Back to Natives Restoration (BTN) has been at work to restore a 2.5-acre spot along Del Obispo Drive in Dana Point, but the city is threatening to mow it all down because of the bloomin' mustard, a fire-hazard in the making. BTN needs help getting the invasive species that made OC's hills vivid yellow during the super-bloom out of there, and are asking for volunteers Friday and Sunday mornings through July.
"Mowing would be tragic for the site," says BTN executive director Reginald Durant, "because our volunteers have already sown 30 pounds of native plant seed—thousands of plants are coming up, or have come up, and are now in seed."
Cuesta Kato Native Land Reserve, on a slope too steep for easy development, was donated to BTN by Kato Properties in 2015. Already thriving thanks to the Santa Ana nonprofit's efforts are ambrosia, California sagebrush, sand aster, saltgrass, goldenbush, deerweed, California everlasting and lemonadeberry—yep, native to our dry slopes and well south into Baja, it's also known as lemonade sumac; birds and butterflies and road runners love it. Bees do its pollinating. But the lemonade-making angle is dubious, and many of its lookalikes are toxic. Volunteering to help clear out the mustard could be an opportunity to learn what uses these natives provide and how each fits into the overall ecosystem.
Less than half a mile from San Juan Creek and a mile from the ocean, the habitat is smack dab along a spring and summer monarch butterfly route. It's so invaluable that Monarch Joint Venture, a coalition of government agencies, NGOs, academics and other fans of the Monarch's amazing 3,000-mile, North American migration, has donated funds to establish monarch-friendly plants at Cuesta Kato. "Our volunteers have been actively propagating milkweed at our native plant nursery to be planted next winter," says Durant of the butterflies' favorite.
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Why should we care that our native species have been invaded by alien mustards and paved over by decades of rampant development? Because bees. Without the pollinators, not only will we have no honey but we as a species will eventually have no plants to eat. No plants, no animals. No bees, no people. But that's if you believe anything science has to say....
In addition to saving our human species, or at least restoring what's left of Orange County's open spaces, BTN's mission is decidedly educational. They coordinate service-learning programs using California's state curriculum standards for science and social science, and promote native gardening in schools and other public places.
Sign up to help save the seeds, future plants, birds and butterflies at BTN's Cuesta Kato in Dana Point. Not only would two years' work be destroyed, but the City of Dana Point would charge BTN for the mowing should it go down! Be sure to wear hiking boots or other closed shoes, long pants, long sleeves—you don't want to brush against that lemonadeberry or its ilk of skin irritants—sunscreen and a hat. If the steepness is too dangerous for your abilities, lots of other level volunteer opportunities are ongoing in the Santiago Park nursery and throughout the summer at Santiago Creek Nature Reserve.