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Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden
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The garden is located at the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park near Berkeley, CA


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June 2014

Gopher Control


Anyone who has dealt with gophers in their garden knows those subterranean rodents are notoriously difficult to catch. People have a hard time doing it successfully. Cats are a bit better but often spend hours—or days—watching holes in anticipation of the gopher’s emergence. But there’s one predator that seems to have it down: the great blue heron. On May 8, a great blue heron hunting on Tilden Park’s Brazilian Room lawn (just outside the botanic garden) dispatched at least six gophers in 40 minutes. Photographer Diana Rebman saw the heron catch a gopher, then grabbed her camera and photographed the bird in action. Here is one of her spectacular images. To see more of Diana’s outstanding wildlife and travel photography, visit her website:


The coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), a champion tree, has a long story to tell, one that has a somewhat sad ending, as so much of California’s redwood empire has been seriously diminished by logging. Currently found from coastal canyons on the Big Sur coast to just north of the Oregon state line, coast redwood can best be appreciated where it reaches its optimal development—a coastal strip in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Although the Avenue of the Giants—just south of Eureka—is best known, this narrow strip along the Eel River is bordered by a freeway where constant traffic lumbers along, spoiling the ambience of the hushed aisles of trees that have been preserved.

The best of the empire is experienced north of Eureka in three seminal areas preserved for posterity: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park just north of Orick, Redwood National Park along Redwood Creek where the tallest trees survive, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park on the periphery of the Crescent City area in Del Norte County. All three support massive old-growth forest with a rainforest-like understory of ferns, perennial wildflowers, ground covers, and beautiful shrubs. It’s this understory layer, which to the south is much diminished, that gives the feel of an ancient and hallowed forest from earlier times.

Edge of redwood forest in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Some of the many outstanding understory plants of the forest include the salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), with rose-purple flowers and edible orange berries; western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale), a shrub with clusters of showy, highly fragrant white to pink flowers blotched with yellow; rosebay (Rhododendron macrophyllum), a large evergreen shrub with glorious rose-purple flowers; western sword fern (Polystichum munitum), whose substantial fronds may reach four feet high; and five-finger fern (Adiantum aleuticum), with delicate many-fingered fronds on black stalks.

Lush understory of sword fern in redwood forest

Western azalea

fingerFernFive-finger fern fronds

Flowers of western bleeding heart


Flowering perennials in the understory include wake-robin (Trillium ovatum), featuring a whorl of three broad leaves and a single snowy white flower that fades to rose purple; redwood bead-lily (Clintonia andrewsiana), with glossy basal leaves and spikes of pink-purple bell-shaped flowers; forest anemone (Anemone deltoidea), a creeping ground cover with single snowy white blossoms; and western bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), a spreading ground cover with fernlike leaves and delicate pink heart-shaped flowers.
Despite the overwhelming draw of these long-lived giants, other botanical treasures lie waiting to be discovered: coastal coniferous forests dominated by giant Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), grand fir (Abies grandis), coast hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and western red cedar (Thuja plicata), in their own right magnificent trees that only pale in comparison to the largest redwoods. This rich forest borders the redwoods in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Patrick’s Point State Park, where nearly pristine conditions have been preserved.

Branches of western red cedar


Understory of Sitka spruce forest

Besides many of the same understory plants as the redwood forest, look for calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa), with exquisite single pale pink orchids; cascara sagrada (Frangula purshiana), a large deciduous shrub with deep purple berries; false lily-of-the-valley (Maianthemum dilatatum), a creeping ground cover with heart-shaped leaves and spikes of tiny white flowers; long-leaf barberry (Berberis nervosa), a colonizing low shrub with handsome hollylike compound leaves and dense clusters of yellow flowers; vanilla-leaf (Achlys triphylla), a rhizomatous ground cover with triplets of butterfly wing-shaped leaves and tiny white flowers; and Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana), with handsome sword-shaped leaves and showy dark blue to purple blooms.

More unexpected are the special wetlands and dunes found in the empire. Coastal sand dunes border spruce forests in places where the winds have piled sands against the forest over millennia, creating a wonderland of plant diversity despite the low nutrient soils and poor water retention of the sands. The principal reasons for this situation are tied to heavy summer fogs and abundant winter rainfall. Along the tide line, the sands are nearly empty of vegetation, but the nearby dunes harbor mound-forming perennial wildflowers and temporary marshes. Farther inland, where trees have tamed the winds, is a forest of Sitka spruce and grand fir whose understory is rich with shrubs and perennial wildflowers. The best of these dune systems occur just north of Crescent City and near the Mad River slough on the western edge of Humboldt Bay near Arcata.

Spruce forest on old stabilized sand dune


Among the many dramatic clumping perennials adapted to strong wind we find the long-blooming seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus) bearing large purple and yellow daisies; dune goldenrod (Solidago spathulata), with dark green spathula-shaped leaves and slender spikes of tiny bright yellow daisies; coast buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium), whose spoon-shaped gray leaves give rise to flowering stalks with balls of rich pink flowers; dune tansy (Tanacetum camphoratum), a running perennial with sage-scented fernlike leaves and clusters of small buttonlike yellow daisies; and beach sweetpea (Lathyrus japonicus), a sprawling ground cover with pealike leaves and clusters of bright purple and white flowers.
Coastal bog near Big Lagoon

Besides the riparian corridors that traverse the conifer forests, there are bogs and marshes with surprising and often rare endemic plants. Bog conditions are special because they harbor saturated soils with little oxygen and high acidity. One of the most unusual bogs is on the south side of Big Lagoon, just to the west of Hwy 101 and 25 miles north of Eureka. As is always the case, this bog is bordered by encroaching willows and conifer forest, limiting the lifeline of the habitat as the bog fills in with more and more soil.

Currently the bog is home to the tiny insectivorous sundew (Drosera rotundifolia); the elegant king’s gentian (Gentiana sceptrum), with upright spikes of deep blue cup-shaped flowers; the white rein-orchid (Platanthera dilatata var. leucostachys), with slender spikes of snowy white miniature spurred orchids; and the wet-growing swamp sweet pea (Lathyrus palustris), a vine sprawling over shrubs with clusters of purple blossoms.

King's gentian in coastal bog

Swamp sweet-pea in coastal bog


Another version of wetlands occurs where permanent springs feed seeps on serpentine-based rock strata. One of the most spectacular of these wetlands is found inland from Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park on South Fork Road a few miles from its junction with Hwy. 199. Here, vertical cliffs drip constantly, providing a roothold for the curious insectivorous cobra plant (Darlingtonia californica), the little-known butterwort (Pinguicula macroceras), and the California lady’s slipper (Cypripedium californicum). The butterwort and cobra plant both trap insects with their specialized leaves: the butterwort with slimy oval leaves that act as a glue to tiny insects, later curling around their victims; the cobra plant with 2-foot-long hollow leaves whose head resembles a cobra, complete with red fangs and a hood. The hood is topped with “windows” that let light in so once insects enter the head, they become disoriented and fall into the well of water at the base of the leaf, where downward-pointing hairs prevent their escape.

Colony of cobra plant on serpentine seep

Serpentine chaparral with dwarf ceanothus


A drive of several more miles up this same road brings you above the conifer forest to serpentine-based chaparral, where unusual shrubs find a home. Look for northern silk tassel bush (Garrya buxifolia) and prostrate dwarf ceanothus (Ceanothus pumilus), along with the mat-forming Del Norte rock fringe (Epilobium rigidum), with oversize pink-purple flowers, and the coast gentian (Gentiana affinis), with showy clear blue flowers.

A trip to the redwood empire not only reacquaints the visitor with a nearly forgotten era, but brings into focus how truly diverse our state is. If you have the time, plan on at least a half-week here to hike, explore, and enjoy this area. Besides the places mentioned above, there are many more just waiting to be discovered.

—Glenn Keator

To experience and explore the redwood empire first-hand, join the Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden on a 5-day field trip to this beautiful area led by Glenn Keator and garden supervisor Joe Dahl. The trip, which takes place on June 19-23, is a fundraiser for the garden. You’ll find a full description of the trip and registration information on the Friends website:







Upcoming Classes
A click here will take you to a full description of the class as well as the class registration form
Sunday, June 8, 10 am–1 pm Creating Hypertufa Containers Space Available
Thursday-Monday, June 19-23 The Grand Redwood Country of Northwestern California: Garden Fund-Raising Trip Space Available
Saturday, June 21, 10:30 am–2:30 pm Butterflies for Beginners Space Available
Saturday, July 5, 10 am–3 pm Marin's Mid-Summer Endemic Plants Space Available
Thursday-Monday, July 10–14 Montane Meadows, Serpentine Seeps, and Alpine Wildflowers: Garden Fund-raising Trip Space Available
Saturday, July 26, 10 am–3 pm The Amazing World of Lichens Space Available
Sunday, September 28, 9:30 am–4 pm Modern Textile Design with California Native Plant Dyes Space Available
Friday, October 3 , 11 am to Sunday, October 5, 12 pm Weekend on the Mendocino Coast Space Available
Sundays, October 12–
December 7, 10 am–1 pm
Learning to Identify Plants by Key Space Available
Illustration/Photo Credits

©Diana Rebman

Great Blue Heron catches a gopher on Brazilian Room lawn


©Glenn Keator

The Redwood Empire, all photos