Marin Native Plant Crisis

By: Zoe McDonough (Class of 2022)

Dramatic decline in native plants is causing problems in California
The Golden State is home to around 6,500 different species of native plants, but alarming recent evidence suggests that they are being pushed out by invasive plants, causing an extreme negative reaction in the surrounding ecosystems (“Native Plants and Climate Change”). This harming of the natural balance of the environment can affect water quality, biodiversity, the economy, and can also increase the risk of fires, which, where we live, is already higher than we can afford. In order for citizens of Marin to be able to contribute to the solution, we must first identify what is causing the issues, why it is important to correct them, who has already begun to help, and simple, affordable ways in which people can help restore native plants.
 

The issue lies in invasive species

With all of the forms of transportation that we have in our world today, it’s not surprising that different species of plants and animals are being carried to different locations along with people and their belongings. However, sometimes when these species arrive in new lands, they start to take over, which is what is currently happening in California. These harmful non-native species, also known as invasive species, have altered the entire ecosystem in a very negative way, because they can’t support it in the way that native species can. For instance, when invasive plants such as ivy cover the ground, it reduces the number of roots in the grounds, leaving nothing to bind the soil together. This leads to a higher likelihood of ground erosion when floods occur. Also, the displacement of native plants that is happening due to invasive species is harming the biodiversity in the environment. Instead of having a variety of shrubs, herbs, and trees, there is starting to be one big monoculture, with no difference in species. Additionally, when people grow them in their own gardens, they can be vulnerable to numerous health detriments due to the fact that they require chemical fertilizers to grow. Lastly, and almost most importantly because of where we live, invasive plants aren’t accustomed to droughts like our native plants are, causing them to die in the summer without enough water. Areas dominated by these dry weeds are way more susceptible to catching on fire, while other tree-climbing plants like ivy serve as conductors for fires. This allows the fires to reach the tree canopy, making them harder to contain and more threatening towards structures. Luckily, there are ways to stop the spread of invasive plants, and some people have already begun to help.

Tejon Ranch, one of California's last and most significant native grasslands. Photo: Nancy Buck

Not all heroes wear capes: some wear gardening gloves

There is a non-profit organization called the California Native Plant Society that, in their own words, are “on a mission to save California’s native plants and places using both head and heart, bringing together science, education, conservation, and gardening to power the native plant movement.” There are many things that they are doing to help restore native plants and eliminate invasive plants. One thing that they are doing is advocating for legal protection of native plants and science based land management. They are also creating California’s first conservation index, filled with all of the native plants that need saving. Another thing that they are doing to help plants is educating the public about why native plants need to be protected. They talk to students, host conferences, create educational videos, and provide guided tours and hikes to look for native plants. One example of them talking to students is when a representative from CPNS volunteered to be the community partner in a student group project involving native plants. She provided guidance, knowledge, and materials that the groups needed in order to make a difference in the community. Lastly, the California Native Plant Society also goes out in the fields and works to remove invasive species from the ecosystem and restore native plants. They provide resources for anyone who wants to help, and they constantly host events for people who want to take action. However, there are smaller ways in which one can help make a difference, like not purchasing invasive plants for your garden. Doing this will also be more beneficial to the garden because native plants require less water than other plants, and no chemical fertilizers. There are already many people who have banded together to make a difference in our homes, but in order for the effect to be larger, more people need to join the cause.

Making a difference, one plant at a time
At this moment in time, there are many issues environmentally in California. The imbalance of plants in the ecosystem has caused a lot of damage in almost a chain reaction. However, there are people, like the California Native Plant Society, that are already starting to help, and they have created change for the better. But we can take it one step further, and with the help of everyone in Marin, we can not only reduce the amount of invasive plants in the state, but we can also help native plants flourish as they used to once more.