The small-flowered morning glory is a rare native flower, hard to find due to its scarcity and its tiny, quarter-inch blooms. Spotting the Convolvulus simulans in the West Loma Watershed habitat restoration area in the hills above Irvine is significant on its own, but the growth of this native plant is also an important indicator that the ecosystem is starting to rebound and the restoration is working.
The flower was first found by Quinn Sorenson, Irvine Ranch Conservancy research and restoration technician, on a steep slope undergoing restoration planting. In areas like West Loma, Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff and volunteers remove masses of invasive weeds and then plant native seeds and seedlings. However, the small-flowered morning glory sprouted from the remnant soil seed bank – the natural storage of seeds, often dormant, that exists within the soil. Removal of invasive weeds such as black mustard, annual grasses, and non-native thistles often opens up opportunities for native seeds remaining in the soil to grow.
The West Loma Watershed restoration project encompasses more than 63 acres on land owned by the County of Orange. The project is funded by OC Parks, and work on the site began in 2009. The Conservancy selected the site because of its substantial need for weed control and its high potential for successful restoration. Several methods for planting and weed removal are being tested within the project site using many different types of native seeds. The small-flowered morning glory was found throughout a 12-acre area planted in sections with both rare coastal sage scrub habitat and a California native grassland seed mix, much of which was harvested from the Conservancy’s Native Seed Farm. Convolvulus simulans was not planted by the Conservancy, which indicates the seed was already present in the soil seed bank.
A survey conducted by the Conservancy in 2009 found this particular plant species to be in decline within the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, an area of nearly 40,000 acres that stretches from Fremont Canyon near the edge of the Cleveland National Forest down to Crystal Cove State Park. Small-flowered morning glory showing up in the West Loma area indicates resilience of some of the area’s uncommon native species and is an important indicator of success for the Conservancy’s ecosystem restoration efforts.
“We can help nature by removing weeds and restoring native plants, but our ultimate goal is for the land to eventually thrive on its own,” said Michael O’Connell, executive director of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. “The outstanding efforts of our staff and volunteers have literally cleared the way for native plants to once again thrive on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks.”
The public is encouraged to take part in the West Loma habitat restoration project and to participate in native seed harvesting through regularly-scheduled activities organized by the Conservancy. For more information or to sign up, visit www.LetsGoOutside.org/activities.