Monarchs. You know them, but will your grandchildren? These once common creatures are rapidly disappearing. Since the 1980s, 99.4% of the western monarch population has disappeared. Scientists have been acutely aware of this decline for decades, but it wasn’t until the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation’s shocking annual survey results were released this January that the public took notice. Only 28,429 monarchs were counted at 213 sites in California – an astounding 86% drop from last year’s count. It’s official – our western monarchs are in decline, and the neighboring eastern population isn’t doing much better; their population has declined over 90% since 1996.
So, what is the cause?
Scientists attribute the decline to a multitude of factors, including migratory disruptions, urban sprawl, and the use of chemicals on corn and soybean crops, but they all lead to one overarching outcome: habitat degradation.
Monarchs rely exclusively on milkweed to lay their eggs and sustain their offspring until they can metamorphize into butterflies. They use both tropical and native milkweed plants to procreate, but the former can cause more harm than good. Before the introduction and widespread use of tropical milkweed, the deciduous nature of native milkweed would force monarchs to migrate southward in search of fresh leaves, ultimately protecting them from the oncoming winter temperatures of their northern homes. But with tropical milkweed’s year-round leaves, monarchs miss the signals communicating that they need to move south, leading to catastrophic mortalities.
Native milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis, or narrow leaf milkweed), and a monarch feeding
If that isn’t bad enough, the perennial leaves of tropical milkweed do not offer the same resources as the native variety. Normally, feeding caterpillars absorb cardenolides, the protective compounds found in milkweed that naturally ward off a lifetime of parasites and predators. But the prolonged atmospheric exposure of these year-round leaves ends up breaking down cardenolides, which ultimately decreases the monarch’s defenses and lifespan.
Another problem is the destruction of flowering plants and milkweed. We’ve sacrificed natural landscapes and their biodiverse habitats for cities, suburbs, and monocultural farms producing ethanol, hydrogenated oil, and high-fructose corn syrup. Besides the obvious habitat loss due to urban development, the agricultural implications are astounding. Ever since Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready” crops, which are genetically modified to be highly resistant to glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide worldwide, populations of milkweed and other pollinator plants have declined drastically. Today, 95% of corn and soybean grown in the U.S. are Roundup Ready crops – meaning food producers nationwide use copious amounts of glyphosate to remove anything that is not their desired crop. Milkweed habitat loss due to glyphosate is now estimated to exceed 100 million acres.
So what does all this habitat degradation mean? It means monarchs aren’t the only ones in trouble. Their declining numbers serve as a warning about the health of our lands. Some are likening monarchs to the formidable relationship between canaries and coal mines, dubbing them “the Canary in the Cornfield”: representing terrifying declines in pollinator populations; highlighting legitimate concerns about agricultural safety and sustainability; and potentially even foreshadowing a food chain collapse. According to researchers at UC Berkeley, one of every three bites of food depends on pollinators. Does that mean their food scarcity today is our food scarcity tomorrow – and if so, what can we do about it?
Unfortunately, changing or reducing urban sprawl, chemical use, and climate change on an individual level would be like trying to put a genie back in the bottle. But here is what you can do:
- Plant native milkweed and flowering plants to create pollinator islands, and if you already have tropical milkweed, cut back vegetation between October and February to spur regrowth.
- Support sustainable farming by purchasing locally grown and/or organic produce.
- Treasure monarchs while you can and use them as a living a reminder that our land and its creatures are finite and fragile.
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
– Chief Seattle
The hills are green, and the rivers, streams, and creeks are flowing. The rain has come, and the plants and animals are thriving. But if you look closely, you may notice something else growing from beneath the soil or on a tree. Fast growing and shrouded in mystery, they are often-misunderstood organisms. Some are edible. Some are poisonous. And yes, some are even outlawed and can make you hallucinate. I’m talking about mushrooms!
Southern California’s hot and dry climate is normally not conducive to mushroom growth, but with the recent rains, we have been seeing countless mushrooms throughout our restoration sites – on mulch, under trees, and on dead and living trees alike. We’ve been finding mushrooms everywhere, and I must say we’re ecstatic.
