Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore


Prairies and Grasslands

Less than one percent of California's native grassland is still intact today. The northern coastal prairie, which extends into Oregon, is the most diverse type of grassland in North America. Pristine patches of this vegetation still grow at Point Reyes on either side of the San Andreas Fault. Deschampsia coastal prairie is found on the Point Reyes peninsula and Danthonia coastal prairie is found on Bolinas Ridge. Coastal prairie is dominated by long lived perennial bunchgrasses, such as Purple needle grass (Nasella pulchra), California fescue (Festuca californica) and California oatgrass (Danthonia californica), all of which can stay green year round with the moisture provided in the fog belt.

By 1850, dairy ranchers had arrived at Point Reyes, lured by the near-ideal conditions for raising cattle. Since then, ranchers planted many non-native grasses, many of which were invasive and began to out-compete the native grasses. The most common forage plants seeded on these lands are Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) and clover (Trifolium sp.). While these are non-native species, they fortunately are not invasive. Unfortunately, invasive non-native grasses, such as Velvet grass (Holcus lanatus), Harding grass (Phalaris aquatica), and Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), were planted as well. The National Park Service now prohibits the planting of these invasive species in the approximately 7300 hectares (~18,000 acres) of grazing allotments within Point Reyes National Seashore and the north district of Golden Gate National Recreation Are.

Since 2000, the National Park Service has been attempting to increase native seed use in these pastoral zones. Some species of native grass seed are commercially available, but it is expensive, and would not reflect the local genetic variations. The ideal conservation strategy is to collect seed from local grasses, send it to a nursery, and have it grown out on a landscape scale to create a supply for restoration projects. This has been done with California brome (Bromus carinatus) seed collected in the park which, by April 2007, had been multiplied to over 40 kilograms (900 pounds). This supply is enough to seed approximately 30 hectares (75 acres).

One site at which the National Park Service is attempting to restore native grassland is the 485-hectare (1200-acre) historic D-ranch. Italian ryegrass, a non-native annual planted for forage, dominates the original homestead area today. Monitoring in this area determined that less than 5% of the vegetation was native before treatment. Two prescribed burns and native grass seeding on half of a 24-hectare (60-acre) burn unit had been completed by April 2007; but so far, not much has changed. The seed that was planted, California brome, is the most abundant native grass on the site. It has persisted throughout California, even in areas with a long history of grazing. In addition to burning the non-native ryegrass and seeding the native brome, ecologists think that mechanical treatment will also be needed to tilt the scales between ryegrass and brome. If the area is mowed after ryegrass undergoes new growth, but before it goes to seed, it will reduce competition for brome. Because the brome is a perennial, it will resprout after mowing, but the ryegrass will not. Repeated mowing in combination with burning is likely to help increase the proportion of native grass on the site.

Volunteers can help the park work toward the goal of restoring native grasslands. To get involved, contact Beth Eisenberg by email or at 415-464-5216.



Mushrooms and Other Fungi

Mushrooms are short-lived, spore-producing structures (akin to apples on a tree); they are designed to release spores, and then decay. Picking a mushroom does not harm the long-lived fungal organism. The "body" of a mushroom is hidden from our eyes, and is composed of a vast, branching network of tiny, elongate cells called hyphae. These hyphal threads grow through and break down dead wood, providing a vital recycling service to our forests. Fungal hyphae also live in the ground, and connect up with the rootlets of trees, shrubs and almost all other green plants, forming a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship. This mycorrhizal (fungus-root) partnership greatly increases the ability of trees and plants to take up water, and absorb essential minerals. In return, the fungus is provided with photosynthetic nutrients. Neither organism is able to function fully without the other.

Mushrooms at Point Reyes National Seashore

Mushrooms are a vitally important aspect of the diverse, natural world of Point Reyes National Seashore. They are found in all types of park habitat, from Bishop pine forests to coast live oak woodlands, meadows to sand dunes. Mushrooms are not only vital to the health of the Pt. Reyes eco-system, but they also add charm and magic to the landscape. Appearing seemingly overnight in response to rain, they come in a vast array of fantastic colors and shapes, from brilliant red, to purple, to golden orange, with caps ranging from the size of a pinhead, to as large as a dinner plate. A slow walk through almost any landscape during the mushroom season can produce a world of wonder at your feet.

