Marin Chapter 50th Anniversary

Marin Chapter 50th Anniversary

Marin Chapter Turns 50!

In 2024, we are celebrating our talented and dedicated people and all they have achieved, as well as planning some new paths for the future. We have accomplished a lot, but our tough and beautiful native plants still need an advocate. We invite you to join us in our mission and help celebrate our native flora.

Marin Native Plant Challenge

Locate and photo-document 50 native plants in Marin’s glorious wildlands and be eligible for a drawing at our August 24th celebration. Working list with hints provided.

50 Acts of Caring Challenge

We need to think about the wider effects of the choices we make about our property. Join us on Instagram at #marincnps to learn 50 simple changes you can make that benefit all living things, not just humans.

Student Native Plant Photo Challenge

Explore Marin’s miles of trails and coastline and get tips and inspiration for your photography. Open to those enrolled in high school; jointly run by the Marin chapter of CNPS and Marin Photo Club. Details coming in April.

Celebrate 50!

A delicious catered buffet dinner and an evening of shared conversation with our friends and supporters. Save the date: Saturday August 24th. Details coming soon.

Marin Chapter History

We’ve come a long way since our founding in 1974. Read about the start of CNPS, key people who contributed beyond measure and the incredible flora we discovered on mountains and meadows in this unique county.

Roy’s Redwoods Restoration and Protection of Enchanter’s Nightshade

Roy’s Redwoods Restoration and Protection of Enchanter’s Nightshade

by Eva Buxton

Circaea alpina ssp pacifica – enchanter’s nightshade by Vernon Smith

In February of 2023, Marin County Parks (MCP) sent out a Notice of Intent to adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for a restoration project in Roy’s Redwoods Open Space Preserve that includes an old-growth grove in Woodacre, CA. The main purpose of the project was to restore hydrologic processes of Larson Creek, which runs through the preserve, thus implementing MCP’s Road and Trail Management Plan to reduce environmental impacts and provide the public with a safe and sustainable, multi-use trail system. I commented on this CEQA document on behalf of the Marin chapter.

I have visited the preserve on many occasions, in the past with my own children, with CNPS about ten years ago, and recently on field trips during the planning phase. A large open area, suitable for outdoor education and where children could play in the creeks, balance on old logs, or build a fort with a few branches and sticks found on the ground, will have its floodplain restored by decommissioning social trails, reducing erosion and soil compaction, and increasing conditions for natural regeneration of vegetation. Low, split-rail fences will be installed to keep users on trails in the preserve.

Plant surveys were contracted out to Prunuske Chatham, Inc (PCI) by MCP. No rare plants were reported observed during their surveys in 2021; however, I found their surveys to be inadequately timed and so did the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).  Although no special-status species are likely to occur in the forested part of the site, additional surveys would be conducted, according to MCP.

In my comments on the MND, I mentioned the likely occurrence on the preserve of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea alpina ssp. pacifica) in the Evening-Primrose family (Onagraceae), a plant that Doreen Smith had shown me growing in the deep shade of the redwood forest many years ago. According to Marin Flora (J.T. Howell, et al. 2007) “this widely distributed but uncommon western American species is not known south of Marin County in the Coast Ranges.” It was not included in the list of plants observed during surveys, a list that needs to be included in this kind of document. As it is a perennial species spreading by rhizomes or stolons, and MCP takes into consideration uncommon or unusual plants on their open space preserves, I recommended that it be salvaged and included in the revegetation effort. In their response to comments, MCP mentioned that they would do so.

Additional surveys were, in fact, done in 2023 by Julian Geoghegan, MCP staff botanist, which resulted in the mapping of many dense patches of enchanter’s nightshade throughout the forest. Julian believes that the project will be good for the “health” of this species as the removal of social trails presently impacting it will reduce the trampling it now experiences.  He further believes that this species fills the niche that redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) fills in other redwood groves. Strangely enough, redwood sorrel common in redwood forests, is absent from Roy’s Redwoods, although it is included on CNPS’ plant list for the site.  Work to salvage enchanter’s nightshade for revegetation will start in August.  MCP will also propagate the plant from seed for ongoing restoration.

On a happy note – I was pleased to see that a Scramble and Nature Exploration Area is included in the proposed project, designed to take the place of the large open area slated for complete restoration, where I saw teachers with school classes and children play in the past.

The Road to Ring Mountain

The Road to Ring Mountain

By Kristin Jakob and Laura Lovett

Tiburon’s Ring Mountain is now known to be a rare biological island, home to several rare plants including one species unique to that site. However, it went through some rough times before it was preserved for the public to enjoy. Upon its founding in 1974, CNPS Marin Chapter became active participants in the campaign to save Ring Mountain. Its significant role in the story of the Preserve includes early and continuing advocacy, a long history of educational outings, and the compilation and maintenance of a plant species checklist. Last year, in conjunction with Marin County Parks, it established the Ring Mountain Wildflower Docent Program to help visitors learn about this unique site.

