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Teacher In-Service Workshops

The Role of Native Plants in California’s Ecosystem

offered by

Quail Ridge Wilderness Conservancy (Davis, CA)


Background. In order to conceptualize and carry out effective land management plans and policies in California, it is necessary to develop a public more informed about the ecology and natural history of the state, and to do so within particular bioregions. Without a general understanding of the role of native flora and fauna in maintaining healthy and viable natural ecosytems in California—increasingly at risk as the human population expands—environmental specialists’ efforts at protection and restoration will have limited impact in the long run. It is our belief that the development of a public educated about such matters must start with children in their early school years; yet the teachers of these children have themselves almost never been taught about these matters. This is where QRWC sees itself playing a significant role: in training K-12 teachers in our bioregion about the ecology of this part of California, paying special attention to the role of native perennial grasses in the maintenance of healthy ecosystems in the state and to their great potential, still little exploited, as landscape alternatives to water-hungry grass lawns. Moreover, perennial grasses are vital to the regeneration of many species of oak trees, their presence prevents soil erosion, and their use along major road and highway systems would considerably reduce the need for pesticides and costly disking; this is because established stands of bunchgrasses will out-compete and suppress non-native star thistle (as one example). Though it is not well known, a number of bunchgrass species were managed and selectively used by Native Americans for basket weaving and for food. Development in California over the past 200 years has nearly eliminated perennial grasses throughout the state. Public awareness of the history and usefulness of these grasses and their role in many diverse California habitats is extremely low, and needs to be heightened.

Goals. The principal goal in these workshops is to connect with groups of K-12 teachers (up to 30 in each) from northern California schools in in-service workshops to be conducted on Quail Ridge Reserve, where native plant communities—and especially perennial bunchgrasses—still flourish. QRWC will conduct half-day or one-day workshops for teachers interested in this type of in-service training.

Workshops at Quail Ridge Reserve will provide an introduction to this bioregion’s native trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers and will train participants to recognize non-native invasive plants that are threatening much of the state’s indigenous flora. Participants will learn about the impressive diversity of California’s perennial grasses, will learn to distinguish among a number of species; and they will see how native grasses may be used to control the spread of such invasive plants as star thistle, foxtail, and others by using the principle of plant succession. They will learn about the use of natural biota in conjunction with chemical or mechanical technologies to control weeds, and about the use of xerophytic (drought-tolerant) plants as ornamentals in a state that is semi-arid and often racked by years of drought. They will learn that oak trees in California are seriously declining, which represents a bio-regional environmental change of some magnitude. Bunchgrasses play a crucial role in the regenerative success of many species of oaks, a little known fact that needs to be more widely appreciated. Participants will also learn that the widespread shift in the state from perennial to annual grasses affects certain food sources available for wildlife, since several perennial grass species hold their seeds for months at a time, whereas those of the annual grasses have dropped by June.

Workshop participants will end the day with a good sense of the nature of native plant communities, of the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems and combating non-native invasive plants. They will leave with an excellent grasp of the role of California perennial grasses in promoting the latter; they will know how to identify them and to distinguish them from other sorts of grasses; they will be knowledgeable about their importance to the ecology of a drought-plagued state, and will see how weed-infested or otherwise devastated areas may be replanted with grass seedlings; they will learn of their potential as an alternative to spraying herbicides and disking in weeds. They will gain a new perspective on traditional lawns, having learned of the possibilities of landscaping with bunchgrasses and other xerophytes. Finally, they will learn about the human history of the Quail Ridge area, and how successive cultures in the bioregion have differently utilized the land and its flora and fauna.


Workshop Structure. Teachers will bring notebooks, and, if they wish, tape recorders, camcorders, and/or cameras in order to take notes or otherwise keep a record of the workshop proceedings. Led by QRWC Executive Director Frank Maurer (who holds a Ph.D. in zoology and ecology), participants will walk through portions of Quail Ridge Reserve lands to get a feeling for the range of plants and habitat types there. The principle of plant succession will be emphasized, showing how it may be used in restoration activities, with a particular emphasis on the reintroduction of native perennial grasses, which are especially good at out-competing many non-native invasive plants. Participants will learn to identify a number of different species of these grasses and will learn about the habitat types in which they do best. They will also see first hand the role that bunchgrasses play in the regeneration of native oak trees. Participants may, depending on season, spend a little time collecting perennial grass seed, sowing such seed, collecting or planting acorns, bagging non-native invaders, or other seasonally related activity.

The workshop aims to give both detailed information and a more encompassing understanding of the bioregion’s ecosystem, the impact of human activities on the latter, the problems with invasive non-native plants in the state, and the importance of public awareness in restoring some of California’s former ecological stability and the beauty of its native landscapes.


This program is available for a $500 donation to QRWC.

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