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Restoration Project Yields Flowers Not Seen in OC in 50 Years


OCTA recently approved grant funding for expansion of successful project on West Loma Ridge.

The last time the Great Valley phacelia was spotted in Orange County, John F. Kennedy was president. Now, an Irvine Ranch Conservancy habitat restoration project on Loma Ridge near Irvine has allowed this native plant’s dormant seeds to come alive again. The 63-acre project includes removal of non-native plants as well as planting native seeds, and the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) recently approved nearly $1.3 million in grant funding to advance the Conservancy’s work in the West Loma watershed.

The Phacelia ciliata was discovered by Fred Roberts, a botanical consultant with more than 25 years of field experience surveying rare plants in southern California. Roberts, who is Rare Plants Co-Chair of the Orange County Chapter of the California Native Plants Society, performed surveys in West Loma, where the rare small-flowered morning glory was spotted just last month. The West Loma project area is home to the largest population of small-flowered morning glory (Convolvulus simulans) growing in Orange County, according to Roberts’ research.

The resurgence of these two native plants is an important indicator that the ecosystem is starting to rebound and the habitat restoration project is working. In areas like West Loma, Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff and volunteers remove masses of invasive weeds and then plant native seeds and seedlings. However, these two native plants 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 currently funded mainly by OC Parks, and work on the site began in 2009. OCTA had previously awarded funding to the Conservancy’s restoration project in Bee Flat Canyon and Aqua Chinon, and in May the OCTA Board of Directors approved Measure M2 Freeway Environmental Mitigation Program Restoration Funding for an expansion of the West Loma project across the 241 toll road as well as for an additional restoration project in Silverado Canyon. OCTA selected the project based on its high potential to support similar vegetative communities lost to freeway projects, increase habitat connectivity for wildlife, and restore habitat for species that are considered sensitive.

The Conservancy originally selected the West Loma site for restoration because of its accessibility, its potential to increase habitat connectivity for wildlife, and its substantial need for weed control restoration. Several methods for planting and weed removal are being tested within the project site using many different types of native seeds. The area is planted with seeds collected locally and from the Conservancy’s Native Seed Farm. Since Convolvulus simulans and Phacelia ciliata were not planted by the Conservancy, they clearly emerged from long-lived seed in the soil seed bank.

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