The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is a natural treasure: 7,000 acres of preserved wilderness featuring coastal canyons and Orange County’s only natural lake. However, this oasis does face risks.
Invasive plants, such as thistle, wild mustard and tarragon, constantly threaten to crowd out native trees and flowers, including coastal live oak, sticky monkey flower, white sage, sagebrush and wild rose.
Fortunately, a group of volunteers is collaborating with OC Parks and nonprofit Laguna Canyon Foundation to fight back, removing the invasive plants and planting seeds to restore the native ones. They rely on a native-seed bank that shut down in the midst of the pandemic but reopened just last June.
The nursery was founded in 2003 by Robert Lawson, a passionate local resident who nurtured the first plants in his home. Lawson remained the most dedicated volunteer for several years before he stepped back. Today, other pro bono laborers help pick up weeds, collect seeds, sow them in flats, move plants to larger pots, water them, and plant them back in nature. The plants then help other native wildlife, including mule deer, bobcats and red-tailed hawks.
“A healthy natural ecosystem means more area for those animals,” says Jacky Cordero, deputy director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation. “The nursery helps support that, and now that it’s back open, it’s also really great for the community that can come enjoy the park.”
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is part of The Irvine Ranch, which federal and state agencies have designated a “Natural Landmark” in recognition of its rare habitats and geology.