In an earlier post, I briefly mentioned the California Floristic Province. It's described by Wikipedia as area that includes 70% of California as shown in the picture to the right (also from Wikipedia)
The California Floristic Province is a world biodiversity hotspot as defined by Conservation International, due to an unusually high concentration of endemic plants: approximately 8,000 plant species in the geographic region, and over 3,400 taxa limited to the CFP proper.
Now, hotspot sounds like a great thing. But it really means two things: We have a lot of plants, and they are in great danger. A feature in National Geographic, which you can read here, explains the problem: "All Mediterranean climate regions are beautiful places with great climate where people want to live. California has protected 20 percent of its land—a percentage second only to Alaska. but most reserves are set aside based on scenic values (in high elevations) and lowest economic impact, not on saving the most biodiversity. In fact, only a tiny percentage of the areas where California's hotspot species live is protected."
Locally, we do have conservation success stories. For example, Edgewood Park was set aside as a natural preserve very recently, against strong lobbying of a group that wanted to build a golf course there (50 million gallons of water anyone?). Bay area residents cherish that natural preserve for hiking and looking at wildflowers. It's a great place to take kids in the spring. And there's hope that good management can keep the California natives there alive against the encroaching non-native grasses.
A less happy story (so far) is the Pipe-vine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor), whose larvae feed exclusively on Aristolochia californica (California Dutchman's pipe). That butterfly used to live on the San Francisco Peninsula, but died out. To bring back the butterfly, many native plant gardeners include this vine in their gardens. Eventually, we could bring larvae from the east bay, where the species can still be found, and enjoy this special creature right where we live.
What can that mean for us gardeners? For me, it means the choices I make can change things, even if only in a small way. I choose natives to support the creatures that live here, or even those I'd like to see again. And I choose beautiful plants so others might get inspired to do the same.
On the left, just for fun, is an Aristolochia californica photo from Wikipedia. I'll have my own photo for the next bloom day; my Aristolochia is just starting to bloom. Now I just need the butterflies.