Virtual Tour of California’s Eco-Regions

I had the opportunity this week to get an intriguing glimpse of the Monterey Bay area’s offering of the California Naturalist Program for 2013. The occasion was a talk on California’s biodiversity, by botanist, ecologist and conservationist Todd Keeler-Wolf.

The presentation was at the UCSC Arboretum, and co-sponsored by the Ray Collett Rare and Extraordinary Plants Lecture Series and the California Naturalist Program. The Arboretum hosts both of these activities.

The California Naturalist Program’s goal is to “foster a committed corps of volunteer naturalists and citizen scientists, trained and ready to take an active role in natural resource conservation, education and restoration.”

Two more important points about the Program: it includes nine talks and nine field trips during and April and May, and the 2013 session is already fully subscribed so latecomers can’t enroll. Keeler-Wolf’s talk was an exception.

If your interests focus on ornamental or edible gardening, this Program might seem a major stretch. Still, even hobby gardening is rooted in science, and organic gardening in particular is strongly connected to environmental protection and conservation. Gardeners are already engaged in these topics.

Keeler-Wolf’s talk about California’s eco-regions underlined the importance of location to success in gardening. We should learn about the native environment of each plant we grow, and strive to match that natural situation or provide something close to it.

A California native plant’s accustomed situation involves more than a region within this state: it includes the specific microclimate in which the plant has evolved to grow well.

Keeler-Wolf described California’s great biodiversity, and the ways in which the state’s eco-regions vary in terms of climate, topography, geology and vegetation. He described the woodland forests, scrublands, and grasslands that exist within California’s Mediterranean climate zone, and explained how they differ and which plants grow in each eco-region.

For example, when viewing a natural area from a distance, as through an airplane window, we see that vegetation on south-facing slopes differs clearly from vegetation on nearby north-facing slopes.

There are many more eco-regions: wetlands, montane conifer forests, subalpine zones, deserts and others. There were too many to remember, but still fascinating! Ultimately, the overall message about the state’s eco-regions has greater significance than the many details. The speaker made the point that the survival of many native plants is closely tied to a very specific natural environment, and when that environment is converted to commercial agriculture or paved over, the plants could be doomed.

You too could be citizen scientist, and discover new dimensions to your interest in gardening. You might even plan to earn a California Naturalist certificate in 2014.

Here is more information about the California Naturalist Program, including the 2013 schedule of lectures and field trips.

UCSC Arboretum’s California Naturalist Program

The University of California’s California Naturalist Handbook






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