Category Archives: Community Structure

West Cliff Drive

Santa Cruz

Carmel Valley
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Turned off 101 at Greenfield and crossed the coastal range through Carmel Valley to Carmel, parked and walked to the sea. Knew someone who had lived in Carmel Valley but a divorce, high taxes and a house that was falling apart meant that she was long gone. Lots of Sotheby signs, means rich people live in this valley, pricing out everyone else.

The road starts out in the dry Salinas Valley and runs through the Santa Lucia Mountains to Carmel Valley and then to the coast at Carmel. The climate gets wetter as one crosses the mountains, the Santa Lucia have the southernmost redwoods near Big Sur and there is a grove at Carmel. Mostly you see oak, tanoak, and madrone ( Arbutus menziesii ). I saw ads for oak and madrone firewood in the paper. Also saw manzanita ( Arctostaphylos ) in the eastern end of the valley. Took samples of two species and berries from one. Haven’t identified them yet.

North of Santa Cruz are the Santa Cruz Mountains. Little of the old growth forest remains and that that does is now state park. Between 1880 and 1940 600 square miles of redwood forest were cut with only 50 square miles remaining. Most of the trees were cut to burn marble to produce lime. Marble in the region comes from an ancient sea bed that has twice been submerged and cooked deep within the earth. Until the invention of Portland cement, lime was used as mortar for building. The marble had to be burned at high heat for a long time and one batch of lime usually consumed a whole 2,000 year plus old growth tree (Haff, Brown, Tyler, 2008).

The Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Cruz itself has a rich natural history with many endemic species and a human impact going back at least 8,000 years. The Native Americans here did not have agriculture but had a rich hunter-gatherer culture which used fire to increase production of the plants they gathered. Every human culture that settled here has modified the landscape. The native cultures with fire, the Spanish brought cattle, wide-spread grazing, and European invasive plants. The intense extractive culture of early Capitalism vastly changed the landscape as has the present late-Capitalist consumer culture. For plants this all resolves around fire and how it is used and not used.

Eucalyptus trees (Eucalyptus globulus) from Australia were first planted in California around the 1850′s and are a major invasive tree along the coast. In Santa Cruz at Natural Bridges State Park is a grove that is one of several wintering grounds for the Monarch butterflies. Although the Monarch caterpillar requires milkweed, the adult form feeds on Eucalyptus blossoms.  This is a side migration that some members of the species take instead of the main migration to Mexico. It is true that the Eucalyptus groves are a bane to native species but what would removing them do to the Monarchs?

Santa Cruz Arctostaphylos

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Santa Cruz is also a hot spot for Manzanita ( Arctostaphylos ). As seen on the map, 13  species and 15 varieties or subspecies have been vouchered in the region. At the UCSC Arboreum I was able to photograph 12 species that were identified by placards, along with two more that weren’t identified.

Manzanita is a very specious plant with over 100 species, most of them in California. This doesn’t include all the subspecies, varieties, and hybrids. There is only one circumpolar species, A. uva ursi, and maybe 6 other species outside of the California Floral Zone which includes southern Oregon and northern Baja. Thus the situation where the genus is very specious inside of one region but not specious at all outside of this region. The only thing that I can think of is that there must be an active gene flow between so many species or perhaps these aren’t species after all but ecotypes (UCBerkeley, 2015).

On the way back we passed through Joshua Tree National Park. Besides the picturesque yucca, the park covers a transition zone between the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Basin area of the Sonoran Desert. Looked at two springs in the area, Mara Oasis in the north and Cottonwood Springs in the south. Mara no longer receives water and water has to be pumped in to feed the palm trees. Both springs were used by native peoples for thousands of years and Mara supported a hunter gatherer culture that included set fires. Cottonwood became the center of a mining industry with a mill at the spring. A sign by the spring says that the ground is contaminated with arsenic and heavy metals and no one is allowed to walk there.

Haff, T.M., Brown, M.T. & Tyler, W.B., 2008. The Natural History of the UC Santa Cuz Campus 2nd ed., UCSC.
UCBerkeley, 2015. Jepson Herbarium: Jepson Flora Project: Jepson eFlora. Available at: [Accessed January 14, 2015].