A new native species demonstration garden in Rancho Mirage, called the Desert Canyon Habitat Garden, provides inspiration, resources [Opinion]

We Can All Help Desert Wildlife, Plants [Opinion]

Desert Canyon Habitat

The summers here in the Coachella Valley are already 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than historical averages, as the dry desert warms much faster than other parts of the planet.

The UCR Center for Conservation Biology has tracked the changes in the local fauna and flora and is seeing changes already. In some cases the results are quite dramatic – for example, most of Joshua Tree National Park is now too hot for new Joshua Trees to grow, so we are witnessing the final generation of these magnificent stands. In other cases, the results are a displacement of species up to higher (and cooler) elevations. But some species, such as those adapted to sand dunes, have nowhere to go.

Additionally, development in the Coachella Valley continues at a rapid rate, erasing habitat for native species. Adjacent disruption also favors invasive species, which displace the native plants and seeds that pollinators, birds, lizards and small mammals depend on. Large expanses of invasive grasses or mustard have no more value to native species than a parking lot does.

Only by preserving the native plants can we keep the full spectrum of life flourishing.

If you are as concerned about these threats to our desert habitats as I am, you are probably wondering how you can help.

There is hope

And the answer is simple: we can provide native habitat in our communities and our backyards. Increasingly homeowners are removing their lawns and replacing them with drought-tolerant plantings. Using native plantings not only saves water and reduces maintenance but also provides refuge for the native animals.

Demonstration gardens show how beautiful native gardens can be. A new 7,500 square foot garden at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert (UUCOD) in Rancho Mirage, open to the public, re-creates the terrain and plants of a desert canyon.

Shortly after construction began, the number of lizard species doubled. As the plants grow pollinators and birds will flourish. This habitat garden is the first of five on the grounds that will recreate native habitats, such as dry wash or creosote scrub, over the next year or two.

Requiring little water and little maintenance, the UUCOD desert canyon habitat demonstration garden is an example of using native plantings in our communities and backyards. Certified as a Sacred Ground by the National Wildlife Federations, it shows how inviting a native garden can be, and encourages residents to create their own native habitat gardens. The demonstration garden includes 25 tons of boulders and over 100 native plants.

Get inspired

The upcoming dedication features several notable speakers, including Dr. Cameron Barrows of UCR Center for Conservation Biology, Lisha Astorga of Desert Strawhouse, Elizabeth Ogren Erickson of the Community Science Collaborative, and Rev. Barbara Fast. There will also be an Exhibitors Fair afterward, and native plants for sale.

Motivated with ideas from the California Naturalist program at UCR Palm Desert, the garden was created by members of UUCOD and is intended to inspire communities and residents to provide needed habitat for our native plants and animals.

The public is invited to the Jan. 7 dedication at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. The dedication includes a short service in the church sanctuary explaining our interconnectedness and interdependence with all of life and ends with an Exhibitor Fair on the UUCOD labyrinth. Exhibitors include the Desert Strawhouse, the Community Science Collaborative, the California Native Plant Society, the Living Desert, Oswit Land Trust, and the Chuckwalla National Monument.





Image Sources

  • Demonstration Gardens: Diane Carmony