The best time to see mushrooms at Point Reyes National Seashore is starting from two weeks after the first, soaking fall rain, and on into the winter and spring. Fruiting is affected by the amount and frequency of rain (too much can be as bad as too little) as well as the temperature. Many variables affect whether mushrooms are produced, and even experienced collectors can't always predict when and where they will appear.

There are specific legal guidelines for mushroom collecting. Please visit the mushrooms section on the park regulations webpage. No mushroom should be eaten unless it can first be positively identified as edible. Learning to identify mushrooms in their many guises takes time, and reliable resources. The best way to learn about mushrooms is through local field guides and mushroom societies.

To learn more about mushrooms in the San Francisco Bay area visit the Bay Area Mycological Society website.


Coastal Grassland

The grasslands you see driving to the lighthouse and up to the Tule Elk Preserve are made up of remnant patches of coastal prairie and agricultural ranchlands. Cattle have grazed these areas since the 1830's. Rolling pasturelands are made up of non-native annual grasses and clovers. Today, remnant coastal prairie patches are made up of perennial bunchgrasses like purple needle grass, California fescue and California oatgrass. Elk and antelope used to roam these grasslands, grazing as they wandered. Summers fogs maintain perennial coastal prairie species year-round. Learn more about how the park plans to restore the native coast prairie.

Springtime in the Seashore's grasslands brings an abundance of common and rare wildflowers. Early in the spring Douglas iris and another much smaller iris, blue-eyed grass, start blooming. Yellow California poppies are everywhere.


Coastal Scrub

One of the most common plant communities at the Seashore, coastal scrub stretches over much of the gentle hills above the ocean. These plants tolerate abrasive conditions - high winds, little rain, blowing salt spray and poor soils - but still they persist. They make do with the resources they have, keeping short and shrubby, putting extra support into stiff leaves, and growing a long taproot for stability and to reach deep water. Vast tracts of coyote bush indicate that you are in the coastal scrub. The scrub is made up of other shrubs like yellow bush lupine, poison oak, and blackberry and lone stunted conifers. In the southern parts of the park, California sagebrush and California buckwheat replace coytote bush. Springtime finds this community alive with color. A common flower is the sticky monkey-flower, whose flower is orange and resembles a monkey's face. Bright red Indian paintbrush steals nutrients and water from other plants' roots. California poppies and Douglas irises also grow in the coastal scrub.



Less than one percent of California's native grassland is still intact today. The northern coastal prairie, which extends into Oregon, is the most diverse type of grassland in North America. Pristine patches of this vegetation still grow at Point Reyes on either side of the San Andreas Fault. Deschampsia coastal prairie is found on the Point Reyes peninsula and Danthonia coastal prairie is found on Bolinas Ridge. Coastal prairie is dominated by long lived perennial bunchgrasses, such as Purple needle grass, California fescue and California oatgrass, all of which can stay green year round with the moisture provided in the fog belt.

Purple needle grass (Nasella pulchra) is the most widespread native perennial bunchgrass found in California. It was an important food source to Native Americans, and is valuable to wildlife and livestock. Purple needle grass is used in many restoration projects at Point Reyes. Its life span can last for hundreds of years; and its deep root systems can support the survival of young oak trees through root fungal associations.

California fescue (Festuca californica) is a native perennial bunchgrass that lives in both shaded and open areas. It is found in coastal forests, chaparral and grasslands. At Point Reyes, it is found at the D-ranch, as well as in the wilderness, growing on west to southwest facing slopes.

California oatgrass (Danthonia californica) is a densely tufted perennial grass. It is found in moist soils, and is moderately drought-tolerant. It is dominant in the coastal prairie along Bolinas ridge where it grows with purple needle grass. Danthonia has adapted to grazing pressure by producing fertile seed enclosed within the stem.

