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Coastal Sage Scrub

Coastal sage scrub is the most species-rich community on campus. Over 250 different species of plants occur in the undeveloped areas, and almost all of them can be found in coastal sage. The “sage” of coastal sage refers to two different kinds of plants, the “true sage” of the mint family (Cal Poly has two common species, black sage, Salvia mellifera, and white sage, Salvia apiana), and California sage (Artemisia californica), which is a sagebrush of the sunflower family. All of these, and a number of other species, are fragrant, especially in the late spring and early summer.

Fire is a major force that shapes coastal sage scrub. Most of the species are adapted to fire. Many of the shrubs and trees resprout from underground roots or stems after a fire. There are some wildflowers that require fire for seed germination; these are only seen in the years following a fire. About half of Cal Poly’s coastal sage burned in August of 1981, and virtually all of it burned at the end of July in 1989. Its current vigorous growth attests to its adaptation to fire.

Large tracts of southern California were once dominated by coastal sage scrub. Many of these areas now support tracts of houses, businesses, and industry. Coastal sage scrub is perhaps the most quickly vanishing community in the region.