The Aster family (Asteraceae) is one of the largest plant families in the world, with nearly 24,000 unique species. These plants are also known as “composite” flowers, since their flower heads are usually made up of a cluster of tiny flowers surrounded by larger petals. Each of these minute clustered flowers forms a seed, and at the Irvine Ranch Conservancy Native Seed Farm, those seeds are ready to be harvested. Native asters are some of the last blooming flowers of the season, so you can see the final pops of wildflowers while helping restore native habitat across the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks.
Volunteering at the Native Seed Farm is easy, and is even open to kids ages 8 and up. Volunteers receive training in native plant identification, information on how plants reproduce, and background on where the seeds go after they are harvested. All tools and training are provided, and the activities take place before the day gets too warm. Right now, there are three different aster species ready to be harvested at the farm:
Sand Aster (Corethrogyne filaginifolia) : While there are many species in the Aster family, this native species is listed in the California Native Plant Society Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants. The flower heads are small, with light purple petals around a bright yellow cluster of smaller florets. Many native pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, are attracted to these showy little plants.
Slender-Leaved Cliff Aster (Malacothrix saxatilis) : This sturdy plant is endemic (limited) to California, and thrives on rocky slopes. In fact, its name comes from the Greek words for “soft and delicate” and “growing among rocks.” Despite the dainty flowers, this hardy species helps beat out the weeds in restoration sites.
In addition to the California Goldenrod, two other aster family golden flowers can also be seen right now at the farm: Palmer’s Goldenbush (Ericameria palmeri) -- another species endemic to California -- and Coastal Goldenbush (Isocoma menziesii).
Native Seed Farm activities happen every Wednesday and Saturday morning through September. Click here for a list of upcoming events and to register. Pre-registration is required for this volunteer opportunity, and ages 8 and up are welcome (minors must be accompanied by an adult).