GOING NATIVE

NATIVE FLANNEL BUSHOngoing tree planting has been happening all over Los Angeles in recent years but many of the new young trees have suffered much from unseasonal heat and drought. 

Now Metro and the City will be planting 800 more trees on and near Crenshaw Boulevard, supplementing the tree plantings of recent years in West Adams, Jefferson Park, and MidCity neighborhoods along major boulevards: Jefferson, Washington, Crenshaw, Venice, and Exposition. A few years ago, UNNC and the City partnered to plant over a 100 trees on Washington and Venice Boulevards in an attempt to bring new business and vitality to the area. Those trees are mostly doing fine.

However, now there’s a movement recognizing the benefits of planting not just any trees but California native plants and trees adapted to our particular climate conditions, on our local business corridors. Some of your neighbors have planted native gardens, and the city has planted some native street trees in our parkways. Most recognizable is the California Sycamore; another native tree, the Palo Verde you’ can see along Exposition Boulevard as well as the center medians on Washington Boulevard. 

Most of Los Angeles’s currently approved street trees come from far away: predominately South America, South Africa and Asia

- Purple orchid tree (Bauhinia variegata) South Asia, Southeast Asia

- Ficus (F benjamina, F  microcarpa), banyan tree native to Asia and Australia, 

- Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), Asia

- Eucalyptus (various species), Australia

- Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia), Central and South America

- Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), India, Southeast Asia, northern Australia 

- Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) Southeastern US

- Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis) Canary Islands

- Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) South America

Introducing outside species seemed like a good idea in the beginning. Legend has it that the early California missionaries walked along the Camino Real strewing mustard seeds along the way to mark the path for future travelers. While that’s unlikely and unproven, it’s clear that California is full of accidentally and intentionally introduced species, from the Eucalyptus to wild mustard, English ivy, Canary Island date palm, fountain grass, iceplant, bird of paradise, the list goes on. 

But as the decades passed with the endless progression of building and development, what inevitably occurred was the loss of native food-producing plants that for thousands of years sustained the bird, butterfly, bee, and insect populations. Alongside habitat degeneration and destruction, the proliferation of exotic species has led to loss of populations including bats, honeybees, and amphibians, and lizards. Were you wondering why coyotes are wandering the streets of CD10? It’s because their native food sources are disappearing. 

As well, the development of the southwest led to the near explosive growth of populations of other non-native creatures such as the common garden snail, pill bug, boll weevil, cockroaches, and most species of termites.  

Native plants and trees attract beneficial wildlife, such as hummingbirds, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. According to the Theodore Payne Foundation, “ 90% of all insect species that eat leaves (such as caterpillars of butterflies) can eat only native plants.” Without native plants on which to lay their eggs, most butterflies and moths go extinct. Butterflies and moths are important because they’re pollinators and because their caterpillars are the main food of baby birds. Without caterpillars, our bird populations crash.”  When you plant a native, you are planting bird food. The Catalina cherry trees provide fruit (also edible for you, but with it’s oversized pit, it’s hardly worth it). Native wildlife (house finches, titmice, flickers, scarlet tanager, Phoebes, scrub jay, mourning doves, etc.) and insects (butterflies such as the Monarch and the Western Tiger Swallowtail) love native plants, and most don’t do significant harm to them. The insects also provide a food source for the birds.  The native butterfly Adelpha californica, also known as the California Sister, lays its eggs on oak trees. 

The Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly and the El Segundo Blue Butterfly, both local species, are on the list of California’s Endangered Insects.

Once established, native plants need very little care. Because they are adapted to the environments--with tens of thousands of years evolving for our particular sunshine, seasons, water scarcity, soil nutrients--they are good on their own. In fact a good way to kill a native plant is to give it too much water, or fertilize it, or prune it severely. 

Because you’re not fertilizing and over-watering your native tree, it is growing just as fast as it needs to, and you will be happy at its steady, tortoise-like progress (except for oaks, which when young naturally grow fast).

And the good news is, the less you bother your garden, the more the birds and beneficial insects like it. Since many wild insect pollinators nest underground, common gardening...will destroy or damage their nests, according to Las Pilitas nursery, which specializes in native plants. 

For a list of native plants and trees go to 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_California_native_plants
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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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