Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wild world

Walk on the wild side:  Tenderloin swallowtail tour
Original twitter at UN Plaza: not human-made “short burst of inconsequential information” limited to 140 characters variety located in mid-Market.

Last week, I joined an "Unlikely Habitat: A Tenderloin Swallowtail Tour" walk of Civic Center/Tenderloin led by Elizabeth Stampe of Walk SF ( and Amber Hasselbring of Nature in the City (  As part of the Green Connections project ( to design a network of green streets to open spaces throughout the City, Elizabeth focused on people-friendly habitat and Amber focused on wildlife-friendly habitat. Together, we had our senses searching for survival needs like SWAN (Sunlight, Water, Air, Nutrients), food, shelter and safety. We also noted threats like food deserts, air and noise pollution from car traffic, litter, street altercations, etc. and discussed opportunities for improving walking conditions and greening streets/parks to enhance the quality of life for people and wildlife (butterflies, birds and bees). (See
We met at Heart of the City Farmers' Market ( on a cloudy Sunday so the sun-loving butterflies didn’t come out. Here Amber showed us a photo of western tiger swallowtail butterfly (,,
and  Amber said that the swallowtail butterfly lays eggs in sycamore, cherry and willow trees in stream corridors. The Civic Center has many London plane trees, which are a sycamore hybrid, so there’s potential for a river corridor along Market, but it’s missing nectar so it can feed only in the early life stage, and it’s a food desert in the adult stage. This is an opportunity to plant dandelion, thistles, and buckwheat. Amber pointed out different habitats in the life cycle of a butterfly. Caterpillars, which are ravenous feeders, need leafy foods. Butterflies favor tithonia (Mexican sunflower), zinnias and asters—all flower heads with multiple florets that serve as landing pads where they can rest, sip nectar and pollinate.
Elizabeth noted how this open space in front of City Hall “works” for people engaged in breathing + moving exercise in sync with red lotus flower. I remember this as site of the huge Victory Garden during 2008 Slow Food Conference when I met Tree!
Amber pointed out these puddles as source of water for butterflies that look for water in hidden places where their young can be safe.
Please Touch Community Garden is a habitat especially suited for Lighthouse for Blind and Visually Impaired as plants are selected for touch and smell (see  Our stop made me think about how butterflies and moths are like day and night. Butterflies are active in the day, attracted to bright colors like red, yellow, orange, pink and purple. Moths take flight at night, relying more on odors and sounds, rather than vision to get around.
Nella opened up the gate to Tenderloin People’s Community Garden (, open 2 hours each day from Monday to Friday. In 2010, following a summit on hunger, the Garden was established with dirt from Recology and after surveying the community on what to plant. Last year, 3,000 pounds of vegetables were given to 400 people in the neighborhood, on a first-come, first-served basis. It has become so popular that the weekly harvest is now done twice a month, and they will expand off-site in two rooftop gardens, designed by the community and tenants (
Nella is also active in their Food Justice program, working to transform their food desert by turning tobacco/liquor stores to healthy corner stores with fresh produce; getting the non-profit Heart of the City Farmers’ Market to open on Friday beginning in August (in addition to Wednesday and Sunday); and collecting unsold produce from Farmers’ Market for distribution to neighborhood residents. She said that they are not just gardening, but involved in community issues like revitalizing Central Market.
Tour participant Jeffrey works in Tenderloin People’s Community Garden after-school program. He is also designing a vertical garden in the Power House’s south-facing wall to increase food production. Elizabeth mentioned that she waited 7 years for a plot at Dearborn Community Garden (!
Outside Hastings College, Amber pointed out trees on sidewalk as jumping points for songbirds.
At the corner of Hyde and Golden Gate, we stopped to admire this colorful mural of musical trumpets, trumpet-shaped flowers and their pollinator hummingbirds. Amber noted that vandals tag gray murals, but no graffiti on color. She also pointed out we need more places like this to slow down.
Amber pointed out raised planter opportunities to support wildlife biodiversity. Different birds make their nests at different heights.
Lewis opened up the gated Boeddeker Park ( and so we could visit and complete Elizabeth’s survey.  Bonus:  Join Walk SF and you get a T-shirt like the blue one on Elizabeth.
Amber points to fennel weed, behind bars of children's playground, as host plant for swallowtail. She also noted that Tenderloin has highest population of children so playgrounds are a priority.
Constant Gardener Travin opened up the gate for us to wander in Tenderloin National Forest ( and  He explained that the former site was a bar that was abandoned in the mid-1980s, and the alley became a habitat for drugs and prostitution so police were called often.
To start the Forest, they had to displace other elements so they dug asphalt and founder Darryl planted Coastal Redwood tree, which appears to top out the 5-story building behind. Travin thinks it will grow 4 feet this year. He also mentioned that neighboring Senator SRO hotel requires screens on its windows so tenants can’t throw trash out the windows.

My favorite spots during our walk were the gardens, but they were all gated/caged communities, requiring a caretaker to open up and let us in to visit.
Singapore is a fine city! I’ve traveled to well over 100 countries, and my all-time favorite walking city is Singapore (aka Garden City): clean, safe with lots of places to seek shelter from rain/sun elements (trees, plus awnings are required on ground level of buildings abutting sidewalks), open green spaces and many yummy places to eat along the way! CNN reports that Singaporeans are the world’s fastest walkers, thanks to “wide pavement that was flat, free from obstacles and sufficiently uncrowded to allow people to walk at their maximum speed” (  When walking is such a pleasure, it's easy to be physically fit.
Flower bed on VanNess:  red trumpet-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds seeking nectar

Wildlife in urban landscape

At Thursday’s California Native Plant Society meeting, ecologist Josiah Clark ( talked about working with natural systems to maintain diversity, especially of natives that have already adapted to our landscape (so they tend not to need pesticides or fertilizers) and attract native wildlife inhabitants.  For example, Josiah noted that SF Botanical Garden's California Native Garden is one of the few habitats in SF that provide for our state bird, the California quail, which spends most of its time on the ground so it favors hiding places like dense shrubs (quail bush) and prefers eating seeds from meadow grasses.

Josiah believes a major challenge is SF doesn't seem to know what's important to protect, and making good decisions in land management requires careful observation/study (not solely conserving rare/big species, not “loving” urban nature to death like feeding ravens/feral cats that actually upset a balanced ecosystem). He also mentioned that gardens are a way for people to take first steps into habitat stewardship, and “as much as humans do to heal the planet, it is plants that must do much of the healing work” because plants absorb pollutants, create food and interact in the system to keep it strong. Woo-hoo!

Wild about Mission Azul + butterflies

Thomas Wang, who will be teaching Vegetable and Herbs class this fall at City College of SF (, began a new blog at, about the Way of Nature, in his very accessible teaching style with cool illustrations. He says, “In exploring the natural world and engaging with its diverse creatures, you will learn much about yourself, the community around you, and your place in the universe.”

So true! It’s a fascinating virtual armchair travel as he takes us surfing, tells us the story of corn (ending happily with a recipe for making pupusas!), presents bilingual story-telling of Chinese mythology (creation)/yin-yang (interdependence)/Chinese plants (excerpts from his SF Botanical Garden presentation at  His posting about “pests” in the garden at  features weeds for butterflies like fennel for swallowtail butterfly!

No comments:

Post a Comment