(On 3435 Wilshire Boulevard Near Normandie Avenue)
September, 1916, Exactly 85 Years Ago

Compiled by
Robert 'Roy' J van de Hoek
Field Biologist & Geographer
Sierra Club & Wetlands Action Network
September 10, 2001

1916: A RARE CAT-TAIL by Charles F. Richter, Excerpted from Lorquinia:
I have recently come upon a number of specimens of Typha angustifiolia, the narrow-leaved cat-tail. This species is noted by Professor Abrams, in his Flora of Los Angeles and vicinity, as being found in places similar to those in which T. latifolia, the broad-leaved or common cat-tail grows, but he notes it as "not common." T. angustifolia differs from T. latifolia in having narrower leaves and a longer and narrower spike, which constitutes the "tail." This spike consists of a great number of small flowers, of which the upper contain stamens but not pistils, while the lower contain only pistils. In T. latifolia the parts of the spike which contain these two kinds of flowers are usually not separate, but intergrade, while in T. angustifolia there is a gap in the spike, dividing it into two distinct segments.

The specimens referred to above were found along the Arroyo Sacatella (a marshy creek) about fifty feet south of Wilshire Boulevard, opposite Normandie Avenue, in Los Angeles.

Reflections and Observations:
Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek
Please take note that the Lorquin Natural History Club was founded in 1913 in Los Angeles, and that they published a monthly magazine called LORQUINIA. These citizens of Los Angeles led monthly field trips to see nature, learn science, go hiking, and exploring in Los Angeles. It was a "Progressive Era" attempt to educate the citizenry of Los Angeles about their natural and wild beauty that flourished in Los Angeles. The particular issue of Lorquinia in which the article A RARE CAT-TAIL was published is Volume 1, Number 2, page 10, September 1916. One of these citizens, Charles F. Richter of Los Angeles, who wrote the article in a prophetic way for today.

It is always good to see what interested a Los Angeles Natural History Club of 85 years ago. In this case, in 1916, the context of Los Angeles was that the automobile and airplane were just arrived on the landscape. Most of the roads of LA were still unpaved as were the air-fields. Wilshire Boulevard at Normandie was obviously quite natural as a wetland marsh with a rare cat-tail that still occurred there. The "Narrow-leaved Cat-tail" is now even rarer in Los Angeles, as I have not seen any in these last two years of 1999-2001. And obviously as a field biologist, I am curious to know why it is not being discussed in the restoration of the Los Angeles River, San Gabriel River, and the Ballona Wetlands by the scientists that work for the developers of Playa Vista? And similarly, this rare Cat-tail is not discussed by the City of Los Angeles for its restoration at Sepulveda Wildlife Area on the Los Angeles River nor anywhere else on the Los Angeles River. A unique and wonderful opportunity is being missed at restoration and recovery if this unique Cat-tail is left out of the equation. It may very well be that this is the Cat-tail that the California Black Rail, one of the most endangered birds of California would prefer as habitat in Los Angeles. The Cat-tail is excellent habitat for many birds, such as the Red-winged Blackbird. Where is the research that links zoology and botany, or birds to plants? Is it ecology and geography and environmental history and poetry and prose and music and art?

In the excerpted article, Professor Abrams was mentioned. His full name was LeRoy Abrams. He was a professor of botany at Stanford University. He collected plants from throughout the southern California region in the late 1890s to 1905, before urbanization had skyrocketed in Los Angeles. He wrote a book entitled: Flora of Los Angeles and Vicintiy. It was first published in 1904, then again in 1911, and finally in 1917 for the last time.

For the Geographical Record: The streams coming out of the Santa Monica Mountains near Griffith Park and the Hollywood Bowl near Cahuenga Pass were the "source water" for the nourishment of the Sacatella Creek Marsh and the Narrow-leaved Cat-tail. There you have it, a bit of geography, a bit of history, and definitely ecological trivia and scientific anecdote. It is this kind of ecological trivia and scientific anecdote that will educate us and remove environmental illiteracy in Los Angeles.

