National Geographic : 1942 Apr
California Says It with Wild Flowers the banks of the river and filled the air with a light and grateful perfume. The hills were purple and orange, with unbroken beds, into which each color was separately gathered." The flower-loving soldier collected plant specimens on all his western expeditions and sent them to the noted botanist Dr. John Tor rey, of New York, for identification. More than a score of California plants today bear Fremont's name, among them the golden blossomed Fremontia californica, or flannel bush, named by Torrey for its discoverer. When John Muir roamed California the plow and the sheep ("hoofed locusts," he called them) had already blacked out vast acreages of color. In the ensuing decades the spread of cities, farms, and highways pushed back the floral frontiers. As the population swelled, a new enemy of natural beauty ap peared-the vandals who swarmed over the few remaining areas each spring, trampling the plants, uprooting them, and filling their cars with the harvest of whole acres. So fast were the wild flowers vanishing by the 1920's that many California counties began passing laws to protect certain species in peril of extinction. Not until 1933, how ever, was protection given to wild plants of all kinds the length and breadth of the State. Sponsored by the Garden Clubs of America, the 1933 statute makes it unlawful to cut, de stroy, mutilate, or remove any native tree, shrub, fern, herb, bulb, cactus, or flower from public lands or from private lands without written permission from the owner. Public education helped save what remains of the State's floral heritage. Law or no law, a Sunday marauder seen nowadays despoiling a field of yellowdaisy tidytips (Layia platy glossa), or owlclover (Orthocarpus purpuras cens-Plate IV) would probably be taken to task by outraged passers-by. The change in people's attitude has been achieved through the educational efforts of garden clubs, civic organizations, individual flower enthusiasts, and even private corpora tions. The Kern County Chamber of Com merce, for instance, has popularized the wild flower slogan: "Enjoy-do not destroy." A similar plea has been made for ten years by a western oil company which distributes annually some 600,000 booklets depicting the better-known wild flowers in color. Of individual efforts to show Californians the value of their native plant resources, per haps none has been more effective than the labors of an English nurseryman, Theodore Payne, who came to California in 1893. In England Payne had known California flowers as the exotic darlings of high-priced gardens. Here in their native place he found that people looked on them as lowly roadside things, to be picked and thrown away. The young immigrant became a crusader on behalf of the forgotten plants. Forty years ago he bought out a nursery in Los Angeles and began building up a stock of California flowers, shrubs, and trees. From the start he did a thriving export business, shipping seeds and plants to England, France, and Germany. It took years of writing, lecturing, and staging exhibits of native flora to create a demand from local customers. Today he has some 400 California wildings under cultivation, and the produce of his ten-acre nursery graces the gardens of many an Angeleno. The Return of a Native Payne exported to England some years ago the white eveningprimrose (Oenothera califor nica), a wild flower of the desert. Recently a prominent Los Angeles attorney invited the nurseryman to his home to inspect some new additions to his garden. "Look at this little beauty," said the attor ney, proudly pointing to a white-flowered plant with ashy-gray foliage. "Yes, desert eveningprimrose," Payne re marked. "Oh, no, I just imported it from England," the attorney protested. He was even prouder of the plant when Payne explained that this was a case of the return of the native. Increas ing devotion on the part of Californians toward their flora has resulted in establishment of sev eral native plant institutions. In Orange County the 225-acre Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, founded in 1927, has the largest collection of California plants assembled in one place. In Mission Canyon, at Santa Barbara, is the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, noted for its springtime blooms of California lilac or blueblossom (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus). A more formal native garden is that of the California Institute of Technology, at Pasa dena, comprising 180 species of shrubs and perennial plants. In public planting, too, the natives are com ing into their own. The right-of-way on either side of the Arroyo Seco Parkway, new high speed freeway between Los Angeles and Pasa dena, is bright with 47 species of plants. Forty-two of these are natives, selected to line the route with color throughout the year. Many communities have taken to sowing wild flowers in the parkways along their streets, as in San Marino, near Los Angeles, where poppies and coreopsis (Plates II and VIII) blaze the main thoroughfare.