Did you know that our local coast prickly pear cactus is both a slow grower and a critical component of wildlife habitat? These iconic plants with their large, flat pads and colorful blooms can take a decade to grow just a couple of feet high. Yet mature-growth cactus is the primary nesting site for the coastal cactus wren, a species of special conservation concern in Southern California.
So when residential development was set to begin in the hills near Irvine, a unique partnership among the developer, land manager and conservation groups resulted in more than 100 mature plants being saved and relocated to nature preserve areas within the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Not only did this project save plants that were estimated to be 30 years old, the relocated cactus enhanced habitat for the coastal cactus wren in habitat restoration areas.
A network of resources formed by this partnership resulted in 144 large cactus plants and nearly 1,200 cactus pads being relocated and planted in just over a week’s time. The plants were relocated to habitat restoration areas in the City of Irvine Open Space Preserve, Buck Gully Reserve in the City of Newport Beach, and the West Loma Ridge restoration area near OC Parks’ Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve.
The source of the mature cactus was near IRC’s original Native Seed Farm site in the Orchard Hills area of Irvine. The area burned in the 2007 Santiago Fire, but many cactus plants were either missed or burned lightly. The Irvine Company donated the burned site to use as the seed farm, and now that the land is being developed, both the cactus and the seed farm have been relocated to improved sites (read more about the new Native Seed Farm here).
Sites were selected based on locations of existing coastal cactus wren populations. These little birds are not strong fliers and prefer large cactus for nesting. The large plants were located where the coastal cactus wren population could easily spread from nearby occupied areas. The project itself was based on a similar and successful project performed by the Natural Communities Coalition last year. That project utilized cactus salvaged from the Portola Springs area of Irvine.
Ongoing stewardship activities in these habitat restoration areas will help support this successful project, and you can volunteer to help. Visit www.LetsGoOutside.org/activities to participate.