Friday, April 24, 2015

Cooking with California Native Sage

It is hard to believe that the California Native Sage Festival took place nearly a month ago. How time flies by! This was our second year celebrating the greatness of sage including having booths that featured sage related products, native food tastings and demonstrations, and sage advice for your garden. This year (same as last) I was helping to hand out samples of food that incorporates our native sages (Salvia). I always enjoy sharing information about the wonderful native plants of California but when I can share information about food made with native plants, I am doubly happy. Today I would like to share with you a recipe for the Lemon Sage Shortbread that I prepared for the California Native Sage Festival March 28, 2015. If you enjoy this recipes and want to learn more about preparing food with California Native Plants please register for the upcoming California Native Food Symposium (November 14 and 15, 2015). I am very excited to be a part of this event. Antonio Sanchez (Nursery Production Manager) my collaborator and fellow enthusiast in native food is playing a key role in the symposium and will be giving a presentation on California Chia, Beans and Berries: How Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and friends can help develop low-water foods for the future. Antonio frequently teaches a native food workshop at the RSABG and some of his recipes have been posted here.

Lemon Sage Short Bread

Author: Naomi Fraga adapted from Cookie and Kate
Serves: 32


  • 3 cups white whole wheat flour 
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt salt 
  • 2 tablespoona chopped fresh sage (I used Salvia clevelandii ‘Winifred Gilman’)
  • 2 lemons zested 
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil 


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. 
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, powdered sugar, salt, sage and lemon zest. Pour in the olive oil and stir until it is incorporated. 
  3. Transfer the dough to a 9 X 9 inch baking dish (I sprayed mine with vegetable oil). Use your fingers to squish the dough into an even layer. Prick the surface of the dough all over with a fork. Bake for about 45 min until the surface feels firm to the touch and is lightly golden around the edges. 
  4. Remove from the oven and let the pan cool for 20 minutes (no sooner and no later, 20 min is the right stage, or else it will be too soft or too hard). Then, using a very sharp knife, slice the shortbread into 8 even columns and 4 even rows. Let the cookies cool before removing them from the pan using a small spatula. 
  5. Enjoy!

Monday, March 9, 2015

For Love of Linanthus

Linanthus killipii
Botanists should really love all groups of plants, but sometimes, like many things in life, you cant help but love certain groups more than others. For me, Linanthus has always been a plant group that I have loved. The majority of Linanthus species are small annuals, sometimes referred to as “belly plants” because you have to lay down flat on your belly to observe them as they are so small. I’ve also always loved the genus Linanthus because many of them are very ephemeral, meaning they are only around and in flower for a very short time per year, sometime just a few weeks, and the conditions have to be just right or they may not appear at all, so when you do come across them in the wild the experience can be very special.
Linanthus killipii, the magenta colored variety.
The first Linanthus species I was introduced to was Linanthus killipii. I was a Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden intern at the time and I was out with Naomi Fraga doing plant surveys along the Pacific Crest Trail in the San Bernardino Mountains when we came across this species. It was so small that it took me a few moments to see what Naomi had found. Standing at only a few centimeters tall they can be quite easy to miss! Linanthus killipii is commonly known as the “Baldwin Lake linanthus” as the majority of populations are found around Baldwin Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains. While the flowers are almost always white, there have been a few populations found that are rose/magenta color, which we are still unsure of what is happening there. A common garden study will hopefully be done here at RSABG in the future to try and determine why they sometimes appear as a different color. This was the first Linanthus species I saw in the field and to date is still one of my favorites. In fact if I had to give a top five favorites list of all plant species Linanthus killipii would be on the list. It still brings a large smile to my face everytime I come across this species in the field.
Linanthus bernardinus

In the Spring of 2010 I was given permission by the Wildlands Conservancy to enter and document plants in the Sawtooth Mountains just outside of Pioneertown, a mountain range I had wanted to explore for some time because it looked so rugged and unique, but had been closed to the public for many years for restoration purposes due to a large fire that had occurred across the area. On my first trip into the Sawtooth Mountains I came across a curious little Linanthus species that I did not recognize. Later that day while wraching my brain on which one it could be I would remember that Naomi Fraga had mentioned that there was a potentially undescribed Linanthus species on the east side of the San Bernardino Mountains, but I had assumed she had meant somewhere higher up in elevation, but sure enough, after I sent Naomi a few photos, she confirmed that I had found the undescribed Linanthus that she had found in the herbarium under an incorrect identification. Over the next few years I explored the entire area and assisted in the description of this Linanthus species which we named Linanthus bernardinus, common name Pioneertown linanthus as it is only found around Pioneertown. Linanthus bernardinus is actually a very narrow endemic, meaning that it is only found geographically over a very small area, in this case only in the Sawtooth Mountains which are only around 10 square miles in area. I always make sure to do at least one hike in the Sawtooth Mountains every spring just to visit this little guy.
Linanthus bellus

