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Coastal scrub communities occur in cismontane California - west of the Sierra Nevada - and northwestern Baja California on relatively shallow, dry soils (compared to chaparral) in areas where a Mediterranean climate prevails. They are found at elevations ranging from near sea level to 1800 feet. A stand located in a moister climate, such as under the influence of coastal fogs, may reach six and a half, or more, feet tall. However, one located in a drier climate, such as on the interior slope of a hillside located in a rain shadow, may reach only nine inches tall. Factors such as latitude, proximity to the ocean, and substrate all exercise their influence on the distribution, species composition, and physiognomy of coastal scrub communities.

Various names have been used to refer to the coastal scrub. "Coastal sage scrub" has been used because of the predominance of California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and black sage (Salvia mellifera) in many associations of this community. In southern California, coastal scrub is often called "soft chaparral" (vs. "hard chaparral" or chaparral). Some authors recognize two distinct plant formations based on species composition: "coastal sage scrub" (with four geographically distinct floristic associations found within coastal California between San Francisco Bay and El Rosario, Baja California) and "coastal succulent scrub" (found in coastal Baja California). According to this classification, the coastal scrub populations of Poly Canyon are located within the Diablan floristic association of the coastal sage scrub plant formation. Other authors describe three vegetational types of coastal scrub: "coastal sage scrub" occurring mainly along the coast from Pt. Sur, Monterey County to Baja California, "coastal sage succulent scrub" from south of San Diego to El Rosario, and "northern coastal scrub," a narrow coastal strip extending from Pt. Sur to Oregon. Based on this classification, Poly Canyon is found in the coastal sage scrub. "Coastal yucca scrub" is a specialized type of coastal scrub, dominated by Yucca whipplei, found on coarse, rocky, infertile (often serpentinitic) soils.

Dominant species of coastal scrub are often suffrutescent and, compared to those found in chaparral, relatively soft-stemmed. Herbage can be glutinous, resinous, and pungently scented with volatile oils, as in coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis) and sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus). However, most species are drought avoiders with malacophyllous (soft, thin), often summer-deciduous leaves, such as black sage (Salvia mellifera) and deerweed (Lotus scoparius). Western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) is a winter-deciduous exception. Other species such as sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus) are adapted to summer drought by having stems whose terminal portions die back during excessively dry periods. A few coastal scrub species are sclerophyllous: one is California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum). Some are evergreen: coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) and California coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica). Roots are relatively shallow (typically half as deep as those of chaparral species), though this may be due more to soil depth than physiological requirements. Most active growth starts early, immediately following the rainy season in November and December and continues into the spring. There is a fairly large herbaceous component to coastal scrub (relative to chaparral).

Fire is an important element in the ecology of coastal scrub. The predominant species have crowns whose vegetative buds resprout after fires, just as in many chaparral species. The rapid regrowth by root crown sprouting and small wind-dispersed seeds often make these species successional to chaparral after fire or other disturbance. When fire occurs too frequently, coastal scrub may be replaced by grasslands that are often dominated by non-native annual species.

Relative to chaparral, few studies have been done on the coastal scrub communities. Given the rapid destruction of this vegetation type, mainly through urban and agricultural development, more energy should be dedicated to understanding coastal scrub ecology.

In Poly Canyon, coastal scrub tends to occupy the more xeric or dry sites, forming a dense cover over the infertile, rocky serpentinitic hillsides. One of the most common species in our coastal scrub is black sage (Salvia mellifera). Monotypic stands of black sage cover a couple of these hills, where it may be successional to chaparral in disturbed, often burned, areas. The soils beneath such communities are typically bright red, revealing their volcanic origins. A form of coastal scrub which is quite conspicuous on the steeper, rockier slopes of Poly Canyon is yucca scrub, dominated by yucca (Yucca whipplei). Near the mouth of the Canyon, the coastal scrub communities are composed of different species - especially California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis). Here, the coastal scrub is denser, taller, and, in several places, intergrades with coastal live oak woodland.

