The Newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Chapter
November - December 2007
Winter is for planting
Rains bring fertile season for habitat restoration
While the east hunkers down to months of dark and cold, the Bay Area enters its most verdant, fertile season. In our remnant native habitats in San Francisco, drought-dormant native plants are springing back into action, and our restoration work enters one of its most satisfying phases - planting. This isn't just for professional botanists; you can join the fun at two Sierra Club projects plus nearly 30 others within San Francisco's Natural Areas Program.
Planting natives is as easy as it is rewarding. Using a hand pick, you dig a cylindrical hole just large enough to accommodate the seedling's root ball. After tamping in the plant, you construct a small basin to catch rain, and you mark the spot with a surveyor's flag. Elapsed time when you're up to speed is 1 - 3 minutes. A modest group can plant several hundred plants in a few hours, and teams of Natural Areas Program staff and volunteers plant about 20,000 seedlings each year in the city's natural areas.
Planting is just one step of an involved process. Each summer and fall the Natural Areas Program collects about 80,000 seeds from its 31 Significant Natural Resource Areas. These seeds are carefully tracked according to point of origin so that site-appropriate seedlings are always planted back - to preserve genetic distinctiveness of planpulations, and because specific strains are best adapted to their particular microclimates. Each spring these seeds are planted into large flats at the Recreation and Parks Department's nursery in Golden Gate Park. Each summer, staff and volunteers "up-plant" about 30,000 newly sprouted shoots into tubes to mature for another season. The 20,000 seedlings that survive are then planted in the restoration work sites the following winter.
The Natural Areas Program propagates about 140 different species. These include a wide variety of native bunchgrasses, shrubs, wildflowers, and trees. The latter may surprise some people, but the fact is that the Program has over the years planted hundreds of oaks, buckeyes, toyons, and willows. The Natural Areas Program Management Plan calls for a one-for-one replacement with native trees for every non-native eucalyptus that it thins from the over-crowded ex-tree farms that people often mistake for "forests" in our parks.
Once planted, the seedlings need only a little attention. In high-traffic parts of the parks, small temporary fences have proven essential to protect young plants from trampling and digging by passing park visitors. Usually one or two waterings during the first summer are adequate to establish the plants, which then need no further irrigation - unlike the thirsty non-native ornamental plants used in other parts of the parks. In times of drought, native plants are by far the most ecologically responsible sort for the city to maintain.
Planting nursery seedlings is only one way to rejuvenate a remnant habitat. Simply removing the overburden of invasive weeds liberates the substantial seed bank that lies suppressed beneath the weeds. Each year in rehabilitated areas we see an astounding variety of plants emerge on their own amidst the ones we've planted.
The Sierra Club takes part in two monthly habitat-restoration projects in San Francisco.
For information about volunteering at other Natural Areas Program sites in the city, contact volunteer coordinator Suzanna Buehl at suzanna.buehl -at- sfgov.org or (415) 831-6328.
Habitat restoration is not only an important activity for environmentalists, it is also supremely enjoyable - particularly during planting season when the results are obvious and the labor far less intensive. Don't miss it this year!
© 2007 San Francisco Sierra Club Yodeler
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