January 26, 2015
The natural vegetation of Southern California
The transformation of the flora of Southern California since the 17th Century has been astonishing. From San Diego to Santa Barbara there's is hardly even the tiniest indication of what the natural state was. So if you don't know, and you're just using your imagination, it's understandable. The reality, unfortunately, was pretty awful, and ugly.
You can get glimpses of it on any empty lot in Los Angeles, but if you really want to see Southern California flora in its natural state, I would suggest a visit to the San Diego Botanic Garden (formerly Quail Gardens). This is the only place I've seen that has actually preserved what the original landscape plants looked like.
The last time I was there I made a point to climb up the hill (bad ankle and all) to see it. I would imagine that very few people have any interest in seeing native Southern California vegetation, but I'm interested in both plants and history, so it appealed to me.
When we think of Southern California, especially San Diego, we think of a lush, tropical paradise. Palm trees, flowers, etc. The reality is that all of Southern California is a desert, and the plants that grew there naturally are what most people nowadays would just call weeds.
So take the climb to the top of the hill at the San Diego Botanic Garden and take a look. If you don't stand there looking for very long, I can understand. Other than an intellectual curiosity of what natural Southern California flora looks like, I can't imagine very many people being thrilled by it.
But once you've seen it, and understood it, you will realize how silly it is for people to imagine that Southern California once had some type of magical natural beauty. It was a place that has been transformed from some of the ugliest, weediest, desert areas to the only Southern California most people will ever know.
By the way, I searched images on the internet to see if there were any photos of that part of the San Diego Botanical Gardens. There isn't. You can take a look on satellite view and see quite a lot of it. It's towards the north.
Posted by Brad Hall