring the trails, but who enjoys seeing snakes? I know that I do, but many people’s initial response to encountering a snake is fear or disgust. Why do snakes get a bad rap? A fear of snakes runs deep through ancient mythology and the Bible, but our disdain is misguided.

Snakes are cold-blooded reptiles that are secondary consumers (they eat animals that eat plants) and fall into the middle of the food web. They play an important role in our local ecosystem by controlling rodent populations and by providing food for raptors.

People are often scared of snakes, but in reality, snakes are also scared of people! The best defense a snake has is to avoid confrontation by slithering away or by warning others to stay away (like rattlesnakes do). Although you don’t need to be scared of snakes, you should be careful when you see one and give them their space.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Be alert during warmer weather and in the evening when snakes are most active.
  • Never put your hands or feet where you can’t see them.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes on the trail.
  • Stick to the trail! Snakes can be hard to see in tall grass and in rock crevices.
  • Learn to identify the common species in the OC.
  • Remember not to panic if you see a snake – this is their home!

Next time you’re out on the trail and see a snake, stop and observe it for a while. You might be surprised to find yourself enjoying snakes after all! 🙂

Nineteen different species of snake make their home in Orange County. Snakes most often encountered in the wild in Orange County include:


Gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer)


Southern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri)


California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae)

Interested in learning more about snakes, and even getting the opportunity to touch one yourself?
Register now for our RATTLESNAKE! event in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park on Saturday, April 29th. See and even touch live, non-venomous snakes displayed by snake researcher Steve Bledsoe of Southwestern Field Herping Associates. Enjoy fun crafts. Learn to ID rattlesnakes and what to do if you encounter one. Come prepared to have your most interesting snake questions answered!

Aliso Creek stretches for 19 miles through our cities and canyons, originating in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains and culminating in a tidal lagoon at Aliso Beach. In the 1800s, Spanish explorers named the creek Aliso, meaning alder, in reverence of the existing riparian vegetation. The creek was the historical boundary between the Acjachemem and Tongva tribes and contains sensitive archaeological resources.

The Aliso Creek watershed is primarily urban and suburban. Very little wilderness or undisturbed land remains in the watershed outside of the immediate vicinity of Aliso Creek and the 4,000+ acre Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, making the this area particularly crucial for a range of wildlife. A variety of native habitats, including willow scrub, riparian woodland, and mulefat scrub, exists within the watershed. This diverse habitat is the home of several endangered or threatened species, including Least Bell’s Vireo, Southwestern Pond Turtle, Coast Horned Lizard, and others.  The creek is a critical corridor for wildlife moving into the South Coast Wilderness, allowing animals safe passage even through developed areas while providing access to food, water and shelter.

Today, the creek needs our help. Aliso Creek and the plant community it sustains is possibly the most degraded major riparian corridor in Orange County, having suffered from a long history of pollution, development, invasive Arundo (giant cane) infestation, access limitations, and neglect. For over 40 years, local land managers, nonprofit organizations, state and federal wildlife agencies, and the public have all advocated for restoration of the creek and its banks. Laguna Canyon Foundation and its partners have led a multi-year effort to initiate the restoration of Aliso Creek from its headwaters to its ocean outflow. The 55-acre Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Measure M Aliso Creek project has removed 30 acres of Arundo from the watershed and begun to restore native vegetation to a critical section of the creek.

In order to preserve the creek and the wildlife it supports, Laguna Canyon Foundation and its partners and volunteers work to remove invasive vegetation and replant natives. A diverse native plant community provides habitat for a variety of local wildlife, including endangered species like the Least Bell’s Vireo, and helps the ecosystem resist destruction by drought, fire, flood, or future takeovers by invasive species such as Arundo.

The Aliso Creek Regional Bikeway, Riding and Hiking Trail runs for 15 miles from the Santa Ana Mountains to Laguna Beach, offering many opportunities to enjoy the wildlife and scenic beauty of Aliso Creek.  Interested in getting off the trail and adopting the creek and areas surrounding it? Join us at one of our monthly Keep It Wild events in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park to help out with planting natives, weed removal or trash pick-up!

We live in such a special – and important – place. The South Coast Wilderness is a unique area that is included in the California Floristic Province, which is designated as a global biodiversity hotspot. To qualify as a global biodiversity hotspot, an area must have at least 1,500 endemic species (species found nowhere else on the planet), and have lost at least 70% of its native vegetation.

Our mission at Laguna Canyon Foundation is to protect, preserve, enhance and promote the South Coast Wilderness. A great way to do all of these things is to participate in stewardship activities. Stewardship in this sense means taking responsibility for the care and management of the land. This may take many forms, including removing invasive species from sensitive native habitats, adding native plants in degraded areas to restore them to their historic condition, or educating the general public about the beauty, ecology and threats to our wild lands. All of these activities can greatly impact the native habitats that are found in the open space, and help the unique, threatened, and endangered species that make the South Coast Wilderness such an important place to preserve and protect.

An undisturbed native habitat supports a diverse population of plants and wildlife, while a disturbed habitat does not make a good home.Take a moment to imagine a hillside of mustard versus a hillside full of native plants like sagebrush (Artemisia californica), buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), and lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia). While wildlife can use mustard for food and shelter, most species greatly prefer the native hillside, with a variety of insect hosts, different seed types, and a varied blooming schedule.

There are no requirements or special skills needed to be a steward except the motivation to show up and participate. So, what are you waiting for? Come join the fun and learn more about stewardship with LCF! Sign up for a volunteer day on our Eventbrite page, and find out for yourself what it’s all about.

Upcoming LCF stewardship events:
• Sat 2/25 Nursery and Plant Care at Willow – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
• Tues 2/28 LCF Restoration Stewardship Day – Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
• Sat 3/18 Keep it Wild Volunteer Day – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park


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