Ring Mountain: Photo by Laura Lovett

Tiburon Mariposa Lily, a Rare Endemic

Ring Mountain is probably best known for the Tiburon mariposa lily, Calochortus tiburonensis, whose entire population is restricted to the serpentine rock outcrops in the grasslands of the Preserve’s upper slopes. Its existence was brought to scientific light by Chapter member and amateur botanist Dr. Robert (Bob) West. Bob, a regular leader of plant and mushroom field trips for the Marin Chapter, resided in Corte Madera near the northern foot of Ring Mountain. In June of 1971, he observed and photographed a lily he didn’t recognize while hiking on the ridge. The cryptic coloration of the flowers and foliage matches the tones of the drying grasses among which it grows, effectively camouflaging the plant and delaying its discovery. Bob showed his photos of the lily to Florence Youngberg of Ross, who in turn showed them to Annetta Carter, a Research Associate at the University of California Herbarium in Berkeley, who then brought them to the attention of Albert Hill at the UC Berkeley Botanic Garden. Albert had a special interest in the genus Calochortus and in 1973 proceeded to describe and name the new species in Vol. 22 of Madroño, the quarterly journal of The California Botanical Society.


Notes written on 22 June 1972 by Phyllis Ellmman – Photo courtesy of the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society

Serpentine and Other Habitats

The mountain is home to several other rare plant species: serpentine reedgrass (Calamagrostis ophitidis), Oakland star tulip (Calochortus umbellatus), marsh star tulip (Calochortus uniflorus), Tiburon paintbrush (Castilleja affinis ssp. neglecta), Tiburon buckwheat (Eriogonum luteolum var. caninum), Marin dwarf flax (Hesperolinon congestum), and marsh zigadene (Toxicoscordion fontanum). These and several other plants found on Ring Mountain are considered serpentine endemics, having been found (at least to date) only growing in soil derived from serpentine rock. This soil type is high in minerals such as chromium and nickel that are generally toxic to plants, and low in primary plant nutrients. The soil is commonly waterlogged in winter and very dry in summer except along watercourses. These conditions favor adapted native plants and are inhospitable to most invasive introduced species, so this habitat can reward visitors with spectacular floral displays and great botanical interest.

Serpentine grasslands cover nearly fifty percent of Ring Mountain’s acreage, with nonnative grasslands dominating the lower slopes with deeper soils. There are also patches of mixed evergreen forest, areas of coyote brush scrub, along with seeps and freshwater marshes that support moisture-loving species. This diversity of habitats provides for a particularly rich array of plants.

From Grazing to Preservation

The land we now know as Ring Mountain Preserve was originally part of an 8,000-acre land grant called Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio, deeded to Irish immigrant John Reed in 1834. The Reed family and descendants owned much of Tiburon Ridge and used it for grazing up until the 1900s, when development was started on the lower slopes.

In the 1940s, the US Army took over the property, bulldozed large terraces out of the slopes, and pushed serpentine soil to places it wasn‘t before. In the 1950s, the highest part of the mountain served as the location for a large 16-inch gun installation. Some of this damage was repaired and bunkers were removed when the Army left, but the terracing and red chert (brought in for drainage) platforms remain.

In the 1960s, Thomas Deffebach, descendent of the original land-grant family, sold 427 acres along the top of the ridge to developers Ring Mountain Ltd. The move to build on the remaining portion of this rare habitat galvanized Marin County’s conservation organizations to campaign to preserve it.

Marin Chapter member and Tiburon resident Phyllis Ellman served on a newly-formed Ring Mountain Advisory Committee to review development plans put forward. Phyllis was a tireless advocate for protection of this property. She led untold field trips on the mountain to show others the location’s unique flora, encouraging them to support the campaign to preserve it.

Phyllis Ellman standing by the trail marker – Photo courtesy of the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) entered the picture in 1980 when they launched a campaign called California Critical Areas Program, a push to evaluate and identify eleven sites around California that represented optimal examples of particular habitats and worthy of preservation. Ring Mountain was chosen as a unique example of serpentine grassland. TNC initiated negotiations with the developers to purchase some or all of the unbuilt portion. The first parcel purchased was the 74-acre strip that runs from Paradise Drive to the top of the mountain. The developers concluded that it was unstable enough as to be unbuildable and sold it to TNC for $400,000.