In southeastern San Diego county there is a cute little Linanthus species appropriately named “desert beauty”, or Linanthus bellus that I got to work with one season while doing a CNPS project. Its stems are narrow and wiry so the flowers often look like brightly colored little floating cups. When found, it usually grows in small localized population in open flat areas among the desert chaparral in the greater McCain Valley area. Unfortunately the majority of habitat where it occurs in McCain Valley is being developed into a large scale wind farm so if you would like to see this showy little belly plant you should do so soon.

Linanthus maculatus subsp. "emaculatus"
One of the most recent Linanthus species I’ve had a chance to make an acquaintance with is an undescibed, or soon to be described, Linanthus that will be called Linanthus maculatus subsp. “emaculatus”, its common name will be the "immaculate linanthus" as it is spotless, and also may possibly be known as the Dos Cabezas linanthus as it is only found in a single wash beside a geographic location called Dos Cabezas. Doing field work on this plant was rather hard as it is so small and difficult to find. During most field surveys one can look around and take in the scenery, but this plant is very tiny and blends in with its environment so when I did field work on this one I had to walk around for days staring straight at the ground in front of me so I would not walk past them. Literally a pain in the neck, but well worth it to find such an amazing little plant. This is another narrow endemic, only found in a single wash on the east side of the Jacumba Mountains, its entire habitat occurrence area is just 1 or 2 square miles. That’s a narrow endemic! At first we were worried as the only known occurrence was from a section of this wash that was being developed into a large scale wind farm, but after I conducted field surveys I found that they occurred across the county line as well in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which conservation wise is a relief, as they will have at least some form of protection within the State Park. Being such a narrow endemic we will have to keep our eyes on this one in the coming years to make sure that its habitat is not heavily altered, because it would be sad to see such a tiny unique plant erased from the world.

At the beginning of every field season I look forward to my first encounters with species in the Genus Linanthus in the wild as I never know if it will be a species I have not seen before, an old friend, or potentially one that could be new to science. They are a unique and special group, and one most enjoyed by laying out flat on your belly while exploring their tiny little world.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Orcutt's spineflower: an update

Last year I wrote about Orcutt’s spineflower (Chorizanthe orcuttiana), a diminutive, highly endangered plant from the coastal bluffs of San Diego County. We collected 1500 seeds of this plant for our seed bank. This was part of a larger project with the Chaparral Lands Conservancy to enhance existing populations of Orcutt’s spineflower in their native range. RSABG was also involved with the second phase of this project, which was to regenerate seeds of this plant to reintroduce into the wild.

This type of work is called ex situ conservation. In a nutshell, biodiversity is taken off site where it can be regenerated or stored for long term genetic backup. This type of strategy differs from in situ conservation, in which native habitat and all of the biodiversity contained within is conserved. Establishment of wilderness areas, national parks and other wildlands are examples of in situ conservation methods. These strategies go hand in hand. As land is protected through in situ conservation, rare biodiversity can be recovered and reintroduced through ex situ conservation.

Regenerated seeds of Orcutt's spineflower
 A classic example of ex situ conservation, and one of the great successes of endangered species recovery in recent years comes from a large vulture of the west coast. In the 1980s, the population of California condor was so low that extinction seemed imminent. A seemingly audacious plan was launched, and all 22 remaining birds were taken from the wild and put into a captive breeding program. Chicks were carefully raised in an ex situ facility, and when the time was right, were introduced back into the wild. Since then, multiple reintroduction sites have been established, and the wild population is now over ten times larger than it was in the 1980s, with hundreds of additional birds still being reared in ex situ facilities.

Plants were grown at the RSABG nursery
It is always interesting to take something from the wild and observe its growth in a controlled setting. When we began our regeneration of Orcutt’s spineflower we weren’t exactly sure what the best method would be. After carefully reviewing all of the literature we could find on this species and others from the spineflower genus we came up with a propagation plan and began growing plants.  It was amazing to see the difference between these cultivated specimens and those that I saw in the field last summer in Del Mar. Our ex situ plants, which were receiving plenty of attention, water and nutrients were absolute monsters compared to their wild parents. This is the beauty of this process. You can take away all of natures variables and produce hundreds of seeds from a plant that may have only produced a few seeds in the wild. The seeds have been harvested and cleaned, and will be stored in our seed bank until they are ready for reintroduction in their coastal habitat. I am happy to say that we were successful in our first round of seed regeneration, and turned a sample of approximately 250 seeds into over 30,000 seeds of this very rare plant. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Intern Blog. Glen Morrison from Citrus College.

