Gardeners take a walk on the ‘wildflower’ side

Celene Vargas
Staff Writer

The Weekend Wildflower Walks at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden takes guests through its garden to experience the beauty of California native wild plants and learn more about their historic uses.

Dawn Thielo, a volunteer for 30 years, led a tour group of about 20 guests on March 22. She interacted with kids and adults, taught them about how Native Americans used some of the plants and made jokes between stories.

“I know this is just a wildflower walk, but I also want to show you guys how you can use these flowers for your own backyard or container garden,” Thielo said.

The garden was originally only a research institute. Thielo said many plants were taken out to make orange groves in the 1920s. This posed a problem because different cures can come from those plants.

She said a team of botanists came together to find a solution and the botanic garden was created.

Thielo mentioned plants are still being taken out but because there is currently a need to build more houses.

The garden also has a repository, a storage unit for plants that are becoming extinct. Workers put the plants in a deep freeze and take them out every once in a while to see if the plants can germinate.

“(My husband and I) like visiting gardens whenever we have a free day,” said Lorie Kraus, a Brentwood resident.

“I like the idea of planting native plants. They don’t need as much water. We’re redoing our backyard.”

Thielo told the group that botanists once thought Dawn Redwood trees were extinct and that all they had left was a fossil.

However, the trees were found to still be alive behind a Chinese monastery in 1945.

At the beginning of the tour, Thielo brought attention to silver tags on the plants. The tags contained information that can be found in an online database.

“You’re walking in a living library,” Thielo said.

The Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden has about 80 acres filled with plants native to California.

When the group stopped at the milkweed plants, Thielo urged them to consider planting milkweed in their gardens. She explained that the monarch butterfly population has decreased over 50 percent, and they are dependent on milkweed to lay their eggs.

Near a long winding path that resembled a rattle snake with its tongue sticking out, Thielo pointed out a desert willow.

She said tribes used it to make baskets and bows because it can bend without snapping easily.

Thielo also pointed out Desperado Sage shrubs. She said some native tribes would dry the sage and use it when a member of their tribe died.

As she guided the group through the garden, Thielo pointed out flowers including purple nightshades and pink fairy dusters.

“(I came here because) I love flowers and being outdoors and I wanted to experience the walk,” said Julie Meza, a San Bernardino resident.

Thielo said if anyone is thinking about starting a garden, he or she should look to see which plants do well in certain environments.

She recommends using the PlantQuest app developed by the botanic garden for this purpose.

Thielo also volunteers at the nursery every Thursday and does tram tours.

The Weekend Wildflower Walks will occur every Saturday at 11 a.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. until May 3.

Celene Vargas can be reached at

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