In 2017, during one of Southern California’s most devastating fire seasons on record, Theodore Payne Foundation came face to face with the very real threat of wildfire. Although we escaped direct damage, the La Tuna Fire burned 5,000 acres, right up to the edge of our headquarters in the Verdugo Mountains. We evacuated twice and access to the neighborhood of La Tuna Canyon was closed by authorities on multiple occasions due to debris flows and subsequent hazardous conditions.

A silver lining to this frightening experience was that it solidified our resolve to share knowledge and resources about California wildfire. Over the next two years we developed a garden tour, held a lecture series by state-wide experts on post-fire ecologies, designed and installed a native plant garden at our local fire station , and explored the horticultural potential of our local fire following species (see below). In the future, we will continue to focus outreach efforts on helping Southern Californians understand wildfire and all of its nuanced implications, and to give them tools to make the best decisions for their safety, and the health of our native ecosystems.

Conservation and Horticultural Exploration

La Tuna Fire also presented us with an opportunity to observe a unique moment in our local ecosystem. Soon after the fire, rains came and soaked the scorched landscape, and the following spring, the hills burst to life with incredible wildflowers. In the fall of 2018 we were awarded a grant from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust which allowed us collect, conserve and cultivate unique Southern California fire-adapted plants.

Over the course of this project, we stored wild seed in our conservation seed bank and propagated and grew hundreds of plants within our Regeneration Garden. Many of the species represented completely new additions to our landscape, nursery, and seed offerings, including the true form of foothill poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa), short lobed phacelia, (Phacelia brachyloba), locally sourced large-flowered phacelia (Phacelia grandiflora), Kellogs’ snap dragon (Antirrhinum kelloggii), fire poppy (Papaver californicum), and yellow pincushion (Chaenactis glabriuscula).


fire poppy (Papaver californicum)

short lobed phacelia (Phacelia brachyloba)

large flowered phacelia (Phacelia grandiflora)

yellow pincushion (Chaenactis glabriuscula)

foothill poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa)

Kellogs’ snap dragon (Antirrhinum kelloggii)

This program was made possible in part by Edison International.

Illustrations by Edward Lum.