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

California’s Rarest Conifer?

California’s Rarest Conifer?

CNPS teams with the Klamath National Forest to map yellow-cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis) in California

CNPS has begun a collaborative mapping and inventorying project for yellow-cedar in California. The species is a CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants on list 4.3 (limited distribution) in the state, with only a handful of known locations. The majority of the stands are on the Klamath National Forest but a few are also on the Six Rivers. Over the course of summer 2017, Michael Kauffmann and Julie Evens will be visiting a number of these populations and collecting data on stand health, reproduction, and plant associations. The week of July 5-6 we visited the world’s southern-most stand, deep in the Siskiyou Wilderness.

Range of yellow-cedar in California. Map from Conifer Country (Kauffmann 2012).

This project was initiated by Forest Service Region 5 when we were contacted by Brian Buma from University of Alaska. His research is showing that yellow-cedar at the northern extent of its range is in declining health and not reproducing. The baseline data we collect this summer will inform future studies across the range of this species.

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Collaborative BioBlitz in the Milpitas Special Interest Area

Arroyo Seco bushmallow (Malacothamnus palmeri var. lucianus, CNPS List 1B.2). Photo by Mike Splain.

On April 15, 2017 the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA) partnered with CNPS Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz chapters for its first-ever BioBlitz in the Milpitas Special Interest Area (SIA). This area was designated by the Los Padres National Forest in 2005 to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the upper Arroyo Seco and San Antonio watersheds.

The Milpitas SIA is located on the eastern slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains where one can find the largest valley oak savannah on public land. Surrounding ridges feature diverse chaparral, five tree oaks species, and six conifer species. The regional diversity is nurtured by numerous springs, wetlands, seeps, and streams which complement towering rock outcrops. This abiotic complexity facilitates a wide range of plant habitats—and much more.

Humans have occupied this area for thousands of years and evidence still remains in the form of rock art, midden remnants, and bedrock mortars. Over this time of Native America occupation, plant assemblages were shaped, in part, by active Salinan management including seed and bulb harvesting and the ignition of periodic fires that promoted the growth of food and fiber plants.

To adequately understand and better protect this diverse and sensitive place, land managers and scientists continue to collect data on the variety of habitats. We contributed to this data with our recent BioBlitz.

Goldfields and owl’s clovers on Wagon Cave Plains. Photo by Amy Patten.

Naturalists from VWA and CNPS joined forces to documented as many species in the SIA as possible. While the scenery was grand the search was challenging—including looking for insects under logs, scrutinizing mammal tracks for species ID, and scrambling steep hillside to photograph wildflowers. All challenges aside, participants were treated to a “superbloom” that included carpets of goldfields (Lasthenia sp.), owl’s clover (Castilleja sp.) and sky lupines (Lupinus nanus). VWA/CNPS members Mike Splain, Deanna Giuliano, Dave Nelson, Kate Cunningham, and John Libby helped participants track down rare endemics, including Arroyo Seco bushmallow (Malacothamnus palmeri var. lucianus, CNPS List 1B.2), Butterworth’s buckwheat (Eriogonum butterworthianum, CNPS List 1B.3), and Santa Lucia fir (Abies bracteata, CNPS List 1B.3). Other unusual sightings included naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora), harlequin lupine (Lupinus stiversii), dwarf brodiaea (Brodiaea jolonensis) and bitter root (Lewisia rediviva var. minor).

Once back from the field, all of our team’s observations (including 179 plant species) were entered into iNaturalist, a publicly accessible database of natural history observations. Once in the database, citizen scientists in the iNaturalist community review observations to generate research-grade data.

Citizen scientists collecting data on Santa Lucia Fir, Abies bracteata. Photo by Amy Patten

BioBlitz observations provided a valuable snapshot of regional biodiversity, phenology, locations of species of concern, and data on the spread of invasive plants. These data will be shared with the US Forest Service to guide research and management decisions. Plans for future BioBlitz events and targeted monitoring are already in the works.

Interested in participating in future citizen science projects? Contact me!

