Rain Bird BioTrek

Plant Database - Under construction

Geographically and ecologically, Baja California and the State of California (Alta California) are continuous.  In fact, the Peninsular Ranges, which include the Santa Ana Mountains and the Chino Hills, run from Los Angeles County in the north to nearly the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula.  Thus, even though most of Baja California is somewhat isolated because it is such a long, narrow peninsula, much of the vegetation-types, including coastal sage scrub, chaparral, pine forests, and Sonoran Desert, occur in both Baja and Alta California.  Further, the historical land of the Kumeyaay spanned the present-day border between the United States and Mexico from the Pacific Ocean to the Colorado River.  As you can see, having plants from Baja California is appropriate for the Ethnobotany Garden.

Click here to find out what types of baja plants we have in the Baja California area.

The term “chaparral” is derived from the Spanish word “chaparro,” which means “short,” because chaparral is described as being a “short forest” consisting primarily of evergreen trees and shrubs.  Because the shrubs and trees of chaparral are evergreen, they are said to be “drought tolerant,” meaning that they can take up water and photosynthesize during the dry hot summers associated with its Mediterranean Climate.  The evergreen leaves of these plants are usually tough and hard. When you break the leaves they make a snapping sound because their cell walls have a lot of lignin, which is what makes wood hard.  There are herbs and other types of plants in the chaparral, but they do not make up nearly as much biomass as the shrubs and trees.  Chaparral is one of the most “Californian” of the plant communities in the state, with its range extending from the southwestern-most region of Oregon, through most of coastal California, especially southern California, to northern Baja California.  Chaparral vegetation occurs at higher elevations and is more tolerant of frost than the species that occur in coastal sage.  The plants and animals located in the chaparral were very important for the Native Americans of southern California, including the Gabrielino-Tongva (coastal), Serrano (Mojave Desert side of the San Bernadino and San Gabriel Mountains), and Cahuilla (Sonoran Desert side of the Peninsular Ranges).

Click here to find out more about our chapparal community.

The plant community that used to occupy most of the lower elevations (below elevations where frosts are common) along the coast from the San Francisco Bay area of Alta California to northern Baja California is coastal sage scrub.  Because the land has been so desirable for farming and housing, much of the coastal sage scrub has been lost, making it one of the most threatened communities in North America.  Coastal sage scrub has also been called “soft chaparral” because the leaves of most of the dominant shrubby plant species are not stiff like those of the chaparral.  On top of occurring along the coast and adjacent valleys (San Fernando, San Gabriel, Pomona, etc.), the community is dominated by true sages, like black, white, and purple sage (genus Salvia), which are in the mint family (Lamiaceae), and coastal sagebrush, which is closely related to the big sagebrush of the Great Basin and other deserts.  Interestingly, coastal sagebrush and big sagebrush (genus Artemisia) are in the sunflower family (Asteraceae), so they are not “true” sages.  Intact coastal sagebrush is usually made up of shrubs 1-2 m (3-6 feet) tall with some larger shrubs interspersed.  Tongva and other Native Americans that live along the coast used to live in the riparian habitats that ran through the coastal sagebrush.  Thus, many of the species in the coastal sage scrub were vital to their survival.

Click here to find out more about our coastal sage community.

It is generally stated that California is occupied by three deserts, the Great Basin, Mojave, and Sonoran Deserts; however, the southern portion of the Great Central Valley, known as the San Joaquin Valley, is also technically a desert.  These deserts all differ in their average temperatures and the seasonal timing of their rainfall.  The Great Basin is the coldest of the deserts, bounded by the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Range in eastern California.  It is called a “basin” because the rivers all drain towards the middle of the desert; none of the precipitation makes its way to the oceans.  Most of the precipitation in the Great Basin is the result of snow and rainfall during the fall, winter, and spring, although it does receive rainfall via thunderstorms in the summer.  The Mojave Desert and San Joaquin Valley are both warm deserts that receive the majority of their rainfall in the winter and early spring.  The difference is the Mojave Desert will receive summer thunderstorms in the summer months, whereas the San Joaquin Valley has a Mediterranean climate (wet winters, dry summers) and receives almost no summer precipitation.  The Sonoran is the warmest of the Deserts in California and has what is known as a bimodal rainfall regime, meaning that it receives rain in the winter and early spring and in the summer as a result of monsoons.  Even though the deserts have different species (for example, Joshua trees only occur in the Mojave Desert), many species like creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), occur in almost all of these deserts.  Native Americans that have lived in the deserts of California include Northern Paiute (Great Basin), Serrano (Mojave), Cahuilla (Sonoran), and Yokuts (San Joaquin Valley).