At Citrus Community College this past spring, I had learned very last minute that I was eligible to apply for a summer research internship. Hastily, I filled out the application and wrote my personal statement. I turned it in all of ten minutes before the deadline. To my surprise I was soon called for an on-campus interview, which gave way to another interview at RSABG. I was overjoyed when I learned that I was selected for a Summer Research internship at RSABG. I had previously visited the garden, and had long thought, very specifically, that it would be an awesome place to work. All I knew for sure was that I would be working on a research project. I also hoped that I would have some opportunity to get into the field, as it is my goal to become a field biologist. The internship, in all ways, exceeded my expectations.

More days than not we were working in the field. I was immediately introduced to cross-country hiking. Translating my years of trail-hiking experience to the scrubby, rocky, crumbly, pokey, spiny Pinyon-juniper Woodland of Bighorn Mountain Wilderness was a challenging and fun experience. I found that soon the boundaries between passable and impassable terrain soon faded in my mind. Never in these wilderness areas did we ever see another person hiking. One memorable event was discovering, by reading a log book, that we had been the first people to summit one of the Granite peaks since 2009. Seeing just how under-explored much of California is, inspires me to contribute to the biological understanding of this state. Every day in the field was another reminder that I made the right decision in pursuing a career in field biology.

Duncan Bell and Glen Morrison in the Monarch Wilderness
This field work was my first true trespass into the discipline of field botany. I discovered how much I like this discipline of biology. There is such great botanical diversity and so much room for study. Great gaps exist in our botanical understanding and this intrigues me. It is an added bonus that plants stay put. There is no need to trap, or track plants. The botanist needs not wake at strange hours to catch the plants in the open. Plants can be collected, usually, with general ease and stored as a record of specific research and tool for future research. I really came to appreciate the details and process of field botany.

Many days spent on the garden were spent in horticulture. This was the field about which I knew the least. I soon became aware of relationship between horticulture and conservation. Horticulture makes places like RSABG possible, places like RSABG generate interest in native plants, interest propels protection. RSABG horticulturists also play a direct role in growing plants for conservation projects. Discovering the work that is done with cultivars (cultivated varieties) of native plants was fascinating to me, as well. It is a win-win situation when people plant these attractive native plants that please the home gardener and function within the flora. My experiences in horticulture were hugely enlightening.

Above all else my research project had to have been the most educational part of this internship. The RACE-to-STEM internship grant that had made my internship possible required a student research project. The researchers at the garden had put aside for me an AWESOME project. I was assigned to research Allium marvinii, an onion that has generated some taxonomic and conservation concern. Over the course of the eight week internship I had to understand the question in need of address, figure out how to investigate that question, and interpret the results of that investigation. Working with seasoned researchers was exciting and invaluable. Having to communicate and defend my work showed me the rigor involved in making a claim from research. This was an incredibly educational experience. In those eight weeks I learned a lot about how research plays out and how to better conduct research going forward. For more background information on this onion, botanist Fred Roberts wrote a very informative piece in the San Diego CNPS March 2014 newsletter. My research poster is available here.

I have never learned so much in two months as I did this summer. My experiences at the garden have affected my academic and career goals. Every person I worked with at RSABG taught me something that changed my perspective. To see the kind of community that exists at RSABG is very encouraging and makes me feel very optimistic about my future career. I made friends, found resources, and gained so much. In my experiences so far at Cal Poly Pomona, where I start this fall, I can already see how this experience affects how I am perceived. The importance of a quality internship, like the one I had at RSABG, cannot be overstated.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Intern Blog. Katie Roland from Centre College, KY

Being from Nashville, TN, I have the honor of being the intern who traveled from farthest away, whilst still being from this country. This obviously excludes Perrine, an intern from France who was also at the garden this year. Being not only from the eastern half of the country, but also from the South, I grew up in an area of constant green and high humidity. There is always water, if only in the air, and I am surrounded by deciduous trees. Needless to say, everywhere I went during the course of my internship was different and exciting. I did a lot during my two month stay at RSABG, too much to even begin to describe here, and I had the privilege of getting to meet so many wonderful people. I was able to work in the herbarium, the seed house, and the nursery. The best part was the fieldwork. We took numerous day trips, mostly to Bighorn Mountain Wilderness. I also had the opportunity to go on several overnight trips.
Erika's Study Site. Kiavah Wilderness,  Kern County, CA

