Plant Communities of Santa Cruz County
Note: The numbers in parentheses
are the Holland codes. The Holland codes refer to a classification system
found in the unpublished report, Preliminary Descriptions of the Terrestrial
Natural Communities of California, written by R. F. Holland in 1986 for
the Resources Agency, California State Department of Fish and Game, Natural
of our area's coastal prairie has been destroyed due to agriculture and
development, The remaining areas have been invaded by exotic weeds
such as annual fescues (Vulpia bromoides), bromes (esp. Bromus diandrus),
velvet grass (Holcus lanatus), and thistles (esp. Carduus pycnocephalus).
The remaining, in tact areas of coastal prairie are recognized by the patchy
presence of California oatgrass (Danthonia californica) and/or wildflowers
such as native bulbs (Brodiaea and Triteleia species), lupines (Lupinus
nanus), self-heal (Prunellus vulgaris), and many others. The best
areas to view coastal prairie are at UCSC's upper campus (Marshall Meadows),
State Parks' Gray Whale Ranch, and just north of Año Nuevo along the coast
south of Franklin Point.
Terrace Prairie (41100)
Field (dry grassland) (42300)
Coastal scrub grows on marine
bluffs and hills, consequently experiencing salt air, fog and strong winds.
Plants are generally under six feet tall and include buckwheat, sagebrush,
yarrow, lupine, and coyote bush.
Central Dune Scrub (21330)
Northern Coastal Bluff Scrub (31100)
Northern (Franciscan) Coastal Scrub (32100)
European beachgrass and iceplant
introduced to stabilize sand dunes have changed the vegetation patterns
of the local coastal dunes. In native dune stands, a low ground canopy
is formed by perennial forbs, grasses, and low shrubs, including such plants
as pink sand-verbena, saltgrass, native dunegrass, and coyote brush. Sand
dunes remain at Wilder and Waddell beaches in the north county and Sunset
Beach in the south.
Active Coastal Dunes (21100)
Coastal Salt Marsh
Though much of the original
salt marshes have been destroyed, several remain at creek mouths, especially
along the north coast. Common plants include species of cordgrass, pickleweed,
and saltgrass. Brackish marshes may also contain bullrushes and cattails.
Northern Coastal Salt Marsh (52110)
Coastal Brackish Marsh (52200)
Fresh Water Marsh
Seasonally or permanently
flooded areas along streams, lakes, ponds, and springs provide habitat
for the fresh water marsh species which include bulrushes, sedges, cattails,
and rushes. The mouths of some local creeks form marshes that are brackish
at the lower end and fresh water at the upper.
Coastal and Valley Freshwater Marsh (52410)
Freshwater Seep (45400)
Along stream banks a constant
water supply plus winter flooding create a habitat not found elsewhere
in the county. The overstory is formed by deciduous trees such as bigleaf
maple, alder, cottonwood, and sycamore. Understory trees are willows and
dogwoods, and herbaceous plants are lush.
North Coast Black Cottonwood Riparian Forest (61110)
Red Alder Riparian Forest (61130)
Central Coast Cottonwood Sycamore Riparian Forest (61210)
Central Coast Live Oak Riparian Forest (61220)
Central Coast Arroyo Willow Riparian Forest (61230)
White Alder Riparian Forest (61510)
The redwood community is
found in the Santa Cruz Mountains generally west of the crest favoring
moist areas especially canyons, north slopes, and spots moistened by summer
fogs. Because of the thick tree canopy and layer of acidic duff in the
redwood forest, the diversity of plants is restricted. Associated plants
include sword ferns, huckleberry, trillium, andredwood sorrel.
Alluvial Redwood Forest (82310)
Upland Redwood Forest (82320)
Near the towns of Ben Lomond
and Bonny Doon, parts of an ancient sandy sea floor have been uplifted,
eroded, and exposed creating a unique sandhill environment. The combination
of deep, well-drained sandy soils and the relatively humid coastal climate
results in unusual "biological islands," containing many disjunct coastal
relicts and other rare and endemic species. The sandy soil lacks organic
matter and nutrients, and its white color magnifies the temperature of
the summer sun. Plants and animals of the sand hills have developed unique
adaptations to these features. Many of the plants thrive on soil that is
too poor in nutrients for commoner species. Most tend to be annual or to
be summer-dormant, growing only in the cooler and moister seasons.
Many species of plants found
in the sandhills occur nowhere else in the world, typically occur in distant
locations, or occur along the immediate coast. The Sierra Nevada plants
Ponderosa Pine and pussy
paws (Calyptridium umbellatum) are found in the sandhills. Some unique
species include silverleaf manzanita and the Ben Lomond Wallflower.
Maritime Chaparral (37C10)
Santa Cruz Sandhills and Sandhills Alliance for Natural Diversity (S.A.N.D.)
Sandhills Alliance for Natural Diversity (S.A.N.D.)
PO Box 2363
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Closed Cone Coniferous Forest
Two types of the local closed
cone coniferous forest include species that are extremely rare in native
stands--Monterey pine and Santa Cruz cypress. The former grows on dry coastal
terraces while the later is found on rocky ridges where the soils are granitic
or sandstone derived. Knobcone pine also grows in rocky areas and is often
found growing near Santa Cruz cypress, as well as sand hill locations.
Monterey Pine Forest (83130)
Knobcone Pine Forest (83210)
Northern Interior Cypress Forest (83220)
Mixed Evergreen Forest
Another common community
found in the Santa Cruz Mountains is the mixed evergreen forest frequently
adjacent to redwood forest but occupying drier and more inland areas. Common
trees include interior and coast live oak, tan oak, madrone, bay, and buckeye.
Understory plants include ceonothus, coffee berry, hazel, ground rose,
and poison oak.
Mixed Evergreen Forest (81100)
Coast Live Oak Forest (81310)
Canyon Live Oak Forest (81320)
Interior Live Oak Forest (81330)
Tan-Oak Forest (81400)
Interior Live Oak Woodland (71150)
California Bay Forest (81200)
Occupying the hottest and
driest slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, chaparral plants form dense
thickets and are adapted to little water and to wildfires. Leaves of chaparral
plants are often small, thick, light green or greyish, and waxy and are
retained year round. Manzanita, coyote brush, chamise, ceonothus, monkey
flower, and sage are common chaparral plants.
Northern Mixed Chaparral (37110)
Chamise Chaparral (37110)
Serpentine Chaparral (37600)
Buck Brush Chaparral (37810)
Blue Brush Chaparral (37820)
Northern Maritime Chaparral (37C10)
Mesic North Slope Chaparral (37E00)
Foothill woodlands commonly
form the transition between grasslands and mixed evergreen forests on the
eastern side of the crest in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Black Oak Woodland (71120)
Oak savanna and grasslands
occasionally form on tops of south facing ridges. Valley oak is the dominant
tree with the grassy ground vegetation containing needlegrass, fescue,
melic, wildrye, and bluegrass species.
Valley Oak Woodland (71130)
Valley Needle Grass Grassland (42110)