Where the Natives Are: 10 Indigenous Plant Environments Near You

Vista Hermosa Natural Park near Downtown Los Angeles not only offers a closeup view of the L.A. skyline, but a chance for people to have an even closer encounter with California native plants.
| Photo: Elson Trinidad

The local movie theatres might already be screening their summer blockbusters, and many schools have already ended their academic year, but we're still in the spring season until the 21st of June.

Seasons? In Southern California? Of course we have seasons. The spring season is when many plants, especially our local California native plants, are in bloom, and the last few weeks of spring not only give you a last chance to see their efflorescence, but to witness the transition into summer dormancy.

You might already know about the great wildflower displays that are a few hours' drive from the city. But did you know native plants can be found right here in the greater Los Angeles area? This column has already featured such native plant installations as the grounds of a public library branch in East Hollywood, a re-created chaparral park in South L.A., a converted water-wise alleyway in Sun Valley, and a newly-planted native garden in coastal San Pedro. But there are even more native plant gardens or habitats, many of them just planted within the past half-decade, that are even closer to you. Here's ten native plant environments around the L.A. area, listed by region:

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Central L.A.

Vista Hermosa Natural Park
100 N. Toluca Street, near downtown L.A.

This park (pictured above), which opened in 2008, was originally intended to be part of the L.A. Unified School District's controversial Belmont Learning Center project. But after the school campus was downsized and eventually opened as the adjacent Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, the 10.5-acre site was given to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy intended to benefit the green space-deficient communities of downtown, Temple-Beaudry, Historic Filipinotown, Echo Park, and Westlake.

Vista Hermosa Natural Park contains dirt hiking trails surrounded by a healthy abundance of native plants, including White Sage, Cleveland Sage, Purple Sage, and Matilija Poppies. The best part of the experience here is the aroma of the native sage plants wafting through the air, and the second-best part is the view of the downtown L.A. skyline from the park, with the native plants in the foreground. The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority also hosts free hikes and educational events at the park for the benefit of community members and anyone interested.

Silver Lake Meadow Native Garden
2363 Silver Lake Blvd, Silver Lake

The Silver Lake Meadow, a previously unused green space which was re-claimed for public use in April 2011 and is now popular with picnickers and kite flyers, features a native plant garden in its northwestern corner, organized by the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council in conjunction with the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants. In November 2012, I joined the group of community members, native plant aficionados, and local Marshall High School students who volunteered to plant the initial set of plants in this garden, which features, among other varieties, California Lilac, Spreading Rush, and native Western Sycamore and Western Redbud trees.

San Fernando Valley

De la Mina Verbenas grow right along Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, in a native-filled pocket park dubbed 'The Oasis.'
| Photo: Elson Trinidad

The Oasis
11200 Ventura Blvd, Studio City

This former weed-filled lot at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains in Studio City was converted by the Studio City Beautification Association in 2009 into a pocket park adorned with native plants, aptly called "The Oasis." The concrete sidewalk on the south side of Ventura Boulevard suddenly gives way to a dirt trail surrounded by California Golden and Matilija poppies, California Lilac, Purple Sage, and Verbenas.

Theodore Payne Foundation For Wildflowers and Native Plants
10459 Tuxford Street, Sun Valley

Perhaps the most trusted authority on native plants in the Los Angeles area is the nonprofit Theodore Payne Foundation, named after the 19th century British botanist who was enamored with the biological diversity of California's native flora and sought ways to protect and propagate the indigenous flowers and plants that were already being depleted from the landscape. Their headquarters in the foothills of semi-rural Sun Valley features demonstration gardens surrounding the property where numerous varieties of native plants flourish, as well as a place called Wild Flower Hill, just a short hike up the nearby hillside where California Sagebrush, Laurel Sumac, Wild Buckwheat, and seasonal wildflowers can be found, as well as some wild critters who call the place home. Of course, the Theodore Payne grounds also feature their popular plant nursery, where a large selection of natives can be purchased for your own garden. The staff at Theodore Payne will be glad to teach you everything you want to know about native plants.

LAPD Topanga Community Police Station
21501 Schoenborn Street, Canoga Park

It might be considered a crime to waste water during our drought, so it's perhaps fitting that a local police station has adopted a native plant landscape on its grounds. Native sage and grasses are among the drought-tolerant vegetation that grows here. The native plant garden was designed by the Theodore Payne Foundation and installed by community volunteers and LAPD staff.

Westside

The flowers of the White Sage plant are in bloom here at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook in Culver City.
| Photo: Elson Trinidad

Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook
6300 Hetzler Road, Culver City

A native plant garden grows right outside the visitor center of this state park, which also offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, the Westside, Hollywood, and downtown. Coastal sage scrub plants like White Sage, Toyon, Purple Sage, California Aster, Purple Needlegrass, and California Golden Poppies, among many other varieties, can be found here, and all over this 511-foot promontory that rises above Culver City. The most rewarding way to visit this place is to hike up the legendary Culver City Steps -- 282 concrete steps that lead straight up up the hill. The views of both the city and the native plants are well worth the effort.

South L.A.

Cleveland Sage grows in front of the re-created wetlands at South L.A. Wetland Park.
| Photo: Elson Trinidad

South Los Angeles Wetland Park
5451 S. Avalon Boulevard, South L.A.

This innovative open space, built on a former streetcar and bus yard in the middle of South Los Angeles, features a Proposition O-funded re-constructed wetland environment that cleanses polluted storm drain runoff via natural processes before the water is discharged into the L.A. River. The park, which opened in 2012, prominently features native riparian plants, White, Purple, Cleveland, and Hummingbird sages, as well as native trees like the Western Sycamore and the Bay Laurel.

San Gabriel Valley

This landscaped native plant garden grows outside the headquarters of the Alhambra Fire Department in Alhambra.
| Photo: Elson Trinidad

Alhambra Fire Department Headquarters
301 North First Street, Alhambra

This very drought-tolerant native plant garden was installed outside the headquarters of the city of Alhambra Fire Department headquarters building. The plants were furnished by the Theodore Payne Foundation and were installed by Lawn Masters.

Sierra Madre Elementary School
141 W. Highland Avenue, Sierra Madre

A native garden was planted at this Pasadena Unified School District campus in 2011 for the dual purposes of water conservation (the native plants only consume one-seventh the amount of water the old landscaping did), and for education -- the native plant selection was designed by the Theodore Payne Foundation to complement the state's Department of Education standards in science, social studies, language arts, and art.

Harbor/South Bay

The Bixby Marshland in Carson features native wetland and coastal sage scrub plants.
| Photo courtesy: Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County

Bixby Marshland
24201 Figueroa Street, Carson

This 17-acre, reintroduced marshland in Carson opened in 2009, bringing back a section of the larger Bixby Slough wetlands which once spanned the Wilmington-Harbor City-west Carson area. Like the South L.A's Wetland Park, this habitat, built by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, was designed for the purpose of stormwater treatment via natural means.

Native wetland and coastal sage scrub plants grow here in this natural oasis within this very industrial section of this city. The wetlands are open in the morning during the first Saturdays of each month, and docents are available to lead guided tours of the park.

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Our native plants are making a comeback in a big way. Spend some time with them at any of these nearby native plant environments, learn about how they are truly vital to our local ecosystem, and enjoy their multi-sensory delights.

About the Author

Elson Trinidad is the Filipino kid who grew up listening to black music in an Armenian neighborhood where people spoke Spanish and ate Thai food.
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