Notes from the Field | California’s Bounty

Arrowhead Marsh
A glimpse of the diverse ecosystem of California — Red-winged Blackbirds fly over Arrowhead Marsh in Oakland. Photo: Rick Lewis

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area I spent my time exploring the multitude of wonderful and diverse parks and open spaces that dot the landscape. Each place has a unique history and I never ran out of new things to discover. As the seasons changed I found new plants and animals right in my own backyard. As I grew older I ventured further from my home Bay getting my hands wet river rafting the American and Trinity rivers or backpacking in the Emigrant Wilderness high in the Sierra Nevada. These experiences opened my eyes even wider to the immense biodiversity that exists in California. Think about the vast array of ecosystems found all around this state; from the giant Redwood forests to glaciated mountains to the salt marshes that ring the Bay; these places support an outstanding variety of plant life.

California is so unique that Conservation International has designated it as a biodiversity hotspot. These hotspots are also experiencing a significant amount of habitat loss. Of the 7,031 vascular plants found in our hotspot, 2,153 are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else. These plants grow in part of the California Floristic Province, which is marked by Mediterranean-type weather with wet winters and hot drought conditions during the summer and fall. The barriers that made it so difficult for the first waves of pioneers to reach the golden fields of California were the same factors that protected it from outside genetic influences from other places, allowing unique species to prosper here. The high peaks to the east and north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the wide expanse of arid deserts in the south aided what we see today.

It is up to us to protect these endangered and endemic plant communities. As Californians, let’s take pride in our unique home and become better stewards of the land around us. These plants have taken millions of years to evolve in balance with their surrounding. More recently, people have had an enormous impact on California’s natural wonders. Our state is quite bountiful, but instead of working outside the forces of nature we must find a balance with these important and beautiful places and endemic plants. Human interactions with the land put many endemic plants at risk of extinction, but human intervention can help preserve them.

Save The Bay is dedicated to protecting and restoring native plants in salt marshes that make up a part of this amazing ecosystem. If you want to learn more about the native plants that grow in our biodiversity hotspot, sign up to volunteer on one of our restoration programs!