Project Highlights

We are proud to be a premier institution for botanical science and conservation, both at the Garden and further afield. Our major activities include the following: conservation horticulture; seed banking; rare plant and habitat surveying, monitoring, and collecting; characterizing, evaluating, and distributing useful plants; environmental restoration; conservation planning; and science outreach and education.

SDBG’s Science and Conservation projects are innovative in the ways they merge efforts that are conventionally done in isolation – conservation combined with education, habitat protection with horticulture, and wild plant botany with food security. They are similarly exciting in the ways they bring together local, state, and national agencies and governments, like-minded community and nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, and industry partners to work for people and for the planet.

Don’t miss our project updates! Sign up for our Science & Conservation newsletter today.

Survey, Study, and Propagation of Rare and Special Plants in the Otay Mountain Wilderness

Dates: January 2022 – December 2024

Funding Source(s): US Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management

Scope of Work: On federal lands around Otay Mountain Wilderness in southern San Diego County, SDBG is surveying, collecting and conserving, and propagating a fascinating set of rare plants that grow only in the US-Mexico borderlands. Combining conservation efforts with educational programming, this project will deliver an ecological baseline and conservation strategy for preserving San Diego’s unique biodiversity in an important public-use and open space watershed. SDBG will collect, conserve, and study seeds from 10 different rare plant species to develop propagation methods.

Updates through March 2022: SDBG has begun collecting field data from these target species, as well as seeds for propagation trials.

Key Partners: Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Evaluating Lepechinia ganderi (Gander’s pitcher sage) as a Native Ornamental in San Diego County

Dates: January – December 2022

Funding Source(s): Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust

Scope of Work: SDBG will evaluate a rare, aromatic, flowering shrub native to southern San Diego County and northern Baja California – Lepechinia ganderi Epling, also known as San Diego pitcher sage or Gander’s pitcher sage – for its potential to become a new ornamental plant in the horticultural trade, and thus available for cultivation in gardens around San Diego and beyond.

Updates through March 2022: SDBG has been identifying unique and attractive individuals of this species on Otay Mountain from which to make selections for horticultural cultivation.

Cottonwood Creek Watershed Riparian Enhancement Project at Ocean Knoll Canyon

Dates: December 2021 – February 2024

Funding Source(s): California State Coastal Conservancy and Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Coastal Conservancy is a California state agency, established in 1976, to protect and improve natural lands and waterways, to help people get to and enjoy the outdoors, and to sustain local economies along California’s coast. It acts with others to protect and restore, and increase public access to, California’s coast, ocean, coastal watersheds, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Its vision is of a beautiful, restored, and accessible coast for current and future generations of Californians.

Scope of Work: Enhance and restore more than half of Ocean Knoll Canyon, public land that is located adjacent to Ocean Knoll Elementary School in Encinitas, CA. The canyon is an important section of the Cottonwood Creek Watershed. Under the project, SDBG and its partners will improve 4.6 acres of the riparian habitat, a multi-benefit ecosystem that is both a refuge for native coastal plants and animals and an area that holds high potential educational value for thousands of children in the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD).

Updates through March 2022: Since project launch, SDBG staff, volunteers, and partners have removed over 100 cubic yards of invasive plant material from Ocean Knoll Canyon. Staff and volunteers have also begun propagation of native plants for installation next winter using seeds and cuttings collected in the canyon.

Key Partners and Stakeholders: SWCA Environmental ConsultantsNature CollectiveHabitat WestRed Tail EnvironmentalMoosa Creek NurseryUrban Corps San Diego County,  EUSDOcean Knoll Elementary SchoolEUSD Farm Lab,  City of Encinitas

Encinitas Habitat Stewardship Program, Cottonwood Creek Stewardship and Restoration

Dates: April 2020 – March 2022

Funding Source(s): City of Encinitas

Scope of Work: Restore 15.6 acres of open spaces adjacent to Cottonwood Creek and Encinitas Boulevard in Encinitas, CA. SDBG staff and volunteers are working to remove invasive species from sensitive habitats, improve the sites with signage and erosion mitigation, and effectively revegetate significant portions of the natural area behind Cottonwood Creek Park with native plants. These activities improve endangered bird habitat, reduce fire hazards by reducing weeds, improve the seasonal beauty of the trail by planting more flowering native plants, and improve the public’s safety by working with the City to document hazards.

Updates through June 2021: Total of 666 person hours (half staff, half volunteer) preparing for and removing invasive plants, including pre-clearance nesting bird surveys. SDBG staff and volunteers have removed more than 50 Acacia sp., nearly 2.5 acres of ice plant, two Myoporum laetum, more than four dozen toxic castor oil plants (Ricinus communis), more than a dozen tree tobacco plants (Nicotiana glauca), more than one dozen large Opuntia ficus-indica, more than 0.4 acres of coast morning glory (Ipomoea cairica), one acre of annual invasives (Gleibionis coronariumCentaurea melitensis), more than half an acre of nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), and multiple Arundo donax. Using plants collected within the Garden’s natural areas, as well as plants obtained in collaboration with partners, SDBG staff and volunteers have restored the habitat by planting 1,350 native plants. SDBG’s staff and volunteers have put more than 200 hours into plant installation and many more into propagule sourcing, plant production, and post installation plant care. Among the natives planted, SDBG has installed six wild-collected, endangered Quercus dumosa in the Cottonwood Creek Park restoration site. With this planting, SDBG has created a new occurrence of an endangered species, and the related data has ben sent to the California Natural Diversity Database.

Collaborating Partners: Nature CollectiveCalifornia Botanic Garden, Cottonwood Creek Conservancy

Collaborative Projects with Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Dates: ongoing

Scope of Work: Examine the genomes of interesting plants in SDBG’s collections and forward joint research and related education. Currently, SDBG is working with Salk Institute to interpret the entire cork oak (Quercus suber) genome for the first time. Cork is particularly good at capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it, because a major component of cork is the substance suberin. Suberin is highly unlikely to break down under most circumstances, so the suberin in cork roots is able to sequester CO2 underground for a very long time. Since all plants produce suberin, SDBG and Salk are working to make widely-grown crop plants, like corn and soybean, manufacture more suberin in their roots, so that crop production will contribute to the mitigation of climate change through increased carbon sequestration. The Garden is also working with Salk to sequence species of the genus Fouquieria, specifically the boojums. These plants have fascinating adaptations to desert life, including unique regulation of photosynthesis, and this research will contribute to understanding how photosynthesis is optimized to the driest climates. In March 2020, Salk and SDBG co-hosted a two-day symposium, the Carbon Plant Drawdown Symposium, where scientific leaders from around the world gathered to present cutting-edge, plant-based innovations that use photosynthesis, the process during which plants absorb CO2, to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Key Partners: Salk Institute for Biological Studies Harnessing Plants Initiative

Links to additional information: Carbon Plant Drawdown Symposium 2020 program and videos of presentations.

Protecting Pollinators with Economically Feasible and Environmentally Sound Ornamental Horticulture

Dates: 2016 – ongoing

Funding Source(s): US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research and Extension Investments

Scope of Work: Research project investigates pollinator attractiveness to commercially-produced ornamental plants. Specifically, the project is documenting if and how many of the more than 650 bee species native to San Diego County will pollinate the ornamentals plants.

Key Partners: University of California Cooperative Extension

Links to additional information: Overview of Protecting Bees, the nationwide research program to which this projects contributes.