Last year when Habitat Restoration Director, Donna Ball, proposed a project for Save The Bay’s restoration team to plant 70,000 native plants on an experimental horizontal levee I thought, this sounds near impossible….let’s do it! And with that, we hit the ground running, in preparation for what would be the biggest and most ambitious project Save The Bay’s restoration team had ever attempted.
Over the past 16 years Save The Bay has engaged thousands of volunteers to plant roughly 30-50,000 plants each winter. This year the Horizontal Levee Project at the Oro Loma Sanitary District, combined with our work at various sites around the Bay, will top 100,000 native plants being installed in our restoration projects. But how could we possibly do it? That was the task I was given. To work with our nursery manager, Jessie Olson, to collect, propagate, and outplant tens of thousands of plants.
Getting creative with rhizomes
With our nurseries already at capacity for our other restoration projects, we needed to get creative in order to be able to propagate the 70,000 plants. That’s where ecologist Peter Baye’s help comes in. With his extensive knowledge of the Bay’s ecology, native flora, and restoration practices, he advised Save The Bay’s restoration team on how and where to collect certain plant species and how to propagate the plants using rhizomal divisions.
The idea was fairly simple. Instead of growing individual species in separate containers, we would grow the rhizomatous species in raised beds that we would later dig up, divide, and transplant on site. What exactly is a rhizome? If you missed my previous blog, a rhizome if a modified stem that grows horizontally underground and produces new shoots above ground. It’s almost like they clone themselves.
4 million seeds and counting
With the plan set, we started collection in the field. We had ambitious goals to collect thousands of rhizomes and over 4 million seeds. With collection permits from various parks and reserves, the restoration staff dug up rhizomes and collected ripe seed starting Fall 2014.
During this time, we also went to work building a dozen raised beds on site at Oro Loma. After collecting in the field, the rhizomes were then planted into the raised beds. Our all star volunteers and restoration fellows were of crucial help throughout the collection and transplanting process. Once the beds were planted, all there was left to do was wait for them to do their thing. And they did. Six months later, the small rhizome fragments spread out and produced new shoots, densely filling the raised beds.
Ambitious planting goals
With half of the project accomplished, we were then faced with a bigger challenge, outplanting 70,000 plants… This is where I had to develop new strategies. To aid the restoration staff, I recruited a volunteer planting crew. Lucky for us we had three amazing people join our team for three months, Kelly Franson, Paula Pieriea, and Kelly Hood. We trained them on our restoration techniques and set off with the Horizontal Levee Project Kickoff event on November 14, 2015.
With 2,300 plants installed on the first day, we were off to a good start.
Each day thereafter our staff, all-star volunteers, and planting crew worked rain or shine harvesting rhizome divisions from our raised beds and planting them in a specific planting plan outlined with color coded flags on site. Several public volunteer programs helped our efforts as well as workdays with other restoration teams from around the Bay, including The Presidio Trust and Acterra. Two and a half months later we planted the final plant on the horizontal levee.
What seemed nearly impossible was complete. From the field to the raised beds, to the horizontal levee these plants have had an amazing journey, and so has Save The Bay’s restoration team. We are all proud to have been a part of this innovative project that takes a multi-pronged approach to filter our wastewater and prepare for rising seas, all while providing crucial native habitat at the Bay’s edge.
Learn more about the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project:
Experimental Living Levee Could Battle Rising Bay Tides — NBC Bay Area