Why are we so happy?
Fungi fall into the decomposer category, meaning they break down dead or decaying organisms to get their energy, carbon and nutrients for growth and development. Decomposers are extremely beneficial to their environment because they convert large, complex organic matter into simpler organic matter. Fungi have evolved to break down lignin, which is what the tough cell wall of trees are made of – this is why most of the mushrooms we find are on or near trees. This process is a part of the nutrient cycle and is essential for recycling organic matter back into the environment.
Mushrooms are the fleshy, spore-bearing, fruiting body of a fungus and are unique in that they do not require sunlight to grow. Fungi live underground, and when a food source and moisture make conditions right, a mushroom will form. Mushrooms release their spores into the environment where they will disperse, usually by wind or water, and if the right conditions are present they will form more mushrooms.
You may be familiar with shiitake, portobello, or truffles as they are edible and can be found in most grocery stores. These, and many other species, are grown commercially for human consumption and many (chaga, lion’s mane, reishi) are known to have medicinal properties. There are also very poisonous mushrooms that have lethal consequences, and California is home to two of the most toxic mushrooms known, the death cap and the destroying angel.
Mushroom identification can be quite difficult, and many mushrooms have lookalikes which can make the process even harder. When you mix in the fact that ingesting some mushrooms can have lethal consequences, it is never recommended to eat a wild mushroom without the aid of a professional mushroom expert (mycologist).
Note that none of our mushroom pictures are labeled – we’re not even going to try to identify these without training!
Mushrooms and fungi are a positive sign regarding environmental health, and southern California benefits greatly from their presence. So next time you’re out hiking and see a mushroom, you can take comfort in knowing that it’s working hard to make this place we call home more beautiful. Just please don’t eat it.
The canyons surrounding Laguna Beach have captured the inspiration of both artists and nature lovers throughout history. Those of us lucky enough to call this special place home appreciate the canyons’ natural beauty, environmental benefits, and diverse recreational opportunities. But most visitors are unaware of how valuable the ecosystem is that sits in their own backyard. The trees, shrubs and wildflowers that we admire are home to countless species of wildlife such as the bobcat and great horned owl. The coastal sage scrub habitat that makes up much of the canyon ecosystem is some of the last of its kind and one of thirty-five globally recognized biodiversity hotspots in the world!
Native habitat supports a diverse population of plants and wildlife, while a habitat dominated by non-native plants does not make a good home. Take a moment to imagine a hillside of non-native mustard versus a hillside full of native plants like sagebrush, buckwheat, and lemonadeberry. 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 flower blooming schedule.
Our mission at Laguna Canyon Foundation is to protect, preserve, enhance and promote the South Coast Wilderness. A great way to do all these things is to participate in volunteer stewardship. Stewardship in this sense means taking responsibility for the care and management of the land. This may take many forms, including removing non-native plants from sensitive native habitats, adding native plants in degraded areas to restore them to their historic condition, or educating the public about the beauty, ecology and threats to our wildlands. All 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.
Laguna Canyon Foundation offers multiple volunteer opportunities each month for people of all ages to participate in events that help to protect and restore the open space that we all love so much. Rather than simply observing the natural world, or seeing landscapes through the window of a car, you and your friends and family can directly impact the fragile ecosystem that sits in your backyard.
Participants will follow the life cycle of a plant, from collecting and planting seeds, to caring for the young nursery plants, to planting them at our restoration project site. Once the plants are in the ground, volunteers will have the opportunity to continue tending them during our monthly restoration events. You will learn about native plants, habitat restoration, and the importance of conserving our wildlands, while contributing in a tangible, hands-on way to making the parks a better place for wildlife.
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! Bring your friends, bring your family and come help keep it wild! Wednesdays and Saturdays from October 2018 to June 2019. For more information and to sign up, click here.
Growing up in Los Angeles, it was a trek for me to get to the wilderness. Sure, we had beaches, but there was always something that drew me to the open spaces. Now, in Orange County, my family and I have the privilege of living on the edge of Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park with a beautiful view of the coastal sage scrub habitat. After years in the corporate world, I have more time to spend on the trails. I volunteer to lead hikes, restore habitat, pull invasive plants, pick up trash, and work with OC Parks on wildlife monitoring. These activities have afforded me opportunities to capture some amazing photos of native flora and fauna. Photographing the wilderness has been wonderful avenue for me to show my deep respect for this nature preserve.