Grass-like sedges and rushes may also be found at Point Reyes. "Sedges have edges and rushes are round," is an often used phrase to help people know what they are looking at. Like grasses, sedges and rushes have linear plant forms, and inconspicuous flowers which lack color. However, these are three distinct plant families. Sedges and rushes are wetland plants with fewer species than the highly diverse grass family.

Volunteers can help the park work toward the goal of restoring native grasslands. To get involved, contact Beth Eisenberg by email or at 415-464-5216.


Point Reyes National Seashore is a jewel in the California Floristic Province - one of 25 regions of the world where biological diversity is most concentrated and the threat of loss most severe. Unique geology, soils, and climate conditions make for a highly variable landscape within a relatively small land base. The Seashore encompasses over 70,000 acres of dunes, sandy and rocky beaches, coastal grasslands, Douglas fir and Bishop Pine forests, wetlands, chaparral, and wilderness lakes. The broad range of plant communities supports over 900 species of vascular plants - pretty amazing! This number represents about 15% of the California flora. Sixty-one species found in Marin County are known only from Point Reyes

As native systems have been altered in other areas of California, many native plants have been pushed to the brink of extinction. Point Reyes National Seashore serves as a refuge for an astonishing number of these rare plants. Over 50 plants at Point Reyes are currently listed by the Federal government, State government, or the California Native Plant Society as being rare, threatened, or endangered. These threatened, rare, and endangered plants are actively monitored and managed by park scientists.

Unfortunately, 292 of the plants within the park are not native. These include a wide variety of grasses in the pastoral zone, South African capeweed, scotch broom, pampas grass, and trees such as eucalyptus, cypress, and Monterey Pine. Invasive non-native species tend to spread very rapidly and out-compete native plants for scarce space and resources. To curb the tide of many of the Seashore's non-native invasive plants, volunteers are recruited to remove the most threatening species.

Note: Links in this "Plants" category such as lichens, marine plants, and algae are placed here for convenience, but they are not truly plants. Real plants include multi-cellular organisms that produce food through photosynthesis. The plant kingdom includes vascular plants (seedless and seed plants) and the bryophytes (liverworts, hornworts, and mosses).

Trees and Shrubs

Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

This is, by far, the largest tree in the park. Old Douglas-firs can rival redwoods in size, reaching up to six feet in diameter. It is not a true fir, but it can look like one, and its scientific name translates to “false hemlock.” At one time, people called it “Douglas spruce”; the Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde National Park was actually named for a Douglas-fir. Mature Douglas-fir forms a large canopy that shades the ground below. Hunt around the ground and you may be able to find a Douglas-fir cone. No other conifer has such obvious three-pronged bracts that stick out of the scales. Each cone holds 20 to 50 seeds. In early fall, the cones release the winged seeds to drift to the ground. The dark forest that you see on surrounding ridges driving up Highway 1 through Olema Valley is made up of Douglas- firs. Your best views of Douglas-firs are on any trail or road on the south end of Inverness Ridge.
Presence: Very common.
Tree: Grows 70 to 250 ft. tall, bark is thick with heavy furrows.
Leaf: Short, single needles.
Fruit: Pine nuts produced in cones.

Bishop Pine (Pinus muricata)

This is the only pine tree native to the park, but you can find it most everywhere on the north end of Inverness Ridge. Bishop pine takes on different looks depending on the toughness of the conditions. Near the ocean, lone bishop pines contort along the ground. Above the blowing salt spray, bishop pines can grow into trees with spreading branches that form a flattened crown. Straight and tall bishop pines crowd together into dense stands in patches burned by the 1995 Vision Fire. Hiking a trail through them is like traversing a tunnel. The branches point upwards and bushy clusters of needles whorl from the branches. In May, the trees look like candlesticks packed together – the ends of the branches hold candles of male cones that shed tons of yellow pollen grains to the air. The female seed-bearing cones attach to the trunk of the tree. Pitch seals these cones shut. Heat releases them, freeing the seeds protected inside. On a hot day you can hear the crackling as the pitch disintegrates, but a fire is the best way to release a crop of seeds. Bishop pines favor granitic bedrock and dry ridges. Your best views of dense bishop pine groves are along Mt. Vision Road, near the top of Limantour Road, Bayview Trail and Drakes View Trail.
Presence: Common.
Tree: Evergreen, up to 80 feet in height, bark is dark brown.
Needles: in pairs.
Fruit: Pine nuts produced in cones.

