City Nature Challenge Wrap-up

The City Nature Challenge is over! I can’t wait until next year, to check up on how these plants are doing. And to add a few more to my collection.

Palos Verdes has a few ecological zones; the benefits of having a hill near the ocean. The plants that grow across it are often California native plants, with a special emphasis on the plants that grow well in the desert. Bonus points if they’re quick at re-sprouting after a landslide. The broadest area is the stretch of ocean-front cliffs, bearing mostly short grasses, spiky cacti, and lemonade berries. Then there’s the ocean-facing hillsides, with plenty of flowering plants and a surprising mix of wild herbs (fennel, mustard, and rosemary, anyone?). Finally, we have the hills facing away from the darkness – and usually hidden from the sun. Pine, acacia, palm, and other trees stretch their leaves up high and into the sun.

I was intending this weekend to be focused on getting to know some of the main plants in each of these micro-climates. As these things go, I ended up discovering that there are a ton of plants I should have noticed, but hadn’t quite taken the time to pick out from between other plants. That darn mustard covers everything. I didn’t end up getting quite as many species as I thought I would… but I did learn about many that I simply hadn’t expected. Jade plant grows on the hill naturally? In more than one spot? And there’s fennel?

I may not even wait till next year. It’s time to learn the names of all the plants around me.

Be sure to check out my latest guided meditation!

The Quiet of the High Desert Mindful Foliage

All in all, I recorded observations on 20 species:

  • Common Ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans)
  • Western Coastal Wattle (Acacia cyclops)
  • potentially Coyote Brush (Rhopalomyia californica)
  • Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana)
  • Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgara)
  • Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
  • Striped Treasure Flower (Gazania linearis)
  • Nopal Tapon Cactus (Opuntia robusta)
  • Sumac (Rhus)
  • Southern California Walnut (Juglans californica)
  • Paper Daisies (Gnaphalieae)
  • Crystalline Ice Plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum)
  • Pinkladies (Oenothera speciosa)
  • White Clover (Trifolium repens)
  • Castor Bean (Ricinus communis)
  • Black Mustard (Brassica nigra)
  • Jade Plant (Crassula ovata)
  • Bull Mallow (Malva nicaeensis)

Above are the four areas that I visited.
To see the city’s observations during the challenge, check out the iNaturalist explore page!

Saturday morning, I started with a little stroll. There’s a whole plethora of plants that grow on the hillsides around here, many of them native species. The black mustard was thriving on every surface. It appears every year in rolling waves of yellow blooms. I’m sure there must have been more plants hidden between the mustard, but it’s impossible to see in places. I shall do my part to make home-made mustard and slowly cut down this menace.

Where the black mustard doesn’t grow, you can find rosemary in a never-ending line. There must be hundreds of individual rosemary plants, but they grow so thickly that it seems to be one giant shrub on each hill. Only the trees and taller cacti can really be seen growing above them, so I set to work identifying those too.

A few species of cacti live around the area; cholla by the beach, prickly pear up in the hills. The prickly pear(s) are especially widespread… though I hadn’t realized until now that we have a couple dominant species here, and they each have a favorite area. Closer to the salt of the water, thin prickly pears with large spines dominate. Up in the hills, the Opuntia are much thicker-leaved, and have smaller spikes. They also seem to bloom and make fruit every couple of months! Meanwhile, the cholla cactus has a few stalwart representatives down along the scree below the cliff face, where the prickly pear doesn’t tread.

The succulents are a little more sparse, and seem to have grown from loose bits of peoples’ gardens. Down the hill from some balconies, you can find soap aloe growing in a few patches. At the base of a canyon, near where it intersects a road, you can find a thick gathering of jade plants growing in the shade of some trees. After this contest ended, I also realized there were some jade patches below the acacia trees elsewhere. I wonder how well they get along elsewhere on the hill!

Along the edges of the road grow the more wild (and sometimes edible) plants. Castor beans, fennel, treasure flowers. The treasure flowers are a delight to watch. Their petals spread wide and proud whenever sunlight is falling on them, and curl to a tight close when in shade. It’s easy to tell when the plants are awake and when they’re asleep!

Once again, I’m left realizing that I know much less than I expected about the nature around me. More than I did before this weekend, certainly, but less than when I didn’t know we had so many edible plants growing here.

Check out my new book, The Horses Mouth! Available on kindle and in paperback.
It’s been a while since people have heard from a Genie…

Who Won?

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s City Nature Challenge is no longer a competition. Instead, we want to embrace the healing power of nature and encourage the collaborative aspect of the CNC. The big three results, highlighted here, are for the total number of observations, species, and people who participated, all around the world. Below, you will find the contributions of each city to these total numbers. Participating cities have adjusted to rapidly changing circumstances and some of them have been under strict quarantine. We celebrate the ingenuity of CNC organizers and participants alike in documenting nature in their cities.”
iNaturalist Collective Results







Congratulations to everyone who took part! I’m always so happy when a big number of people turn out for nature. There’s no real prize involved, no serious competition. There’s not even bragging rights, “I saw more plants than you!” This kind of pure competition is such a relief. I’d even say it wasn’t a competition or a challenge, but an any-excuse-to-go-outside kind of event.

That’s a heck of a lot of nature recorded by a heck of a lot of people! This averages out to a bit more than 20 observations per person.

If you had some interesting observations be sure to drop a link below!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you had a pleasant time checking out the plants. If you’re in the mood for more nature, please stay in touch!


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