Where the Wild Things Thrive

The signs of spring are starting to crop up on campus: buzzing hummingbirds, chirping squirrels, and blooming flowers. UCLA is not just a habitat for Bruins — we share the campus with many wild flora and fauna. As a university located in a region of rich biological diversity —L.A. is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots — UCLA has committed, through its sustainability plan and several other efforts, to helping all living things on campus thrive. And we’re taking that knowledge and research generated on campus grounds to advance biodiversity in our city and across the globe.

Landscape architect Ralph Cornell designed the Westwood campus to be a “college in a garden.” Across the college in a garden’s 400 acres are outdoor spaces home to over 1,700 plants, birds, insects, and other animals. These green places include the 7.5-acre Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden and Sage Hill, a 3.5-acre native California habitat in the northwest corner of campus.

UCLA’s Sustainability Plan takes environmental stewardship on our natural home field further — to keep the “college in a garden” healthy and flourishing. Goals in the plan are particularly critical given our changing climate and concerns like California’s ongoing drought.

The plan’s landscape and biodiversity section covers transitioning landscaping to more climate-resilient plants, more formally developing Sage Hill as an outdoor teaching and research space, supporting native pollinators, and other goals.

Southern California’s persistent drought conditions make converting campus landscaping to native and adapted species with lesser water demand an important aim. Incorporating more drought-tolerant plants keeps the campus green and still conserving water.

Representing the largest remaining patch of native California habitat in West Los Angeles and located in the northwest corner of the campus is Sage Hill. The site, home to native plant species, native mammal species, butterflies, and resident and migratory bird species, is utilized by UCLA faculty and students as an outdoor learning space. The plan is to continue restoring the area and further develop its role, with the help of academic departments across the campus, to make Sage Hill a formal place for teaching and research.

Another campus effort dedicated to advancing biodiversity is the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. The interdisciplinary university-wide initiative aimed at applying UCLA research, expertise, and education to help transform Los Angeles into a sustainable megacity is working with Los Angeles County to move toward a more resilient environment and community for people and native wildlife.

And recently, UCLA joined an international nature coalition created by the UN Environment Programme and the University of Oxford. As a founding member of the Nature Positive Universities Alliance, UCLA, as a higher education institution, commits to taking action to help ecosystems thrive.

Any Bruin, whether headed to class, a meeting or just strolling through the botanical garden, can become a naturalist for the campus. Track what you see at UCLA through iNaturalist and contribute to the campus biodiversity project here. Start practicing those biodiversity observations now – the City Nature Challenge starts in April.

Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds side by side on the UCLA campus.

Celebrate the Holidays with a Toyon Trek

By Liz Kennedy

Director of Ethical Labor and Sustainability at Trademarks & Licensing, ASUCLA

While we all remain vigilant to be safe and not crowded inside during the coming holiday season, the abundance of our natural areas in and around Los Angeles provide endless opportunities to create new traditions in a responsible way. At this special time of year, the Toyon Trek is the perfect way to experience the natural and seasonal beauty of California.

What is a Toyon, you ask? It is a small, super drought-adapted, large shrub/tree with brilliant red berries and deep evergreen leaves. Toyon is a member of the Rose family known also by common names including Christmas Berry or California Holly, and its scientific name Heteromeles arbutifolia. Abundant on many of the trails around UCLA, to the Santa Monica Mountains, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, and Griffith Park, to name just a few, Toyon happens to be the City of Los Angeles’ official plant.

Toyon has earned this designation with a long and illustrious history, in addition to its beauty. Indigenous Californians have used the Toyon berries for food and medicine for millenia. Toyon is an important habitat plant for birds, wildlife, and pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies, who love its small white flowers in the summer. A persistent urban legend credits the resemblance of Toyon to Eastern Holly as having inspired the name Hollywood, but this story has been debunked. Toyon is also protected by law: in the 1920s, the popularity of the vivid red berries on evergreen branches for seasonal décor threatened the plant severely. California State Penal Code Section 384a exists to this day to protect it.

Heading outside to experience this natural color show is a great way to create a new holiday tradition with loved ones and friends safely. Happy Toyon Trekking Holidays!