Saturday, April 16, 2016

How Native Plants Contribute to Sustainability Both on Campus and at Home


As spring blossoms begin popping up all around us, you have probably noticed the many flowers budding into life on your campus, many of which are natives. These native plants actually offer a variety of benefits to the average home garden, such as water conservation, easy maintenance, and the ability to attract local pollinators and other wildlife. In fact, because of the District's integration of California native plants into their sustainability design standards, many of these benefits are exhibited at all three of SMCCCD's campuses (College of San Mateo, CaƱada College, and Skyline College). 
Our landscape provides not only aesthetic beauty, but also habitat for local animal and insect populations. This promotes local biodiversity by attracting native pollinators like birds and beneficial insects that help to reduce mosquito and plant-eating insect populations. At CSM, the large population of native, pollinator-attracting plants has allowed Professor Paul Hankamp to certify the campus as a Bee Campus USA member. 
Native plants also have a natural ability to fight off pests, and are perfectly conditioned to living in the climate and soil conditions that our campuses house. Since they already have the tools to survive here, their need for pesticides and pest management are reduced. Their natural adaptions allow them to flourish with less water and less maintenance such as pruning and fertilizing.      
  These characteristics reduce the amount of landscape maintenance required. Once native plants are established, they frequently require much less fertilizer, irrigation or pruning. CSM landscaper, Rain Kernytsky, said that some areas planted with native plants no longer needed to be irrigated so the water for that area is completely shut off, saving both water and money. 
Incorporating these species into the design standards also helps to restore regional landscapes. Urban development in the Bay Area is shrinking habitats, and when habitats start to disappear, so do their inhabitants. Our campuses can act as islands of useful habitat and provide a much needed wildlife bridge between remaining wildlife areas by offering food and shelter to wildlife in the form of native plants.  
The native plants on SMCCCD campuses are examples of what you can do at your household. If you would like to contribute to this effort in your own garden, the California Native Plant Society has created an easily accessible database of California native plants: It allows people to type in their address or area code and view a list of plants native to that region. Click on a plant species or type, and a description of the plant pops up along with a map of its native locations, propagation instructions/landscaping information, and even nurseries where the plant is available.  
The California Native Plant Society is an organization that is dedicated to the restoration, conservation, awareness-spreading of the many complex botanical ecosystems that are unique to California. They offer a variety of resources online for those who wish to learn more about their efforts, general native plant information, and they even offer a deluxe gardening guide for those who are interested in creating a wildlife or wildflower garden of their own.  
Below are some examples of native plant species found on the CSM campus that are also ideal for the home garden: 

California lilac (Ceonothus): Planted around the pool area at CSM near Building 5 and near Building 36, this plant is hardy with its low water and maintenance requirements. Its  blue flowers attracts a variety of insect pollinators and hummingbirds.  


Manzanita (Arctostaphylos): Mazanitas can come in a variety of sizes from groundcovers to tall trees. At CSM they are found in the Beethoven and Olympian parking lot beds as shrubs. They flower in the early spring and late summer with small bell-shaped flowers, attracting hummingbirds, bees, and other beneficial insects. They are evergreen and have a shinny, smooth, red bark.   

Pride of Madeira (Echium Fastuosum): A evergreen shrub that can be found in front of CSM's Building 7 and in the garden near Building 36. They have uniquely large blooms of blue or purple flowers that rise in the spring and summer to attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  

Pride of Madeira

Pride of Madeira

These plants are all long lived perennials, pollinator attractors, low maintenance and drought tolerant. Planting these species in your garden would be an excellent way to invite local wildlife such as hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies into your yard.  

Another interesting article that addresses the problem of plummeting bee populations can be found here