April Showers

Bring May Flowers

April 2020

Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea)

We’re already seeing flowers popping up across Alameda County, but with climate change, there’s been a disruption in natural cycles and the introduction of invasive species has crowded out many of our native plants.

California is a Mediterranean climate which means we have a long summer dry season and wet winters. This pairs with cycles of multi-year drought - like the one that we officially broke last March – to make an incredibly unique climate that sparks a cornucopia of biodiversity. 

Data from cnrfc.noaa.gov

Historically, April is the end of our rainy season with the majority of our rainfall in December, January, and February. This February, however, was the driest on record in Northern California and may be foreshadowing for the start of another multi-year drought. The possibility of another devastating drought so soon may be alarming. Droughts can cause problems from agricultural issues to wildfires, which are all devastating to human infrastructure.

The frequency of California’s droughts is concerning, but it isn’t all bad news. In Southern California, the drought lasted long enough and was severe enough, it lessened the density of invasive weeds that dominate wild lands across the state. Invasive species are plants (and animals) that crowd out native ones, resulting in loss of biodiversity and an unbalanced ecosystem. The decline in these smothering weeds was one of the many key factors that gave way to an epic super-bloom that erupted last spring. 

Many wondered why this riot of floral color didn’t extend to the Bay Area. The short answer is, we’re too wet. With a less severe drought, the invasive grasses that create monocultures in our foothills were able to make it through. When we got a little extra rain steadily over the winter, it simply rejuvenated the struggling weeds which continued to crowd out our native flowers.

Weed, Don’t Seed

Fumitory (fumaria), a common weed at the Oakland Zoo
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), a California native wildflower

To weed or not to weed - Can you tell the difference?

It becomes clear that the key to restoring our native habitats is not adding to our wildlands, but instead taking away. In areas that aren’t disturbed as much by human development, the native seedbank – native seeds in the soil – is still ready and waiting for the right conditions to come alive. If we create that space by removing invasive weeds, we are letting the dormant seeds access the nutrients and water in the area and sprout forth.

This, however, is usually not enough in your garden. Because the soil in your yard is likely so disturbed by human development, it may need a little help to become a native habitat again. By planting regionally native plants, you are restoring your backyard to its natural state which will not only survive through multi-year droughts with significantly less water, but also provide a pocket habitat for many native animals.

Show Us Your Blooms

Take photos of your native blooms and post them on social media. Tag us @oakzoo and use #pollinators #takingaction. We’ll feature some of our favorite blooms in our June Newsletter.