Nature Notes: Zayante Sandhills

by Miranda Melen, Collaboration Projects Manager

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have access to a diverse range of environments, from the salt marshes by the Palo Alto Baylands to the towering redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains. One treasure, hidden in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is a rare sandy soil type called the Zayante Sandhills.

This unique community is a striking contrast to the foggy coast redwoods and moist, mixed evergreen forests that surround these patches of dry soil. The Sandhills have low soil moisture and low nutrient levels leading to a challenging habitat for life to survive.

Due to the distinctiveness of this community, the plants and animals that live in the Sandhills are highly adapted to the sandy soil, with many of them being rare or endangered. Hiking through a stretch of Sandhills, you may come across some of the endangered plants, such as Santa Cruz wallflower (Erysimum teretifolium), Ben Lomond spineflower (Chorizanthe pungens var. hartwegiana), and Santa Cruz cypress (Cupressus abramsiana). Other rare endemics are silverleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos silvicola), Ben Lomond buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum var. decurrens), and Santa Cruz monkeyflower (Mimulus rattanii ssp. decurtatus).

These plants are frequented by the extensive number of pollinator insects, bees and bumblebees, flies and bee flies, beetles, moths and butterflies, all of whom call the Sandhills home. These insects depend on the flowering plant community in the Sandhills to provide nectar and pollen sources through out the year, whereas the surrounding tree cover does not offer the same abundance of food for the pollinators.

You can discover the Zayante Sandhills for yourself by exploring Quail Hollow Ranch County Park or Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. At Environmental Volunteers, we are committed to connecting people with nature and to highlight the unique Bay Area habitats that are available for us all to enjoy!

Photo by Miranda Melen