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GARDEN FANATIC: A walk along the shore to think

The beach at Crystal Cove has long been a favorite of mine — a walk that gives me great pleasure to share. It felt a bit strange to find myself walking alone past the refurbished bungalows; however, I felt invigorated and fulfilled.

The rugged cliffs that separate the beach from the highway seem dry and taciturn at first. Study them a bit more carefully and the plants that cling tenaciously to the rocky face form a community. They protect the thin layer of soil from erosion and provide a safe haven and food source for small animals.

Just a few meters from human habitation, this beach environment can be harsh and forbidding. Limited species can tolerate the combination of wind, sand, salt and scarcity of water, and call it home. Imagine yourself living at the seashore indefinitely without shelter, food and water.

The grayish foliage of salt bush (Atriplex spp.) is the most common member of the Crystal Cove community. It will grow where less hardy plants stand no chance of surviving. Physiologically adapted to tolerate high levels of salinity and alkalinity, it will even grow in the sand.


The showy white, bell-shaped flowers of Jimson Weed (Datura spp.) contrast sharply with its drab surroundings. The dry cliffs are a preferred locale for this hardy species. Watch out for this one — it is poisonous.

St. Catharine’s Lace is a native Buckwheat (Eriogonum giganteum) from the islands of Santa Catalina and San Clemente. Possessing needle-like leaves, it is able to resist the extreme environmental conditions and its roots hold on tenaciously to the soil. The Buckwheat’s pinkish-white flowers are a welcome source of food with a number of pollinating insects.

The yellow flowers of Scotch Broom (Cytisus spp.) are easily recognizable as members of the pea family. Exotics that have ventured from home landscapes, they are another important source of food for birds and insects.

Castor bean (Ricinus communis) seems out of place by the beach, but it is tough enough to naturalize itself. Commonly found in neglected areas throughout Laguna, it has also happily migrated down to the beach.


The last two weeks before the new year have been a respite from the vagaries of life, a time for family and friends. The walk along the beach was a safe place to muse about the future. In the end, we must hold tight to the ones we love, while affirming our pursuit of personal happiness. See you next time.

STEVE KAWARATANI is happily married to award winning writer Catharine Cooper, and has four dogs. He can be reached at (949) 497-8168, or e-mail to