For the Botanical Record: Three kinds of Cat-Tail occur in southern California today (2001). They are the Narrow-leaved Cat-Tail (rare), Southern Cat-Tail (common), and Broad-leaved Cat-Tail (common). LeRoy Abrams, in his 1904 Flora of Los Angeles and Vicinty, stated that the Narrow-leaved Cat-Tail was found near Los Angeles by Anstruther Davidson and also Herman Hasse. Professor Abrams also stated that it was found at San Bernardino by Samuel Parish, prior to 1904. Anstruther Davidson, in his Flora of Southern California, of 1923, stated: "Narrow-leaved Cat-Tail...In a few places on the margins of pools and streams near Los Angeles and San Bernardino." From these passages of Abrams and then also by Davidson, we see that Charles Richter's observation at Sacatella Creek Marsh on Wilshire Boulevard near Normandie Avenue is a good record that falls within the realm geographic possibilities. Since the Los Angeles River did flow into the Ballona Creek Watershed in recent history, the distributional records make sense. In addition, the seeds of Cat-Tail are readily carried by birds and the wind to nearby places. Phillip Munz, in his 1974 Flora of Southern California, made an important contribution in understanding Narrow-leaved Cat-Tail as follows: "Mostly in subalkaline water at low elevations." In otherwords, in layman terms, if the water and soil has a bit of alkalinity (high pH) and saltiness to it, that would be a preferred habitat for the Narrow-leaved Cat-Tail. Some of these places would be nearer the coast and on the upper reaches of an estuary or coastal wetland, nearer the freshwater portions of an estuary and lagoon.

Today, in 2001, 85 years after 1916, "Narrow-leaved Cat-tail" is virtually extinct in Los Angeles, but there is an excellent opportunity for restoration and recovery of the Cat-Tail if someone would adopt it and make it so.

Today, in 2001, 85 years after 1916, "Broad-leaved Cat-Tail" is the commonest Cat-Tail in Los Angeles.

Today, in 2001, 85 years after 1916, "Arroyo Sacatella (a marshy creek)" no longer exists, but a small project of proper landscaping and watering at Wilshire and Normandie could bring the Cat-Tail back to its native haunt.

Today, in 2001, 85 years after 1916, "fifty feet south of Wilshire Boulevard, near Normandie Avenue, in Los Angeles" is an opportunity waiting to happen for some restoration and recovery. Time will tell! The cement and asphalt have been there for less than 85 years. For thousands of years, if not millions of years before 1916, the "Narrow-leaved Cat-tail" lived on the margins of Arroyo Sacatella. The reproduction and restoration of this article written 85 years ago, as a web page, is now a permanent statement for all the world to see and which cannot be erased from a growing number of individuals who visit the web page, and then make a pilgrimage to Wilshire and Normandie. Once upon a time, only 85 years ago, there was a rare plant growing there in a small wetland marsh. Today, in 2001, the Sierra Club has their Los Angeles headquarters offices there. The fight for wetlands and open space in Los Angeles is led from this office. In 2001, the Sierra Club filed an amicus brief at the United States Supreme Court, friendly to the Wetlands Action Network and California Public Interest Group, but not friendly to the United States Corps of Engineers. In Los Angeles, the Army Corps of Engineers is not needed, and nature lovers and liveable city advocates at the Sierra Club, Wetlands Action Network, and CalPIRG, have joined forces to take on Engineers at the US Army. Abolishing the "Army Engineers" as an agency will not work, but lessening its power in civilian matters in Los Angeles is a proper goal. As we replace the "Army Engineers," we need other federal agencies to step in to fill the shoes. The two candidates are the USEPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and USFWS (Fish & Wildlife Service). They would do a good job in the regulation of wetlands as open space, parks, natural areas, so that we could have liveable cities.

Today, in 2001, 85 years after 1916, it is important to link the historical Arroyo Sacatella to the Rio Ballona and Rio Los Angeles. Perhaps it is time to begin to use more historical spanish names for our rivers and wetlands. Wouldn't Rio Los Angeles and Rio Ballona be nice? Nicer than the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek it would seem to me. The juxtaposition of a romantic-historical word "Los Angeles" next to an equally romantic sounding "rio" works well in reconnecting the history and geography of Los Angeles. The journalist, Patt Morrison's new book, Rio Los Angeles, helps guide the way. Perhaps, better still, would be to use the Native American words for placenames, and there are several in our everyday vocabulary in the LA landscape: Malibu, Topanga, Cahuenga, Cucamonga, Tujunga, and Pacoima. Dictionaries of Geographic Placename Vocabularies of Native Americans can be found in Anthropology and Ethnography publications. By the way, what is the Native American word for the Cat-Tail? What is the Native American word for the Narrow-leaved Cat-Tail? What is the Spanish word for Cat-tail? I don't know about you, but I do not see any resemblance in the stems/flowers/leaves of a Cat-Tail to a Cat's tail? Is this a tale of two tales? Is our language the cause of so much nature disconnect and lack of landscape appreciation in our modern society? Is this the time for environmental education and environmental literacy? If not now, when?