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.