California Bay (Umbellularia californica)

The spicy leaves are the name-sake for this tree (also known as Oregon myrtle). Rip off a piece and smell one – if it smells like seasoning, the tree is a California bay. In fact, the bay is in the same plant family as other delicious edibles like bay leaves, avocados, and cinnamon. The sparse leaves point this way and that off the branches, and the trunk bends gracefully to one side. Because they prefer moist soil, California bay can be found on trails on the east side of Inverness Ridge – Mt. Wittenberg Trail, Meadow Trail and Bear Valley Trail.
Presence: Somewhat common.
Tree: Grows 40-80 ft. tall, thin brown bark.
Leaf: Thin, smooth-edged and leathery.
Flower: Pale yellow.
Fruit: Round drupe the size of an olive.

Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)

This oak thrives near the coast. It is a “live” oak because the leaves live on the tree year round, unlike deciduous oaks like black oak and blue oak. The leaves are dark green on top and white and hairy underneath. They can dry out to a brown color and fall to the ground eventually. No other oak in California has leaves that curve backwards at the edges like a spaghetti rake. Like all oaks, coast live oaks drop acorns in the fall. The Coast Miwok collected these to thoroughly boil and then pound into meal. Scrub jays and California ground squirrels help the acorns out by burying them in their winter caches, essentially planting the acorns in the ground. Coast live oak grows most everywhere in the forested areas of the park.
Presence: Somewhat common.
Tree: Grows to 20-80 feet, bark is thick and furrowed.
Leaves: Evergreen with pointy edges.
Fruit: Acorn. 

California Buckeye (Aesculus californica)

This native buckeye has distinctive flowers and leaves. It produces bunches of white to pale pink flowers May through June. The flowers smell sweet, but eating any part of this plant destroys your red blood cells and can kill you. The flowers even poison bees that have not co-evolved with this plant. The leaves have five to seven leaflets that splay outward like a hand. Buckeyes are deciduous: they drop their leaves in late summer to early fall and new leaves emerge each spring. Seeds droop off the branches in summer and fall. You can see it along the Laguna trailhead near Clem Miller Environmental Center, the bottom of Bayview Trail and at the end of the Bear Valley Trail.
Presence: Common.
Tree: Grows to 30 feet, bark is smooth and gray.
Leaf: Fan compound, each leaflet with a fine saw-toothed edge.
Flower: White to light pink in dense narrow clusters.
Fruit: Dark brown rounded capsule. 

Bush Lupine (Lupinus spp)

This is one of the most common shrubs in the park. Its leaves are silvery-green and they whorl around the branches. In the spring, long stems of flowers curve towards the sky. Later the flowers will turn into fuzzy peapods. The fruits look like peapods because lupines are, like pea plants, legumes. Legumes naturally fertilize the soil. Bacteria that live in their roots can convert nitrogen in the air to a form that plants can use. People used to think that lupines did just the opposite, that they robbed the soil of its fertility. That’s why lupines were named for the wolf, which in Latin is lupus. Eight species of lupine grow in the park – the most common are yellow bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus) and dune lupine (Lupinus chamissonis). The best places to see them are Tomales Point Trail and Coast Trail out of Palomarin.
Presence: Common. 
Leaves: Arranged in whorls.
Flowers: Yellow or purple.
Fruit: Fuzzy legume pod.

Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis)

Coyote Bush does not have many distinctive features, except that if you’re in a shrubby area near the coast, you are probably looking at coyote bush. It is a large shrub with stiff bright green leaves. Come fall, the fruits ripen to cover the branches with white tufts of hair. Presence: Common.
Shrub: Large and branching.
Leaf: Small, bright green, smooth edges.
Flower: Small and white.
Fruit: Achenes with a long hair-like bristles.

Blue Blossom (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus)

Blue Blossom resembles a lilac. Spring finds clusters of blue flowers sticking out from the branches. Unlike a lilac, blue blossom’s dark green leaves stay on the branches year-round. Each leaf has three prominent veins that connect the base to the tip. The best places to view blue blossom are off Limantour Road, Bayview Trail, Drakes View Trail and Muddy Hollow Road.
Presence: Common.
Shrub: Grows as small as a prostrate shrub and as tall as a small tree. 
Leaf: Dark green and evergreen.
Flower: Light or deep blue in an upright panicle.
Fruit: Three-lobed capsule – green to black.


Exotic/Invasive Plants

The introduction of harmful exotic species is an emerging global problem. A recent Cornell University study estimated that invasive plants and animals cost the US economy $137 billion annually. The Ecological Society of America noted that invasive species contribute to the listing of 35 to 46 percent of all threatened and endangered species. Today, exotic plants infest some 2.6 million acres in the national parks.

Of the over 900 species of plants in Point Reyes National Seashore, approximately 300 are non-native. Of those, at least 30 are invasive enough to threaten the diversity of native plant communities in the Seashore. The Seashore also supports 46 special status (rare) plant species, many of which are directly affected by invasive non-native species. Invasive species are second only to habitat destruction as the major cause of extinction. Population Action International and The Nature Conservancy have determined that the California Floristic Province (CFP) is a "global biodiversity hotspot" - one of 25 terrestrial regions of the world where biological diversity is most concentrated and the threat of loss most severe. Within the CFP, original extent of flora remaining is only 25%, with only 9.7% protected. National Seashore status has protected our flora from development, but not from invasive species.

Invasive species are transported both intentionally (as food, ornamentals, etc.) and unintentionally (seeds or plant fragments in feed, bedding or gravel, etc.) by humans in our highly mobile global society. An invasive species is one that displays rapid growth and spread, allowing it to establish over large areas. Free from the vast and complex array of natural controls present in their native lands, including herbivores, parasites, and diseases, exotic plants may experience rapid and unrestricted growth in new environments. Invasiveness is enhanced by features such as strong vegetative growth, abundant seed production, high seed germination rate, long-lived seeds, and rapid maturation to a sexually reproductive (seed-producing) stage. Invasive plants reproduce rapidly, either vegetatively or by seed. Their phenomenal growth allows them to overwhelm and displace existing vegetation and form dense one- to few-species stands.

With so many non-native species to manage, Seashore vegetation managers must prioritize removal efforts to maximize effectiveness. Priorities are set with the goal of minimizing the total long-term workload. Therefore, we act to prevent new infestations and assign the highest priority to existing infestations that are the fastest growing, most disruptive and affect the most highly valued habitat within the Seashore.

High-priority species include giant plumeless, yellow star, purple star, and distaff thistle, cape ivy, pampas and jubata grass, French and Scotch broom, spartina, European beachgrass and iceplant. Mapping the extent of infestations is critical to prioritization. Several invasive species are too widespread for total control to be feasible. In these cases, priority for control is given to high-value areas, such as the Abbotts Lagoon area where rare dune plants and plant communities still maintain a fragile foothold.


Douglas-fir/Mixed Evergreen Forest

A piece of the Pacific Northwest grows on the east side of Inverness Ridge. Here enough rain falls in the winter to quench the thirst of this fast-growing tree and the trees, shrubs and herbs that sprout underneath. They are buoyed in the summer by fog moisture. The plants thrive in soil derived from marine sediments. They are a diverse mix. Looking up you see the Douglas-fir trees soaring straight up to form a canopy, then you'll see California bays, tanoaks, and coast live oaks bending upwards, and right at your eye level you can see coffeeberry, huckleberry, poison oak, hazelnuts, elderberries, honeysuckles, bouquets of ferns and small woodland herbs. This vegetation type describes over 30,000 acres of the Seashore. Sudden Oak Death is a recent phenomenon to this community; expect to see dead and dying tanoaks and true oaks in the forest canopy as Sudden Oak Death continues to spread throughout this community.