In need of funding for their development plans, Ring Mountain Ltd. received a loan from The Nature Conservancy; in exchange for five years of interest TNC took title to another 42 acres at the top of the mountain. TNC specifically chose the area where the Tiburon Mariposa lily grows. As part of the deal, TNC obtained management authority over the remaining 311 acres for the next five years.

Ring Mountain Ltd. got approval to build 50 houses on 64 acres in pockets adjacent to existing development, then tried to sell the land and development approval to a bank which would not accept it with the TNC management lease attached. Ring Mountain Ltd. promptly gave all but 50 acres to TNC to clear the title, adding 261 acres to the total acreage that became Ring Mountain Preserve. Because of potential damage from earlier landslides, TNC left the responsibility to remediate the unstable sections with Ring Mountain Ltd. but put up the $450,000 required to do the work. CNPS Marin Chapter contributed $4,400, donated by our members to our Ring Mountain Fund.

This beautiful and singular property had been torn up by motorcyclists and dirt bikers over many years, leaving deep scars. In addition, it had been used as an illegal dumping site. TNC biologist Lynn Lozier was made preserve manager. Together with community volunteers, she started the work of putting up fencing and gates and removing and repairing the damage. Twenty-eight truckloads of trash were hauled away from the east side alone.

Ring Mountain Preserve was dedicated on April 23, 1983. The Nature Conservancy named the main trail for Phyllis Ellman in recognition of her tireless work to help secure the land for conservation and public use. On November 13, 1995, The Nature Conservancy transferred ownership to the newly-formed Marin County Open Space District, which presently maintains this gem.

Consider joining CNPS Marin Chapter in preserving Ring Mountain by participating in the Ring Mountain Wildflower Docent Program.

What Not to Plant: Ten Pests That Should Not Be in Your Garden

What Not to Plant: Ten Pests That Should Not Be in Your Garden

By Laura Lovett

If you love to garden, Marin County is a great place to live. Cold freezes are rare, winters are short, low hills provide wind protection and rains fall more frequently here than inland, making hospitable growing conditions for a huge variety of plants. Those same conditions, however, make it a good host for what are known as “invasives.” 

Since settlers arrived in California, we have been importing and growing plants here from all corners of the world, especially those that thrive in similar Mediterranean climate zones. The vast majority of these are well-behaved visitors. Invasive plant species are those visitors with characteristics such as fast growth and multiple methods of propagation. When combined with a lack of natural predators and diseases, these plants can take over major areas of land and water, forcing out native plants and creating monocultures. It is this ability to suffocate and replace other native vegetation—creating environmental degradation—that makes a particular plant an invasive weed.

Some invasive species were introduced with good intentions and then ran wild, but there are several that we still bring home from nurseries and plant in our garden that subsequently spread rapidly beyond them. If you live along a stream or in an area that’s foggy and damp, the potential for uncontrolled spreading is increased. While you may be careful gardener, wind, birds and other animals will help plants migrate to where they cause havoc. Below are a few of the plants that we hope are not in your garden and some suggestions on what else to plant that will grow to a similar size and form. 

Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lacteus, Cotoneaster pannosus). A very pretty shrub that produces thousands of berries each year. The problem with cotoneaster is that those seeds are widely dispersed by birds, small mammals, water movement and human activities. Cotoneaster is very competitive and has an aggressive root system that displaces native plants. It appears quickly in disturbed sites and gets established before preferred native shrubs like Coffeeberry (Frangula californica) and Toyon (heteromeles arbutifolia) that will provide far more ecological value to the habitat. Good options to use in shadier spots include Pink-flowered Currant (Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum) and Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus).

Photo by Vernon Smith

Carpobrotus edulis – ice plant

Highway Ice Plant (Carpobrotus edulis). This vigorous groundcover forms impenetrable mats that compete directly with native vegetation. It regenerates through seed and from small fragments of vegetation that blow or wash elsewhere. Introduced as an ornamental plant, Ice Plant now inhabits our coastal scrub, grasslands, and bluffs, and covers large areas of Point Reyes dunes and beaches. If you must have it, plant Trailing Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi), a non-invasive (and non-native) Ice Plant with smaller succulent leaves and brilliant violet-pink flowers that’s salt tolerant and fire resistant. Native groundcover options include Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis), Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus), and Dwarf Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis ‘Twin Peaks’ or ‘Pigeon Point’).

Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans). Very little will grow under an established Echium candicans. It is especially problematic in damp areas and along watercourses, which provide moisture that enables it to spread. It should not be planted near natural open space—new seedlings can sprout as much as 30 feet from the parent plant. Cut off the flower stalks before seeds mature to avoid this. But why would you plant something from across the Atlantic when you can enjoy a lovely native Ceanothus ‘Concha,’ Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii, try varieties ‘Pozo Blue’ or ‘Winifred Gilman’), Island Bush Poppy (Dendromecon harfordii) or Flannel Bush (Fremontodendron californicum)? All of these are gorgeous shrubs in their own right.

Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima). A feathery and attractive grass that’s easy to grow, this pest appears in gardens all over Marin. It is particularly regrettable to see it in gardens near waterways as the seeds are easily dispersed by water. Seeds are also carried by livestock, humans, and wind; they adhere to clothing and fur; and can lay dormant for more than four years. This plant is now found in all types of landscapes around the county. Recommended alternatives include Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’), Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus airoides), Red Fescue (Festuca rubra), and Slender Hairgrass (Deschampsia elongata).

Big stands of Pampas Grass clog the Corte Madera marsh. Photo: Laura Lovett

Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana). We introduced this plant to California for ornamental use before it took over many areas of the state. The fluffy plumes produce 100,000 seeds (or more) that blow away in the wind, making it nearly impossible to control. It tolerates winter frost, warmer summer temperatures, moderate drought, and produces significant amounts of extremely flammable biomass, increasing both the frequency and intensity of fire. For a substitute with the same striking stature, try Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii), which grows up to 10 feet tall and has showy, feathery seed heads in late summer. Also try Lindheimer’s Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) or Giant Wild Rye (Elymus condensatus).

Giant Reed Grass (Arundo donax). This bamboo-like tall grass is a serious problem in damp areas and along streams. Its dense growth crowds out native plants, damages habitat, and creates a fire and flood hazard while providing little shade for fish populations in the stream. Giant Reed threatens riparian ecosystems by modifying the hydrology of the river, retaining sediment, and constricting flow. Alternatives include Lindheimer’s Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis), and Giant Wild Rye (Elymus condensatus).

Running Bamboo and English Ivy will both spread far beyond where they were planted. Photo: Laura Lovett

Running Bamboo (usually Phyllostachys species but also Pseudosasa, Chimonobambusa, Arundinaria, Semiarundinaria, etc.). Technically a giant grass, Running Bamboo is one of the world’s most invasive plants. Once established, it is literally next to impossible to control. Many homeowners plant bamboo to create a fast-growing privacy screen. Before you do, however, keep in mind it will not stay on your property but will invade much of your neighbor’s as well. Bamboo grows particularly vigorously when near irrigated lawns and gardens. Bamboo barriers eventually break. Trust me, mine did! It took 30 hours of work sifting the soil to remove every shred of root that could sprout a new plant. If you already have it on your property, use a backhoe to remove as much root and soil as possible, then comb through the remainder for root fragments.

Better options to plant include Island Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus alnifolius) which makes an evergreen shrub 4 to 6 feet wide and 12 feet tall; Holly-leaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia), also evergreen with white flowers and red fruit in fall that birds love; or California Cypress (Cupressus goveniana), very drought tolerant, to 15 feet tall and evergreen.

Woodland Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica). A native of North Africa, this charming little plant grows like wildfire in shady, moist areas and in fields, meadows, woodlands and coastal forests. Be sure to pull or hoe the plants before they go to seed as they spread by seeds and by roots at the leaf nodes. Plants will soon re-sprout if you don’t remove all of the roots. Good replacement choices include the very similar native Woodland Phacelia (Phacelia bolanderi), as well as Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa), Creeping Snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis), and Candy Flower (Claytonia siberica).

English Ivy (Hedera helix). This European import shows up along roadways, on the coast, and outcompetes almost everything in California’s forests as well. Ivy can smother understory vegetation, kill trees, and inhibit regeneration of understory plants, including new trees and shrubs. Replace it with any native groundcover and you’ll immediately increase the biodiversity of your garden. Excellent choices include groundcover varieties of ceanothus like ‘Centennial,’ ‘Anchor Bay’ or ‘Carmel Creeper,’ Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis), and Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii).

Periwinkle (Vinca major). Periwinkle has trailing stems that root wherever they touch the soil. Riparian zones are particularly sensitive. Fragments of periwinkle vines can break and wash downstream, allowing it to spread rapidly in shady creeks and drainages where it smothers the native plant community. Any of the alternatives suggested for English ivy will grow where periwinkle has been removed. If you have a sunny site, try Bee’s Bliss Sage (Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’) or Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus).

Native plants may not seem showy like your favorite roses or hydrangeas, but they are essential to our natural world. These plants have had millennia to adapt to our region’s local climate and soils, co-evolving with insects, fungi, and microbes to form complex relationships that create the foundation of our ecosystem. Imported invasives that push these plants out create “green deserts” that do not provide any resources for pollinators or food for birds or wildlife. State agencies, parks and regional groups spend more than $82 million a year to control them. We encourage you to help this effort to conserve our natural biodiversity by making thoughtful choices for your home garden. See for a handy tool to help you plan.