Creatures big and small have certainly piqued my interest, and so I took Dick Newell’s OC Trackers course to better understand how this delicate ecosystem sustains the native wildlife. While sometimes on hikes or restoration outings I may not see any wildlife, I have learned to spot evidence of their presence. Whether a coyote’s tracks, a gopher’s mound, a scrub jay’s rustling, or a mule deer’s nibble marks on mulefat, these signs remind me that I am a visitor in their home, their habitat. So I take nothing, not a flower, not a rock, not a feather, but I do take trash…oh, and I take pictures, lots of pictures.
And I leave nothing but my footprints.
“Look! Look! Look deep into nature and you will understand everything.” –Albert Einstein
Springtime is here on the trails! The canyon has transformed to hues of green, the flower petals have begun to reveal their bright colors, the birds sing in the shrubs and trees. An exciting time of year to be on the trails in our wilderness parks.
Of course, the overall portrait of spring is spectacular here, but this season I encourage you to slow down on the trail and keep your eyes open for the small, yet mighty, lifeforms that begin to show up this time of year. Many of them camouflage and are no bigger than a dime!
Deerweed (Acmispon glaber) is an incredible native commonly seen along the trails. In the spring, its broom-like shape begins to green after its long winter slumber. Its flowers paint the stems with a fiery palette of red, orange and yellow. At first glance, you may notice the glorious details of the flowers and their harmonious ombre colors. You may see the European honeybee pollinating joyously – in fact, deerweed is an essential food source for many of our native bees and butterflies.
But if you stay a little longer, look a little closer, you may see what you thought was a leaf wiggle its wings! This is the lotus hairstreak (Callophrys dumetorum), a tiny butterfly with iridescent green wings that calls deerweed its host plant. If you stay still and quiet, this small butterfly will let you hang around for a bit!
The delights of deerweed don’t end here. You saw a leaf come to life, maybe now it’s a flower! Introducing the yellow crab spider, also known as a flower spider (Mecaphesa californica). They can change their color to blend in with the plant or flower they are living on. Their exceptional camouflage is their main survival technique. However, it also helps with catching food, usually in the form of an unsuspecting pollinator. The spider is quick to catch its prey, using its slender fangs to deliver paralytic venom. Note: these spiders are not poisonous to humans, but can bite when provoked. This amazing spider is a sight to see!
There’s so much to see here in our diverse coastal sage scrub community. But this is just a friendly reminder to take it slow on the trail – even on the tiniest of flowers, a whole world awaits you!
Share your camouflage finds with us on social media! Tag @lagunacanyonfoundation to be featured on our page!
Did you know that California is one of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots? Our coastal sage scrub wilderness contains high numbers of different species of flora and fauna alike, creating this unique and resilient habitat. So this week we’re putting the spotlight on some of our favorite flora to celebrate Native Plant Week!
Why native plants? Our native plants provide the right food and habitat for local wildlife, and in return the wildlife helps spread the seeds of our plants! Many of our birds and pollinators rely on specific plant species for resources. When those native species disappear, so will our beloved wildlife. Our native plants are the foundation of this thriving ecosystem.
Meet the Mariposa Lily (Calochortus splendens), commonly known as the Splendid Mariposa. This perennial native wildflower unveils its beautiful pale pink flowers in the height of spring. The Mariposa Lily provides a rich source of nectar for a variety of our native insects. This elegant spring bloomer is staple of the season in our wilderness parks, inspiring many who encounter it to look a little deeper into studying the plants of this habitat.
Meet California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), commonly called ‘Cowboy Cologne’ because of its historical use of ranch hands rubbing the aromatic leaves on their hands after a long day of work before heading into town. This native is an essential part of this plant community, providing critical resources such as food and habitat for a number of reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds, including the federally threatened California gnatcatcher. Enjoy its stunning aroma on a misty morning on the trails.
