Santa Cruz County Local Issues
Stop the Alien Invasion
Volunteers Work to Remove Harmful, Non-native Plants
by Abbie Blair
Santa Cruz Sentinel - August 19, 2004
Don't let the pretty flowers and unique foliage of common plants like iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis), pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) and European beach grass (Ammophila arenaria) fool you. These guys aggressively vie to take over habitats, and despite their beauty, there is a war going on to take our native lands back from them.
The California Exotic Pest Plant Council places invasive non-natives on its A-1 list for plant removal, equivalent to the human 10 most wanted list. Iceplant, pampas grass and beach grass are considered three of the most widespread invasive wildland pest plants in California.
How did they get here and what part can you play to control them?
Some invasive exotics arrive in California by accident, stowing away in the ballast of ships or as grain contaminants. Others are brought intentionally for a variety of reasons including ornamental use and erosion control. Each has its own story.
The European beach grass that once covered the dunes at Sunset State Beach in Watsonville is a good example. Its history dates to 1869 in San Francisco when it was introduced for erosion control, specifically to stabilize dunes that would later become Golden Gate Park. In 1919, it was planted to stabilize dunes at the mouth of the Pajaro River and finally, in the 1920s, according to author Jean Wenzel, it made its way to the Sunset Beach area, planted by landowner Mr. Locke-Paddon. Over time, it invaded the dunes and displaced the native plants.
Take back the land
Local restoration programs target these types of areas. Eight years ago, under the Wildlands Restoration Team, volunteers began manual removal of the beach grass. In 2000, Linda Brodman volunteered to take over the restoration projects and coordinate them under the Santa Cruz Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.
Brodman began volunteering for restoration projects in 1993. Being involved in the nursing profession, she noticed the similarity between the two immediately: Both restored health, one to people and one to native plants.
Restoration programs depend solely on volunteer labor. During a work day last July, Brodman welcomed back some veteran volunteers and some new participants.
Volunteer Robert Field has been coming out for the past five years. Doing something positive for the plants, getting a feeling of accomplishment while getting some exercise, and being with nice people keeps him coming back.
Andrew Cortado, soon to be a senior at Aptos High, is a man of few words. He sums up why he comes by saying, "Save the trees. Remember, everything effects us. I am ensuring my future."
Kate and Joey Thomas, a mother and son team, came out to get hands-on experience removing invasives. Kate became personally aware of how invasives take over by watching the French broom spread near her Soquel home. The hours worked also satisfy the community hours needed for Joey's upcoming Bar Mitzva.
Jennifer Marshall, a graduate student, and Vanessa Lee, a research assistant, found out about the project from a volunteer Web site. Much of their week is spent indoors so this type of work appealed to them by allowing them to get out and do something physical for the environment while learning. Both wanted to do more than writing a check to help the environment.
Beach grass gains its competitive edge by spreading almost exclusively by underground stems called rhizomes. They spread at an alarming rate of over six feet in six months. Leave one small rhizome piece and a new plant grows.
If you have ever tried to remove Bermuda grass from a lawn, you know how insidious rhizomes can be.
Because of this, areas are pulled and then watched for new sprouts which need pulling again. The State Parks Department uses fire and chemical applications to complement the manual removal.
Eight years of work has not been for naught. During a break, Brodman points out the diversity of plant species in the cleared areas. According to Brodman, it is typical for native species to return on their own.
Remove the invasive target species and the native seed bank is there. The natives readily return, but if the seed bank is found lacking, then seed is collected to be grown in the State Park Nursery and transplanted into the area.
At Sunset Beach, plantings from the seed bank are already producing beach evening primrose (Camissonia cheiranthifolia), mock heather (Ericameria ericoides), branching phacelia (Phacelia ramosissima), spine flower (Chorizanthe pungens pungens), sea lettuce (Dudleya caespitosa), Indian paint brush (Castilleja latifolia), beach-bur (Ambrosia chamissonis.), beach pea (Lathyrus littoralis) and California poppy (Eschscholzia californica).
The diversity of plant material encourages an increase in the diversity and abundance of insects. Carnivores, like flying insect-eating swallows and the legless lizard that make this area their home, both benefit. Down on the beach, Brodman pointed out a snowy plover that is listed as an endangered species which is benefiting by the removal of beach grass.
Beach grass removal helps the plovers in two ways: Its absence removes good hiding places for their predators like skunks, foxes and cats, and the face of the dune changes back from a cliff created by beachgrass to a gentle slope. The slope plays a crucial role in developing a nesting area between the high waterline and the beginning of vegetation.
According to Tim Hyland, a resource ecologist for the State Parks, it will take another four years to complete the local eradication.
Time well spent
That does not seem to worry Brodman, she'll be back along with more volunteers. She has noticed over the years that volunteers feel a great sense of satisfaction from helping. It comes from knowing they have been able to give back to nature something in exchange for all they take. At the end of the day, the dunes, native plants, animals and volunteers all have benefited.
The life of many invasive exotics is the stuff books are written about. Hopefully we will be able to write their last chapter entitled, "Eradication."
a member of the California Native Plant Society, has a degree in horticulture and has spent 25 years in plant and cut-flower production, at one point operating a nursery in Gilroy. She lives on Mount Madonna and is waging hand-to-vine combat against the ivy and vinca displacing the native plants. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help restore native habitat
Here's what you can do to get involved with habitat restoration:
HOME Identify plants that are invasive exotics and remove them from your yard. Unfortunately, many invasive exotics are still for sale. Don't add to the problem by introducing new ones. When choosing plants, Brodman suggests that you take a look at your area. See if you can determine what the habitat was before it was developed. Introduce back into the area the type of native plant material that had been removed.
VOLUNTEER The California Native Plant Society Habitat Restoration Team has ongoing programs at Sunset and Natural Bridges state beaches and Fall Creek State Park. Workdays are scheduled twice a month on Saturdays from 10 a.m. through 1 p.m. Volunteers are welcomed between the ages of 8 and 80. Wear comfortable layered clothing, bring water and your enthusiasm. Tools are provided. Contact Linda Brodman 831-462-4041 or email@example.com.
WATSONVILLE WETLANDS WATCH Summer restoration programs include: invasive plant removal, seed collecting and planting in the West Struve Slough and Struve Slough. Contact Laura Kummerer, 831-728-4106.
WILDLANDS RESTORATION TEAM Work parties are scheduled in August to remove English ivy in Nisene Marks State Park. For information call, 831-460-9453.
California Exotic Pest Plant Council (www.caleppc.org) or 'Invasive Plants of California's Wildlands,' edited by Carla Bossard, University of California Press (2000).