Dominant plants of the coastal scrub in Poly Canyon are:
*California sagebrush, coastal sagebrush (Artemisia californica, Asteraceae)
*Chaparral broom, coyote bush, coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis, Asteraceae)
*California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum, Polygonaceae)
California broom, deerweed (Lotus scoparius, Fabaceae)
*Sticky monkeyflower, bush monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus, Scrophulariaceae)
*Black Sage (Salvia mellifera, Lamiaceae)
*Western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum, Anacardiaceae)
Associate species include:
*Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana, Asteraceae)
California fuchsia, Zauschneria (Epilobium canum, Onagraceae)
Golden-yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum, Asteraceae)
*Climbing bedstraw (Galium porrigens, Rubiaceae)
California everlasting, cudweed (Gnaphalium californica, Asteraceae)
Saw-toothed goldenbush (Hazardia squarrosa, Asteraceae)
Climbing penstemon (Keckiella cordifolia, Scrophulariaceae)
Giant wild-rye (Leymus condensatus, Poaceae)
Bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons, Fabaceae)
Wild cucumber vine, California manroot (Marah fabaceus, Cucurbitaceae)
*California peony (Paeonia californica, Paeoniaceae)
*California coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica, Rhamnaceae)
*Spiny redberry (Rhamnus crocea, Rhamnaceae)
Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry (Ribes speciosum, Grossulariaceae)
*Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea, Lamiaceae)
*Blue elderberry (Sambucus mexicana, Caprifoliaceae)
*Yucca, chaparral yucca, Our Lord's candle, Quixote plant (Yucca whipplei, Liliaceae)

Following are descriptions of the dominant plants of Poly Canyon's coastal scrub

*California sagebrush, coastal sagebrush (Artemisia californica, Asteraceae) California sagebrush is an aromatic evergreen shrub that grows 15 to 25 dm. (5 to 8 feet) tall. It is somewhat drought deciduous. It has grayish green 1- to 2-parted leaves divided into narrowly linear lobes. The margins of the leaves curl under. Its creamy/greenish pistillate and disk florets are found in heads smaller than 5 mm. (less than 1/4 inch) in diameter. They occur in long racemose panicles at branch tips. The blooms are visible from August through February. California sagebrush is found primarily in coastal scrub, chaparral in Poly Canyon.

Artemis was the Greek goddess of the hunt and noted herbalist, Queen of Anatolia (Diana in Roman mythology). Californica means "of California."

Chumash used the wood of romerillo to make various tools. They also used it in construction, medicine, religious rites, as fire kindling, windbreaks, and barricades. They smoked its leaves and used them as incense and a fumigant.

*Chaparral broom, coyote bush, coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis, Asteraceae) This is a less than 3-m. (12-foot) evergreen dioecious dark green shrub. It has 8-55-mm. (1/2-to 11/2- inch) long ovate or obovate resinous leaves usually with five to nine short teeth. Female plants have a profusion of off-white flowers, and male plants bear smaller cream-colored flowers. Blooming is from August to November. Coyote bush is found in coastal scrub, possibly on serpentinite. It is often successional after disturbance.

Coyote bush was named after the god Bacchus. Pilularis means "fruit globular."

Chumash treated poison oak rash with a decoction of the leaves of rama china (curly branch, in Spanish). Dwarf races of Baccharis pilularis are currently used as ornamental ground cover

*California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum, Polygonaceae) California buckwheat is a 10- to 200-cm. (4-inch to 7-foot) evergreen shrub. It has 6-18 mm. (1/4- to 1/2-inch) long linear fascicled leaves that are green and glabrous above and white-woolly beneath. The leaf margins turn under. The tiny pinkish flowers bloom from March through October and are much visited by bees. California buckwheat occurs in coastal scrub, in canyons and on dry slopes.

Eriogonum means "woolly knees" or "woolly joints." Fasciculatum refers to the arrangement of the leaves in groups called fascicles.

Early Californians believed that drinking or bathing in a tea made from poleo leaves was used to relieve rheumatism and irregular menstruation. The tea was also drunk to soothe stomach troubles. In combination with sage, California buckwheat was used to suppress menstruation. Poleo is a Spanish word for mints.

California broom, deerweed (Lotus scoparius, Fabaceae) This is a 1/2- to 2-m. (2- to 3-foot) drought deciduous subshrub. It has multiple green (photosynthetic) stems bunched from ground level. Leaves are pinnately compound. The three to six elliptic leaflets are 6 to15 mm. (1/4 to 1/2 inch) long. Its tiny yellow-reddish pea-like flowers are clustered in the leaf axils, especially near stem tips. They bloom from March through the summer. Pods have a curved beak and two seeds. Deerweed occurs in coastal scrub and chaparral communities. Deerweed is host to nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These bacteria are able to take nitrogen from the atmosphere and change it into a form that makes it available as a nutrient to the deerweed. Most other plants must absorb nutrients from the soil.