Meet the California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica). A true celebrity of our native habitat and California, the California Poppy is our state flower! This beautiful flower attracts many of our native pollinators such as bumblebees, sweat bees, and mining bees. Enjoy this beautiful fiery orange wildflower as it paints the hills of the canyon this spring.
Meet Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia). This evergreen shrub’s name derives from the berries it produces in the summer that are coated in a sticky coating with a sour flavor! Lemonadeberry is a hardy drought-resistant plant commonly seen across northern-facing slopes, providing great habitat for many animals. It produces a quaint pink blossom in the early spring.
Meet the Willow Tree (Salix spp.), an essential tree in our riparian woodland habitat which requires a permanent source of water. There are many native species of willow in our local wilderness parks; most commonly seen are the Arroyo Willow, Red Willow and Black Willow. When hiking under the shade of our willows, take time to listen to the many songs of nesting birds that utilize these trees for habitat. This includes the Least Bell’s Vireo, listed as endangered by both the state and federal government.
How can you protect these native plants? Stay on trail and never pick any plants! Want to learn more about natives? Join our next Restoration Stewardship event for hands-on learning about these native species!
#ProtectWhatYouLove and #KeepItWild!
“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.
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.
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.
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:
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Dark-eyed Junco
- Hermit Thrush
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- Townsend’s Warbler
- White-crowned Sparrow
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.
Laguna Canyon Foundation was formed to preserve and protect the South Coast Wilderness. We accomplish this through unique partnerships with land managers, City and County leadership, park users and the environmental community. Together, we can #keepitwild and #protectwhatyoulove.
If you have ever taken a hike or a ride in Aliso and Woods Canyons or in Laguna Coast Wilderness or even driven by the open space, then you’ve seen the rich and diverse ecosystem we are privileged to live near. We have a collective responsibility to ensure the inhabitants – both plants and animals – have their place to call home.
Coyotes have been in North America for thousands of years and, because of regular encroachment to their habitat, coyotes remain very adaptable. The coyotes’ preferred space is the open grassland, but they will, of course, go where there is food. They are omnivores with an excellent sense of smell and they are skilled hunters. Coyotes are nocturnal animals; however, if outside forces (including humans) cause imbalance in their environment and adaptation is necessary, coyotes will hunt during the day.
Coyotes are loyal, often mating for years to raise pups, which are birthed every spring (April/May). Coyotes’ social organization is built around the mated pair and includes packs, solitary residents, and nomads.
The name coyote is a Spanish derivative of the original Aztec name, coyotl, which means “barking dog.” Coyotes communicate with howls, yelps and huffs. Local Laguna residents often describe the sound as “lighting up with the canyon” with coyote song. When a coyote howls, it is communicating its location to other coyotes. Yelps often mean celebration or discipline with pups and adolescents. Huffing is a coyote’s whisper to its young.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife have an initiative called, “Keep Me Wild.” Its slogan is: “Wild animals don’t need your handouts. They need your respect.” How fitting as Laguna Canyon Foundation strives to #KeepItWild. As stated on the CDFW’s website:
[We] may not realize it … but a simple bag of garbage, bowl of pet food, or plate of leftovers left outside our home or in a neighboring park can cause severe harm to wildlife. Most wild animals keep their distance – so long as they remain fully wild.
If coyotes lose their natural fear of humans, they become bolder, less wild, and more dependent on us. A few tips to #keepitwild:
- If you see a coyote near you, haze it. Make loud noises and big gestures. If you have a jacket, wave it like a cape, making yourself big. If necessary, throw rocks near the coyote.
- When walking your dogs, keep them on a leash. Coyotes are clever and can lure domestic dogs to a vulnerable place where you cannot protect your pet.
- Seal garbage cans; pick up fallen fruit and cover compost piles. Do not leave trash anywhere.
- Install motion sensitive lighting around your house and switch up its location from time to time. Remember, coyotes are smart.
- Above all, keep your pets inside! An outdoor cat or small dog left alone in a yard is a prime target for hunting coyotes.
For more tips and information, talk to an OC Park Ranger, visit the Nix Nature Center or go to: