Botanizing the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit of California Coastal National Monument

Point Arena – Photo by Jennifer Buck-Diaz

For those of us living inland from the coast of California, summer is the perfect time to make a trip to the western part of our state, where the fog lies thick and the natural air-conditioning seems to blow continuously.

In May and June 2017, CNPS Vegetation Program staff and hardy volunteers spent two weeks sampling coastal vegetation on the Point Arena-Stornetta unit of the California Coastal National Monument. This BLM-managed property in Mendocino County is the only accessible terrestrial component of this marine monument, which stretches over 1000 miles along our coastline. The 1600+ acres of land supports coastal prairie dotted by tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) intertwined with native California   blackberry (Rubus ursinus) and sculpted riparian strips of red alder (Alnus rubra) and numerous willows (Salix spp.). Stands of shore pine (Pinus contorta ssp. contorta) and bishop pine (P. muricata) provide shelter from the wind, though you can also see planted and naturalizing stands of Monterey pine (P. radiata) and Monterey cypress (Hesperocyparis macrocarpa). The latter two conifers are classified both as rare plants in Monterey County, and as invasive in other parts of California and beyond, in an ironic twist of displacement.

Willow Scrub – Photo by Jennifer Buck-Diaz

Your boots can get quickly soaked while finding a surprising diversity of wetlands and saturated herbaceous plant communities in the area — including pacific reedgrass (Calamagrostis nutkaensis), coast carex (Carex obnupta), and common rush (Juncus patens). Scattered ponds support pondweed (Potamogeton sp.) and pond-lily (Nuphar polysepala). While much of the coastline between the mouth of the Garcia River and Manchester State Park is unfortunately dominated by European beach grass (Ammophila arenaria), you can find the native dune grass (Elymus mollis) and open sand supporting native dune scrub with beach morning glory (Calystegia soldanella), sand verbena (Abronia latifolia), and beach bur (Ambrosia chamissonis).

Rare plant and animal species are scattered throughout the monument, attesting to the importance of protecting these lands. With many National Monuments currently under review by the Trump Administration, now is a good time to visit and show your support for these magical public lands.

-CNPS Vegetation Program

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