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When I visited my grandparents for Thanksgiving a couple weeks ago, we took a family hike up in the chaparral region near Ojai and Lake Casitas. Growing up we visited that area incredibly frequently, but I had not been there in over 3 years! My grandparents had lived there for many years and I was very familiar with the trees and the wildlife that live there. If you have never visited, I highly recommend it. It is an incredibly beautiful example of our native California wildlife and of the incredible native plant species. While we were hiking we saw quails, migrating birds, pomegranate trees, mistletoe, California live oaks, western sycamore trees, coyote bush, and many other plants and animals.

Lake Casitas boat ramp far from the water level

But as we walked, it became increasingly apparent that the California drought we have been experiencing has taken a toll on the native plants. While the open grasslands were beautiful and amber colored, the dry grasses only scratched the surface of the lack of water. The drought is evident in the withered plants, in the stressed leaves, and in the dry grasses. Then there were the trees that broke up the dry grasses. The tall oak and western sycamore trees and others broke up the dry yellowed stalks of grasses. But their green leaves were curled up or clustered in small bunches. Many trees had lost a good majority of their leaves prematurely—not due to fall. Those that were still with leaves upon closer inspection had marks of struggle, the leaves were browned or broken or insect eaten/diseased. These trees are fighting so hard to survive in an extended four year (at least) extreme drought period!

Unlike humans and animals, plants are relatively local; they can’t get up and leave. Plants may loose their leaves but if the environment or the surrounding circumstances get rough they don’t really have an option. They are rooted. For all wildlife the drought has added stresses, for humans we’ve had to monitor more our water consumption and sacrifice the green lawns, for birds and other wild animals (coyotes being one) they’ve had to find new sources of water or come into more contact with humans and our man-made water sources. . . But what about plants? Plants can’t really “control” their environment like us or animals. So what do they do? How do they respond to stress?

Some common signs of stress (often for both over-watering and drought) are:

Plants near dry river bed
  • Wilted or drooping leaves that remain even as the sun goes down and temperature cools

  • Curled or yellow leaves that fold or drop

  • Greyish foliage that has lost its green luster

  • Smaller than normal new leaves

  • Signs of increased pests or disease

Now this is not an exhaustive list, and it is only the super observable things. . .  Scientists look much closer at the microscopic and internal running of the plants to get a better idea of how plants respond to drought. For more information check out these articles and get a more in-depth look at the Drought and it’s impact and current/on-going research on the drought’s influences on plants and animals:

Proposed Study of Drought Responses by Botanist

Drought Tolerant Plant Care

LA Times Article on Watering

How to Spot Stress in Your Plants

Impacts of Drought and Climate Change: Researching Plants

Drought and Animal Responses

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