Part of our mission at the Lagoon Foundation is to preserve the Agua Hedionda Lagoon as a healthy and accessible watershed. In this endeavor, we are often challenged by non-native species out-competing local populations. Invasive plant species, in particular, are a serious detriment to local biodiversity, and can upset the routines of already-established plant and animal communities .
Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is a prime example of an invasive plant species with unexpected detriments to local habitats. Originally from Africa, it is unknown when Fountain grass was first introduced to California, but its wind-dispersed seeds and drought-resistance makes it well adapted to our climate . While usually incapable of competing with established flora, P. Setaceum is very adept at quickly inhabiting sites of distressed soil. These sites could include wildfire areas, construction sites, roadways, and habitat restoration projects. This is compounded by the fact that fountain grasses are often purposefully planted in landscapes for their visual appeal.
Species like P. Setaceum, along with other physiologically-similar species like Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana), contribute to increased wildfires . The natural flammability of these grasses leads to a self-feeding cycle of fires followed by intense propagation. Periods of 30-150 years between wildfires is standard for our local sagebrush and chaparral communities . Those fires occurring at intervals shorter than 30 years, partially attributable to these invasive grasses, do not allow native plant species enough time to fully recuperate , often destroying the available seed bank. We are left with vast open spaces; providing fountain grass the opportunity to continue their cycle without competition.
The other half of our mission here at the foundation is to inspire you, as a reader and a part of our community, to protect the Agua Hedionda watershed and prevent the spread of invasive plant species. To learn more about how to plant responsibly, stop by the Discovery Center or read through the California Invasive Plant Council’s recommended planting guide. To become actively involved with our efforts, stop by the Center to volunteer!
 About Invasive Species in California. California Department of Fish and Wildlife. https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Invasives/About
 Society CNP. Why the Fountain Grass Must Go. California Native Plant Society Blog. 2013 Jun 21 https://grownatives.cnps.org/2012/09/26/why-the-fountain-grass-must-go/
 Halsey R. Chaparral Fires. Fire. http://www.californiachaparral.com/fire.html
Photo by JLPC (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons