Environment & Science

Finding a native plant oasis at the Theodore Payne Foundation

California poppies at the Theodore Payne Nursery
California poppies at the Theodore Payne Nursery
Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

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Unless you planted and grew all of your backyard's greenery by hand, it's unlikely you know what to call that sweet, sticky fruit that falls from the tree by your fence, or if that sage-smelling bush by your door is actually safe to eat. Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson didn't, either, so he took a few leaves and twigs from the new-to-him backyard and presented them to local plant expert Lili Singer. Singer works for the Theodore Payne Foundation - a nonprofit nursery devoted to cultivating and advocating for all fauna native to Southern California.

"You brought more than you expected actually, the sage is a sage – it's Salvia mellifera, also known as black sage," Singer said, adding that the plant was native to the very hills surrounding the nursery.

"And what you didn't realize you brought in is something called spittle bug – this little mound of fuzz that looks like spit right here is actually the home of a little larval insect."

Within seconds of looking at them, Singer identified each of the backyard plants – some British rue, a South African flower, a Brazilian pineapple guava tree. All drought tolerant plants ideally suited to survive California's long, dry summers.

Singer's vast horticultural expertise is just one of the many things that make the Theodore Payne Nursery unique, tucked neatly away in the hills of Sun Valle.

The Nursery is home to hundreds of different plants – including the beloved California poppy. Singer says the poppy is a great choice for the home garden, and a great choice for the California state flower.

She wishes she could say the same thing for Los Angeles' official flower and tree – the Bird of Paradise and a coral tree. "They're both gorgeous plants, but wouldn't it be nice to have some natives there?"

Saturday, the Theodore Payne Foundation celebrates the humble poppy with their annual Poppy Day plant sale. You can go to the Foundation's website to find out more information about the plant sale, and hear about upcoming events, like the foundations eighth annual native plant garden tour, coming up next month.