Click here to find out more about the plants in our desert community.

To the west of the Pacific Coast of Southern California lies an archipelago known as the Channel Islands.  The four northern-most islands, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel, are actually part of the Transverse Ranges, which locally include the San Gabriel and San Bernadino Mountains.  These four islands were occupied historically by the Chumash, who live in the Counties of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo.  The four southern-most islands, Santa Barbara, Catalina, San Nicolas, and San Clemente, are part of the Peninsular Ranges, which include the Santa Ana and Temescal Mountains.  The southern islands were occupied by the Tongva, which included the Nicoleños, who lived on San Nicolas Island.  The Tongva primarily live in Los Angeles County on the mainland.  Although much of the vegetation is similar to that of the mainland, with the islands dominated by coastal sage and maritime chaparral, the isolation of the islands has led to the evolution of several species found nowhere else in the world (endemic), including island manzanita (Arctostaphylos insularis), Catalina Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus), and island mallow (Malva assurgentiflora), which is a common landscaping plant.  There are also several interesting endemic animals, like the island fox (Urocyon littoralis), spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis amphiala), and the island fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis becki), all of which are closely related to mainland species. 

Click here to find out more about the plants in the island community/gathering circle.

Click here to see what plants we have in our meadow area

Oak woodlands are one of the most ecologically and ethnobotanically important communities in California, in part because acorns were perhaps the most important food sources for Native Americans throughout the state, providing the most stable source of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.  Oak woodlands are also one of the most important food sources for Western Scrub Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers, and the native Western Gray Squirrels.  There are 21 native oak species in California, with different species dominating different geographical areas.  Locally, the most common oak that forms woodlands by itself or with other tree species like southern California black walnut, is coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia).  However, there are several other oak species, all of which are in the Oak Grove of the Ethnobotany Garden, that were used by Tongva, Cahuilla and other peoples in Southern California.


Click here to see what plants we have in our oak woodland area.

The coast (California) redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is one of the two state trees of California, the other being the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum).  Coast redwoods, which are the tallest tree species in the world, the tallest of which is over 115 m, which is almost 380 feet tall!  Coast redwoods grow in a narrow band along the Pacific Coast from the most southwestern portion of Oregon to southern Monterey County along the Central Coast.  Redwood forests have historically received anywhere from 0.6-3.0 meters (24-120 inches) of precipitation per year, with rainfall increasing from south to north where the redwoods live in temperate rainforests.  Although this may seem incredibly wet, and it is compared to the Los Angeles Basin, the redwoods receive the majority of their precipitation in the winter and spring because they live in a Mediterranean climate, like most of the state.  One of the keys to the success of the redwoods is the fog they receive throughout the year, especially the summer.  The fog decreases water loss and provides the trees along the coast supplemental water and nitrogen.  Redwoods can occur alone, but often form canopies with Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and other conifers.  The understory of redwood forests is usually made up of shrubs and ferns.  Many different Native American people, including the Yurok and Pomo.  Fallen redwoods were used to make canoes, houses, and a variety of other important structures.

Click here to find out what plants we have in our redwood area.

Most of the oases in the deserts of the world are located in steep canyons, along streams, or where ground water emerges from the soil as springs.  In the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, oases can include riparian (stream) species, like willows, cottonwoods, and arrowweed (Pluchea sericea), and the only palm native to the western United States, the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera).  In some oases you will also see orchids and ferns.  It may be surprising, but fire plays an important role in oases, because of the thunderstorms that occur in deserts in the summer.  Fire will burn off dead vegetation and open up the canopy so that young palms, which require light to develop and grow, can establish.  The fire does not kill most of the healthy established palms because the skirts of dead leaves, which are typically trimmed in cities, burns quickly, protecting the rest of the plant.  Oases support a wide variety of animals, including bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelson), waterfowl, Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii), reptiles, including skinks, and insects like dragonflies.  Palm oases also provided Cahuilla with food and the materials to build their homes.  The frames of their homes were constructed from arrowweed and palm fronds were used to thatch the walls.  The palm oasis in the Ethnobotany Garden is representative of the oases the in the Sonoran Desert that were used by the Cahuilla. 


Click here to see our oases plants.

Click here