Lotus was the Greek name for a fruit whose ingestion caused on to forget one's home. Scoparius means "broom-like."

Escoba de horno (oven broom, in Spanish) reflects one of its uses. It also provided a black dye and sweathouse thatching.

*Sticky monkeyflower, bush monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus, Scrophulariaceae) This is a 10- to 150-cm. (2- to 4-foot) tall evergreen subshrub. It has 20- to 80-mm. (2-inch) glandular, glutinous (sticky) leaves with edges that are rolled under. The showy orange-yellow to apricot-colored tubular flowers bloom from March through July. The fruit is a loculicidal capsule. Sticky monkeyflower occurs in coastal scrub on open, rocky, dry hillsides and cliffs, on canyon slopes, in disturbed areas, and in chaparral borders.

Mimulus comes from the Latin mimus, a comic actor, because of the markings on the flowers. Aurantiacus means "golden."

*Black sage (Salvia mellifera, Lamiaceae)
click here for description

*Western poison oak
(Toxicodendron diversilobum, Anacardiaceae)
click here for description

Associated species include:

*Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana, Asteraceae) This is a 5- to 25-dm. (11/2- to 8-foot) grayish green woody based perennial herb. It has 1- to 11-cm. (1/3- to 41/2-inch) leaves. The uppermost leaves are usually entire, while the lower ones are toothed or lobed. They are tomentose (heavily so beneath). Its flowers are borne in greenish heads that occur in dense, leafy panicles from June through October. Mugwort is found in moist open to shady places, often in drainages.

Artemis was the Greek goddess of the hunt and noted herbalist, Queen of Anatolia (she was Diana of Roman mythology). David Douglas was a 19th century Scotsman sent by the (Royal) Horticultural Society to collect plants in North America.

The name estafiate may have been condensed from de esta fíate, meaning "you can trust this one". Another common name for mugwort was yerba ceniza or ash plant, referring to its color. Early Californians used mugwort medicinally in a variety of ways. Its "wool" was harvested by rubbing the dry plant between ones palms and used to stop bleeding. Its leaves were applied as plasters to soothe sore muscles. To induce sweating, a sick person was extended on a thick layer of mugwort leaves placed on hot coals. The leaves were made into a poultice for headaches or toothaches and boiled into tea for asthma or headaches. A poultice of mugwort is said to relieve inflammation and itching from poison oak and nettles.

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California fuchsia, Zauschneria (Epilobium canum, Onagraceae) This is a 4- to 20-inch woody based herbaceous perennial. It has grayish ovate, opposite leaves are 1/2 to 3 inches long. Vivid red-orange tubular flowers open from August through October and are pollinated by hummingbirds. The fruit is a capsule. California fuchsia is found on dry slopes and ridges.

Epilobium means "upon a capsule," referring to the simultaneous flowering and fruiting. Canum means "ash-colored," as the leaf is so colored.

It is called balsamillo or balsamea in Spanish. The Chumash name s'akht'utun 'iyukhnuts means "hummingbird sucks it." Chumash sprinkled dried powdered leaves into cuts and sores to heal them. They made a decoction of the leaves to wash sprained limbs. It is used now as an ornamental.

Golden-yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum, Asteraceae) Golden-yarrow is a 2- to 7-dm. (8-inch to 21/4-foot) grayish woody based perennial herb. It has lobed 21/2-cm.(1-inch) bright green leaves that are white tomentose beneath. The leaf margins are rolled under. The inflorescence is a head of small, brilliant yellow flowers blooming from April through August. Golden-yarrow is found in many dry habitats.

Eriophyllum means "woolly-leafed" in Greek. Confertiflorum means "crowded flowers."

*Climbing bedstraw (Galium porrigens, Rubiaceae)
click here for description

image unavailable

California everlasting, cudweed (Gnaphalium californicum, Asteraceae) California everlasting is a 20- to 85-cm. (11/2- to 3-foot) tall biennial herb. It has 2- to 15-cm. (11/2- to 4-inch) oblong green, glandular, strongly-scented leaves. Its white inflorescence is a corymb of flower heads that bloom from January through July. California everlasting is found on dry, open, or wooded hills.