Plant Communities

The different plant communities that make up the Point Reyes peninsula are as varied as the different neighborhoods one would expect to find in a bustling city. As you travel around the Seashore, you pass from luxuriant forests of Douglas-fir and bishop pine, into windswept coastal grasslands. You hike through coastal scrub, enjoying the multitude of shrubs with their different smells and textures, to arrive at a salt marsh bordering an estuary. Or perhaps you take a stroll out amongst the coastal dunes to look for rare wildflowers on a spring day. These communities are dynamic. One melds into the next, change sweeps through in dramatic and subtle ways so that what you experience during one visit may be quite different when you return. The next generation of visitors, many years from now, may hike the same trail and experience a mature forest where you walked among newly sprouted trees invading a meadow. All of these dynamic plant communities combine to form a wonderfully diverse tapestry of plant life at Point Reyes National Seashore. Enjoy your exploration!



In 1867, the Swedish lichenologist Schwendener made a revolutionary discovery: lichens were not a separate group of plants- they were actually a partnership of two entirely different organisms: an algae and a fungus. In general, the algae contain photosynthetic pigments that allow the lichen to capture energy from the sun, and in some cases to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into a mineral form usable by the organism. The fungus, in turn, supplies the lichen with a home, protects it from desiccation (drying out) and is able to translocate water and nutrients to support life processes.

Although there are nearly 1,000 species of lichen documented for California, we only have an incomplete inventory of the lichen flora at Point Reyes National Seashore. Since lichen are not included in any inventories of rare or endangered species, it is fortunate that many species are protected simply by their inclusion in a national seashore.

Threatened, Rare, & Endangered Plants

Point Reyes National Seashore has a variety of habitat types, from coastal dunes, to dense forests. The broad range of habitat types supports over 900 species of vascular plants. Of these plants, over 50 are currently listed by the Federal government, State government, or the California Native Plant Society as being rare, threatened, or endangered.

Why Are Threatened, Rare, and Endangered Plants Important?
We as humans are intricately connected to all species around us. By saving something as seemingly insignificant as a rare plant you also save other organisms that depend upon those plants. These may be insects or herbivorous animals such as rabbits, deer, or even mice that need the seeds of the flower of a particular species to live. 

Did you know that a tiny plant could save your life? Plants are important sources of medicine and are potential ingredients to remedies for ailments humans may not yet have experienced. Drawing from the soil and a lush matrix of interdependence between organisms, the plant itself may someday hold the key to curing and treating future illness and disease. 

Why Do We Need to Save Them?
At the cellular level...organisms need healthy "genetic stock" or diversity in genetic make-up to withstand environmental or catastrophic conditions. In other words….an organism that has many different genes as opposed to similar genes is likelier to withstand blight or a storm, disease or a drought. Having diverse genes acts as insurance against extinction and adds to an organism's resiliency. We need healthy populations, or as scientists say "viable populations", of organisms to continue to have a healthy gene pool. When populations become small, all offspring turn out to have the same genetic makeup. This makes that particular species more prone to being wiped out by factors such as blight or environmental events such as hurricanes and floods. Larger populations are healthier because of the reservoir of genes to produce healthier more resilient offspring.

What is the Park Doing to Protect Threatened, Rare, and Endangered Plants?

Rare plant populations and their protection depend on us as conservationists and land stewards to take action. Their survival becomes entrusted to our care as land use values shift and these populations suffer from grazing pressure and the competition of

non-native plant species

. The fragile nature and fate of these organisms rests within our willingness and capacity to locate, map, monitor and protect these plants.