Wildflower season is around the corner. Soon the landscape will be dotted with radiant suncups and vibrant shooting stars, offering countless reasons to stop along your favorite hiking trail to ooh and aah. But these spring beauties and many of our native grasses and wildflowers are being challenged. Crowded out by invasive broom, pampas grass and blackberry, and subject to years of drought and hungry deer, these natives need a helping hand.
Thankfully, there’s a group of dedicated volunteers who provide those helping hands. Together with Marin County Parks staff, UC Marin Master Gardeners and other community volunteers propagate native plants for the sole purpose of keeping key species alive to increase biodiversity.
“We spend an enormous amount of time and resources removing weeds. But then we need to replant those areas with native species, and that’s where our volunteers come in,” says Marin County Parks resource specialist Tori Bohlen.
“It’s a great activity for families, kids, retirees, everyone. It’s educational, and it helps people appreciate what it takes to maintain Marin’s wild lands.”
For the past two years, volunteers have been collecting seed on Ring Mountain and Old St. Hilary’s open spaces in Tiburon, sowing the seed in the county nursery and giving the seedlings lots of TLC until they’re ready to be planted back into the open space. The group has also propagated plants for Bothin Marsh in Mill Valley, Santa Venetia Marsh in San Rafael and Hal Brown Park at Creekside in Greenbrae.
The key to success is winter rain, and the volunteers are keeping their collective fingers crossed for the predicted wet winter season.
“We have several thousand seedlings that should be planted in the next two months,” says Ring Mountain stewardship coordinator Sarah Minnick. “Last winter was rough. We got all our rain in December, which made it too wet to plant. Then many of the seedlings we planted in January and February didn’t get the rain they needed to establish strong roots.”
Volunteering is low-key and satisfying. It’s a productive way to spend a couple hours outside, and it’s rewarding to know that you’re taking an active hand in managing our beautiful network of trails.
Keeping invasive species down and maintaining a balanced mix of native plants results in numerous environmental benefits. It increases the biodiversity of our region, which means a healthy coexistence between everything from tiny insects to large furry critters. It lowers the risk of fire. It provides a sense of place, the reason why our open grasslands have an entirely different plant community than our redwood groves. Finally, some of our endangered species offer a unique peek at what bloomed on Marin’s hillsides many years ago.
Times have changed, but our desire to catch a glimpse of springtime wildflowers remains. The next time you slip on your hiking boots and set out on your favorite trail, think of the volunteers who are helping to keep that experience alive — and consider joining the cause.