Gnaphalium is Greek for "lock of wool."Californicum means "of California."

Saw-toothed goldenbush (Hazardia squarrosa, Asteraceae) This is a 3- to 23-dm. (1- to 71/2-foot) tall resinous shrub. It has 11/2- to 5-cm. (1/2- to 2-inch) oblong leathery, sharply serrate, clasping leaves. The yellow-red florets occur in discoid heads and bloom from August to November. It occurs in shrubland habitats.

Barclay Hazard was a 19th century California botanist. Squarrosa means "scaly" or "rough" and describes the involucres of the flower heads.

Brother Alfred Brousseau

Climbing penstemon (Keckiella cordifolia, Scrophulariaceae) Climbing penstemon is a less than 30-dm. (10-foot) tall climbing or arching perennial woody shrub. It has opposite dark green ovate to cordate leaves. These have 20- to 65-mm. (1- to 2-inch) blades with 3- to 11-toothed margins. The vivid red or red-orange, 31- to 43-mm. (11/2-inch) tubular flowers bloom from midspring to summer. It also occurs in chaparral and woodland habitats.

David Daniels Keck was a 20th century American botanist. Cordifolia means "heart-shaped leaf" in Latin.

Chumash made tea of the leaves of moronel and drank it for colds or used it to wash out sores and wounds. Fresh leaves were used as a poultice.

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Giant wild-rye (Leymus condensatus, Poaceae) This is an 11- to 30-dm. (4- to 9-foot) perennial, clumping grass that spreads by short rhizomes (or has none). It has very strong stems. The leaves are flat or rolled, and ribbed above. Its 17- to 44-cm. (7- to 17-inch) inflorescence is panicle-like, with sessile or stalked spikelets of two to seven florets. Each floret has a single awn measuring less than 4 mm. (1/6 inch). It is found on dry slopes and in open woodlands.

Leymus is an anagram of Elymus, the ancient Greek name for millet, in which genus this grass was previously included. Condensatus means "condensed, crowded."

Bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons, Fabaceae) This is a 5- to 50-dm. (2- to 16-foot) summer-deciduous shrub with hairy leaves. Each leaf is divided into six to ten 10- to 30-mm. (1/3- to 11/4-inch) leaflets. It has 8- to 30-cm. (11/2- to 11-inch) racemes of violet to lavender 9- to 14-mm. (1/3- to 1/2-inch) flowers. The flower's banner bears a yellow-white patch that turns purple after pollination. It blooms March through June. The tissues of this plant contain alkaloids which are toxic. Bush lupine is found in open sandy or rocky habitats.

The name Lupinus is derived from the Latin for "wolf" because in antiquity these plants were believed to rob the soil of nutrients. This is ironic given modern knowledge of nitrogen-fixing root nodules present in this group. Albi means "white" in Latin. Frons refers to the leaves, "fronds."

Wild cucumber vine, California man-root (Marah fabaceus, Cucurbitaceae) This is a 23/4- to 61/2-m. (9- to 21-foot) deciduous vine. It has broad, palmate (5- to 7-lobed) leaves. Its spikes of yellowish-green, cream-colored, or white 3- to 15-mm. (1/8- to 1/2-inch) rotate monoecious flowers bloom from February through April. The "cucumbers" are 4 to 5 cm. (2 to 3 inches) long, oblong, light green, prickly poisonous gourds. The tuberous root can weigh up to 100 lbs. Wild cucumber vine occurs in shrubby and open areas and along streamsides.

Marah refers to the bitter waters of Marah in the Bible, a reflection of the bitter root of this plant. Fabaceus means "bean-like," probably because of the vine-like growth habit of the plant.

*California peony (Paeonia californica, Paeoniaceae)
click here for description

*California coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica, Rhamnaceae)
click here for description

*Spiny redberry, Buckthorn (Rhamnus crocea, Rhamnaceae)
click here for description

Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry (Ribes speciosum, Grossulariaceae) This is a 1- to 2-m. (3- to 6-foot) tall evergreen spiny shrub. It has 3-lobed shiny dark green leaves, the blades of which measure 1 to 31/2 cm. (1/3-inch). The showy hanging, magenta-red, tubular flowers are 4-merous. The sepals and petals measure from 4 to 5 mm. (1/6 inch). The flowers bloom January through May. They are hummingbird-pollinated. The fruit is a 10- to 12-mm. (1/4-inch) prickly, glandular berry. Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry occurs in coastal scrub and chaparral habitats.

Ribes comes from the Syrian or Kurdish Ribas, derived from Old Persian. Speciosum is Latin for "showy" or "good-looking."

Barburi is Chumash for "gooseberry of the deer." Chumash did not eat the fruit from this plant.

Walter Knight

*Hummingbird sage, pitcher sage (Salvia spathacea, Lamiaceae) This is a 30- to 90-cm. (1- to 3-foot) tall perennial herb. It has 8- to 20-cm. (3- to 8-inch) opposite coarse oblong leaves. Its brilliant magenta-red flowers bloom in a 6-cm. (21/2-inch) wide spike of several whorls from March through May. Brown nutlets measure 31/2 to 61/2 cm. (1/6 to 1/3 inch). Flowers are hummingbird-pollinated. Hummingbird sage is found in coastal scrub, chaparral, and coastal live oak woodland habitats on open or shady slopes.

Salvia comes from the Latin salveo meaning "to save" and refers to the medicinal uses of many Salvias. Spathacea means "with a spathe."

Borraja silvestre (wild borage) or diosa/diosita (goddess or dear little goddess) are the local Spanish names for this plant. Early Californians made a decoction of its leaves as tea or for a bath to cure pulmonary ailments and rheumatism.

*Blue elderberry (Sambucus mexicana, Caprifoliaceae) This is a summer-deciduous shrub or tree growing 2 to 8 m. (6 to 26 feet) tall. It has compound leaves (3- to 9-finely serrate, ovate to oblong leaflets measuring 3 to 20 cm. (1/2 to 21/2 inches)). Flat-topped, umbel-like, compound cymes measure 4 to 33 cm. (11/2 to 13 inches) in diameter. They bear fragrant, rotate, whitish 5-merous flowers that bloom from March through September. Fruit is a dark blue, berry-like drupe covered with a waxy powder. Blue elderberry is found along streambanks and in open woodlands.

Sambucus comes from the Greek sambuke, a musical instrument made from elder or alder wood. Mexicana means "of Mexico."

Saúco, the Spanish name for elder, was wood that was cherished by early Californians. Those people fashioned elder into tools, musical instruments, and fire sticks. Its bark was woven into bags for the collection of acorns and islay. Medicinally, its flowers and leaves were made into tea to treat colds and fever. Hollow elder stems became syringes and were used in the letting of blood. A poultice of buds on the head was used to treat sunstroke. Flowers were burned as incense and to induce sweating. The ashes of young branches were used to sterilize wounds. The roots were considered to be a strong laxative. Elder was believed to provide protection from rattlesnakes and magic for love.

Charles Webber

*Yucca, chaparral yucca, Our Lord's candle, Quixote plant (Yucca whipplei, Liliaceae) Yucca is a stemless subshrub with basal rosettes of spinescent 40- to 100-cm. (1- to 3-foot) long gray-green sword-like leaves. Its single flower stalk is tipped with a purple-tinged panicle of fragrant hanging cream-colored flowers (sometimes tipped in purple). The inflorescence measures from 2 to 40 dm. (8 inches to 13 feet. Yuccas bloom from April through May. Pollination is done at night by yucca moths, Tegeticula maculata, who lay their eggs in the flowers' ovaries. The moths have mouthparts that seem perfectly adapted for carrying pollen from the stamen to the stigma. The fruit is an oblong capsule. Each plant dies after fruiting. Yuccas are common on open coastal scrub and chaparral hillsides. On dry, open serpentinitic slopes and ridgetops, the dominant community may be "yucca scrub."

Yuca was a Haitian name for manihot, sweet cassava, or tapioca. A.W. Whipple (1816-1863) was a topographical engineer for the Pacific Railroad Survey in 1853. From a distance, a stand of yuccas in bloom resembles candles, hence one of its common names.

Several names were used for yucca (as well as for Agave): maguey, mescal, quiote, and totemado. Early Californians used its fibers for fishing lines and nets, belts, threads for sewing canoe planks together, headbands, and sandals. They also used it to pierce ears and for tattooing, as well as for tinder.