Amy Patten
CNPS Santa Cruz Chapter and Ventana Wilderness Alliance

Plant Exploring: San Gabriel Mountains

Ecological cross-section of the San Gabriel Mountains.

In 1997, teaching 6th graders at the Los Angeles County Outdoor Science School, I first discovered the San Gabriel Mountains. The school, located in Wrightwood at an elevation of 6,000 feet, was (and still is) nestled in a mixed conifer forest with pines, firs, and oaks. Students from across the county came for a week and we spent everyday outside-tromping through the mountains, exploring hands-on, place-based concepts.

While my working title was teacher I was just as much a student, with local botanists, geologists, ecologists, and cultural historians serving as my mentors at night or on weekends. It was during this time I first developed an understanding of biogeography-how abiotic factors affect the distribution of flora and fauna. The San Gabriel Mountains rise to 10,000 feet above the Los Angeles Basin, stretching from western San Bernardino County to Santa Clarita along the I-5 corridor-serving as the recreational backyard for millions of Southern Californians.

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Revisiting a Rare Plant Population Just in Time

By David Magney

After conducting a rare plant survey near Santa Ynez in June of 2016, I took the opportunity to revisit several of the occurrences of Arctostaphylos refugioensis, Refugio Manzanita. This species is classified as a rare plant, assigned to the CNPS California Rare Plant Rank 1B.2.

Arctostaphylos refugioenesis

Arctostaphylos refugioenesis – photos by David Magney

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Plant Exploring: Mendocino County

Plant Exploring: Mendocino County

Sensitive Plants of the Jug Handle

Sensitive Plants of the Jug Handle

Throughout the Pleistocene, as the climate fluctuated, sea levels rose and fell in conjunction with the size of the polar ice caps. This process allowed oceanic wave-action to cut coastal terraces around the world. Subsequent tectonic forces then slowly pushed these terraces upward. Through other dynamic processes, beach materials like sand, gravel, clay and other rock have been deposited on the terraces at varied depths. What we now witness in coastal Mendocino County is the best preserved example of marine terraces in the Northern Hemisphere.

Directly adjacent to the Pacific Ocean on the first step, wind sculpts coastal scrub and grassland on coastal bluffs or “Bonsai” beach and bishop pine forests (Pinus muricata). Further up the staircase-out of reach of the salty air-ample precipitation, Pleistocene and Holocene sand dunes, and the deposition of conifer needles nurture trees with deep roots and tall shoots. However, the most amazing staircase story begins just to the east of the ancient dunes.

In the mid-section of the second step, and upward on each subsequent step, ancient dunes have cut off surface drainage, flushing perennial moisture onto the step. Via seepage and springs, moisture has created pooling basins that ever-so-slowly drain. Prolonged seepage leaches nutrients like calcium and potassium from the Pleistocene beach deposits, leaving behind sterile hard-pan soils. The year-round leaching, coupled with summer dryness and heating, nurtures an inhospitable layer called a Podzol Horizon (podzol is a Russian word meaning “ash soil”). This unique soil layer creates edaphic microsites.

Exploring the Pygmy Forest.

Exploring the Pygmy Forest.

Certain hardy plant species–some now endemic–survive in spatial isolation on these podzolized terraces. Mendocino cypress (Hesperocyparis pygmaea), Bolander pines (Pinus contorta spp. bolanderi), and Fort Bragg manzanita (Arctostaphylos nummularia ssp. mendocinensis) are just a few of the unique plants that can be found on these staircases.

The California Native Plant Society has had a long history of working to preserve these botanically unique areas. In fact, the Dorothy Young King Chapter (formerly the Gualala Chapter) formed in 1966 when citizens of coastal Mendocino and Sonoma counties joined together to dig up native plants that were going to be bulldozed in the region. Later, in 2006, with pygmy forests designated an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area within the California Coastal Zone the chapter presented litigation against clearing pygmy forest for development.

Take a journey to coastal Mendocino County and visit, what Hans Jenny called the best preserved ecological showplace of coastal landscape evolution in the Northern Hemisphere.

Aricle previously published at