My first overnight collecting trip was with Erika Gardner, a Masters student at the garden. The Masters students at RSABG often do a flora of an understudied area, which means that they document and collect every species of plant that grows in that area. This generally requires two or three seasons of field work, and Erika is just finishing her second. Her study site includes parts of the Kiavah Wilderness and the surrounding area, and it is a gorgeous section of desert. At the end of the second week of my internship, I went with her on a two-day camping trip to document whatever of interest we found.
 The first day, we had driven the perhaps three hours from the garden to her site, hiked part way along the Pacific Crest Trail, and set up camp. Possibly my favorite moment from this first day occurred just outside a trailhead where we parked and ate lunch. Erika noticed a piece of paper under a rock sitting under a tree near the trailhead. After staring at it for several minutes from afar, she decided to go investigate. It turns out that it was a warning, presumably left by some industrious hiker, about a snake that had been seen under the tree from several weeks ago. Whether the note-writer meant this as a general warning about the existence of snakes, or they thought that the snake was a permanent resident under that particular tree, I cannot say. I can say, however, that there was not a snake in sight. We left the note, just in case the snake came back.
 The section of the Pacific Crest Trail  (PCT) we hiked was fairly high elevation, although I could not tell you the number exactly. It was definitely desert, and very dry, but we did find some things flowering, and we made a collection of wonderfully mature mustard seeds, because they looked good. There was very little in the way of trees, or even large shrubs, in this particular area. This meant that there was almost nothing to shield us from the wind, perched on the side of an exposed slope. And there sure was wind. I do not know whether it was just the lack of shielding that caused the impressive wind, or if the location of her site in the desert or if the aspect of the slope influenced it as well, but it was magnificent.
The PCT, Erika said it looked like we were about to hike off the edge of the world

The wind continued to be strong throughout our two days, and in the evening of the first day found us hunched over in the covered back of the truck, trying to press the days collections without having plants and newspaper flying away in the breeze. Nearly everyone I accompanied into the field collected specimen in the same way, excluding only Joy England, another graduate student working in the Rock Creek area in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, who presses her specimen in the field. The collections were made for preservation in herbaria, primarily the herbarium at RSABG. They must be collected, pressed, and later attached to herbarium sheets. For most smaller herbaceous plants, this meant collecting the entire plant, roots and all. For people doing floristic surveys, this generally means collecting a large number of plants in a day. Trying to press plants in the field is time consuming, and in windy areas like Erika’s site nearly impossible.
To avoid these problems, at Rancho they place them into Ziploc bags and press them all together at the end of the day, usually back at the garden. For someone who still struggles with plant identification, this process seemed very intimidating. You have to be able to identify everything well enough the first time so that, when you go back through the plants, you can tell them apart and label them correctly. Of course everyone working at the garden was quite skilled at this, and I could just write down what they told me and try to remember as many plant names as possible. I also got very good at dismantling newspaper, as each specimen had to be pressed in an individual sheet. 

The next morning, we got up early to try to beat the heat. Our mission was to hike back into a nearby canyon to look for water. Erika had found water in this canyon at different times of year, and we were trying to figure out whether it was permanent or ephemeral. The hike started off across another steep slope, but unlike the day before there was no easy trail, and the slope was covered with little ankle-height plants that felt like they were growing tiny razorblades. By the time we finally got to what I would describe as the mouth of the canyon, we had nearly turned back and had come up with an alternate route back that would require us to climb up a pile of large boulders, but could not be nearly as painful.

Evening at our campsite.
The obvious path to follow back into a canyon would be along the bottom, but that was absolutely impossible in this case. The floor was alternately covered with impassible brush, usually willow shrubs that reached well over our heads, and boulders that did the same. Our only other option was to hike up one of the sides and back at a higher elevation. The slopes themselves were steep, to say the least. In fact, at some points it ascended at a 90-degree angle. This was made even more exciting because the slope itself was only occasionally made up of stable soil. The rest of the time, we were climbing up deep sand, loose rock fragments, and sometimes large boulders. If all of this were not enough, fairly frequently there would be no way to continue along a side at any height. Something would block our path, and we would have to descend once again to the bottom of the canyon and climb up the other side.

By the time we heard the drip of water, neither of us was sure what it was. In fact, for a while we thought it was some wild animal in the brush. We followed the drip until we found several clear pools of water, still present in the heat of summer. By one, we even found what had once probably been a coyote, but now was a ragged pelt floating at the edge of the water. The water there is likely a year-round source of drinking water for the surrounding fauna, as well as a haven for water-loving desert plants. It was a gorgeous area, and I do not think I will ever forget it. It was also some of the most exciting, and possibly death-defying, hiking I have ever done. This is just one of the many fond memories of the desert I have taken with me, and Erika is one of the many people I will never forget.