Endemic Plants of the Santa Cruz Sandhills

The Santa Cruz Sandhills are home to four species of plants that are endemic to (found only in) the Sandhills. Name for the towns and neighborhoods in the region, they are:

Though not restricted entirely to the Sandhills, two other plant species endemic to the Santa Cruz Mountains are found largely in the Sandhills.

Santa Cruz wallflower amidst Ben Lomond spineflowers
Ben Lomond spineflower

Ben Lomond spineflower (Chorizanthe pungens var. hartwegiana) is a winter-spring annual plant in the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae). Named for the spiny bracts surrounding its flowers, this endemic plant inhabits open areas in sand parkland and canopy gaps within sand chaparral.

The Ben Lomond spineflower can be locally very abundant, turning the soil surface pink when it flowers in April and May. However, like other Sandhills endemics, the Ben Lomond spineflower is naturally rare, due to its small geographic range (Santa Cruz County) and narrow habitat specificity (Zayante soils). The persistence of the Ben Lomond spineflower is threatened by habitat loss as well as habitat degradation due to fire exclusion, exotic plants, and recreation. Therefore, this endemic plant has been listed as 'endangered' by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Santa Cruz wallflower (yellow) amidst Ben Lomond spineflowers (pink)
Santa Cruz Wallflower

Santa Cruz wallflower (Erysimum teretifolium) is an herbaceous plant in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). A monocarpic biennial, the wallflower develops a basal rosette of leaves then typically bolts, flowers, and then dies during its second or third year.

This endemic plant is found almost exclusively in open sandy areas within sand parkland and is known from only 17 locations within the Sandhills. Recognizing that its persistence is threatened by ongoing habitat loss, as well as fire exclusion, exotic plants, and recreation, which degrade habitat, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game have listed the Santa Cruz wallflower as 'endangered'.

Santa Cruz wallflower patch in sand parkland
Santa Cruz wallflower inflorescence
Santa Cruz wallfower juvenile (basal rosette of leaves)
Ben Lomond spineflower inflorescence
Ben Lomond spineflower patch in sand chaparral gap
Ben Lomond buckweat

Ben Lomond buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum var. decurrens; Polygonaceae) is a perennial herb that flowers between June and September, producing dense heads of tiny white flowers. It can be found in canopy gaps within sand chaparral, as well as a variety of microhabitats within sand parkland.

Like many other Sandhills plants, the Ben Lomond buckwheat has white hairs on its leaves that reflect excess sunlight and reduce water loss, thus adapting it to life in the hot, dry Sandhills.

Recognizing the natural rarity of the Ben Lomond buckwheat and threats to its persistence posed by the ongoing loss and degradation of Sandhills habitat, the California Native Plant Society lists this Sandhills endemic among California's most rare and endangered plants (CNPS List 1B).

Ben Lomond buckwheat
Ben Lomond buckwheat inflorescence
Ben Lomond buckwheat seedling
Silverleaf (Bonny Doon) Manzanita

Silverleaf (or Bonny Doon) manzanita (Arctostaphylos silvicola) is a large shrub in the heath family (Ericaceae). It is named for the region where it is especially abundant and the silvery sheen of its leaves, which reflect excess sunlight and reduces water loss.

This endemic plant flowers between November and January, producing dense clusters of small, urn-shaped flowers. Its fruits resemble small red apples-- hence the name manzanita, which means 'little apple' in Spanish.

Silverleaf manzanita is the dominant plant of sand chaparral. However, habitat loss and degradation still threaten persistence of this narrow endemic plant, which is recognized by the California Native Plant Society as among the most rare and endangered plant species in California (CNPS List 1B).

silverleaf manzanita flowers
silverleaf manzanita fruits
silverleaf manzanita

Santa Cruz Cypress

Santa Cruz cypress (Cupressus abramsiana; Cupressaceae) is a conifer endemic to sandy soils on the western slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains, between central Santa Cruz County and southern San Mateo County.  It is found in only five populations covering 350 acres, about fifty percent of which is in the Santa Cruz Sandhills habitat.

This narrowly endemic plant has been listed as federally endangered since 1973. In addition to habitat loss, widespread fire exclusion threatens persistence of this endangered species, which requires fire to create conditions for seedling establishment, and thus promote population regeneration.

Santa Cruz cypress stand
Santa Cruz cypress
Santa Cruz cypress cones
Santa Cruz Monkeyflower

Santa Cruz monkeyflower (Mimulus rattanii ssp. decurtatus) is an annual herb in the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae). It is endemic to Santa Cruz County, where it occurs on sandy soils including the Zayante series. Within the Santa Cruz Sandhills, the Santa Cruz monkeyflower occurs in sand chaparral where it can be found in open sand between shrubs. Rarely exceeding 4" in height, this diminutive plant can best be observed while in flower in April and May.

Due to its narrow endemism, the Santa Cruz monkeyflower has been placed on the California Native Plant Society 'watch list' (CNPS List 4), which identifies plants of limited distribution that could become rare and endangered in the future.

Santa Cruz monkeyflower
Santa Cruz monkeyflower habitat
Santa Cruz monkeyflower
Sandhills Alliance for Natural Diversity (S.A.N.D.)
PO Box 2363 Boulder Creek, CA 95006
www.santacruzsandhill.com ● e-mail: info@santacruzsandhills.com
Web design, text, and images by Jodi M. McGraw © 2005. All rights reserved. Not for use without permission.