As the tram cuts through branches of dried plants and proceeds through the shade of the redwood trees in the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, visitors begin to feel that this garden is not like any other.
This private nonprofit garden is the largest botanic garden dedicated to only native California plants.
The plants here resemble the ones along the California coast and Mojave Desert.
The garden also houses the 10th largest herbarium in North America with more than a million specimens of seeds, some of which are more than 1,000 years old.
The guided tram tours take place every third Sunday of the month, year-round, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
According to Volunteer Program Manager Tiffany Chandler, most of the people working at the garden are retired local residents along with some student interns.
There are more than 200 volunteers at the garden, Cindy Walkenbach, a retired educator and volunteer said.
Throughout the tour, the nature interpreter points out highlights of the garden.
The tram also stops many times during the tour, allowing visitors to view plants and wild animals, such as gray squirrels and wood rats.
The nature interpreter also showed samples of different plants, allowing visitors to smell and touch the different specimens, which provides a more comprehensive understanding of the plants.
One of the most famous native California plants is the palm tree, which survives simply through the water from the ground, which flows down from the mountains.
The palm oases are important in California and Baja California because they are built-in environments of their own, Walkenbach said. Many animals depend on oases, including rats that live at the bottom and owls that live above. The tree itself is a food source, she said.
The tour also goes through eight different California environments the garden recreated. Each of them is significantly different, with some environments being desert-like and some containing mostly evergreen trees, such as oak trees and California coastal redwoods.
Students from local universities, like Cal Poly Pomona and the Claremont Colleges, often come to the garden to study botany and to complete school assignments, Walkenbach said.
The garden is also involved with a graduate program in botany with the Claremont Graduate University.
The Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free for members, $8 for adults and $6 for students. Tickets for the guided tram tour are $5.
Cody Luk can be reached be at firstname.lastname@example.org.