Old and New Growth - at Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve

Bonny Doon manzanita - Arctostaphylos silvicola (at least I think so) 

I spent new year's morning hiking a trail of the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve with a friend - coincidentally named Bonnie. It's a wonderful place, well worth the trip - it's fun getting there along narrow winding roads. You can go from Felton to Bonny Doon, hike there, and then continue on to the coast. Maybe have lunch at Davenport,  on Highway 1 about half an hour north of Santa Cruz, and take a walk along one of the many fine beaches.

Bonny Doon is four miles inland and over 1,400 feet above sea level, but it's also a coastal environment in a very real sense: 15 million years ago it lay under a vast sea. It's one of the very special Santa Cruz sandhill areas, "biological islands" quite different from any of the surrounding habitats. The sandhills are composed of "Zayante soils" which are almost pure sand, with very little organic material. The sandhill chaparral and sandhill parkland are two distinct communities in these sandhill areas, which are found only in central Santa Cruz County.

Bonny Doon was founded as a logging camp in the 1850s. A Scot called John Burns named it for a line in a poem by Robert Burns. I'm always happy to drop a bit of Rabbie into a blog post:

Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fair!
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae fu' o' care!
(For a sweet young Scottish child singing a version the whole song, see this Youtube video.)

Unfortunately, not only logging but also mining of the sand as well as land development have whittled away the sandhill communities to remnants of their former extent.  What's left is rare and precious. Bonny Doon is home to these rare endemic (found only here) plants:

  • Santa Cruz wallflower Erysimum teretifolium
  • Ben Lomond spineflower Chorizanthe pungens var. hartwegiana
  • Ben Lomond buckwheat Eriogonum nudum var. decurrens
  • Bonny Doon manzanita Arctostaphylos silvicola
And animals:
  • Santa Cruz kangaroo rat Dipodomys venustus venustus; Heteromyidae
  • Mount Hermon June Beetle Polyphylla barbata
  • Zayante Band-Winged Grasshopper Trimerotropis infantilis
Our hike took us through trails where the Martin wildfire raged in 2008. It was terrible to see the destruction, yet great to see how the ecosystem has responded since then.

The largest plants affected were the pines. I'm afraid I don't know my pines. I think they are ponderosa pines, Pinus ponderosa, because I read that they are found here. Ponderosa pines as a rule grow at much higher elevations, in the Sierras - it's a notable oddity of the area that they also occur here.

Trees in the background were burned in the Martin Wildfire

Another view of burned trees. Ponderosa pine or knobcone pine - I'm not sure as yet.

Unburned pines nearby

Pinecones - Don't look like ponderosa pinecone photos I've seen. Are these knobcone pine cones?

Baby pines sprouting everywhere!
The area we walked in was also full of large burned manzanitas, and lots of tender young ones. There were at least two types of manzanitas - maybe three. Another thing I need to check up on before my next visit. Better yet - it would be great to go on a guided hike.

Beautiful skeletons of burned manzanitas

More manzanita skeletons - aren't they dramatic?

Some beautiful unburned manzanitas not too far away - easily 15 feet tall

Some young manzanitas were greener, and had hairy stems - different from the Bonny Doon manzanita (shown at top)

Green leaved manzanita with hairy stems

Felty-grey leaved manzanita with smooth stems
Beautiful color and texture of young manzanita leaves - is this Arctostaphylos silvicola?

It's great to see this area even in winter - and I'll appreciate the glories of spring all the more. I hope I'll get better photos when I next visit - this post has only iPhone photos because I've misplaced my camera.

Also in this area we saw burned madrones - didn't get a picture of those. Here's a madrone branch that survived. It looks distinctly human, don't you think? like a strong forearm.

Madrone "arm" - beautiful color

And here is one of the sweet baby madrones that were sprouting

Bonnie lives in Scotts Valley, and her yard lies in one of the sandhill areas that were developed. One reason we were hiking here was to look for plant ideas. We saw huckleberry - definitely attractive in the garden, and buckwheat, and monkeyflower.

Also the two kinds of ceanothus that grow in my area too - C. papillosus and C. thyrsiflorus - and one that looked a lot like a hybrid of them - leaves shaped like C. papillosus, but smooth like C. thyrsiflorus!

Is this a hybrid of Ceanothus papillosus and C. thyrsiflorus?

Here's Ceanothus papillosus, wart leaf ceanothus.

There was also Ceanothus cuneatus - buckbrush, but I didn't get a good shot. Here are snaps of a few other plants we saw that would work in a sandy garden in Scotts Valley -

Lupinus albifrons Silver bush lupine

I think this is Myrica californica - not 100% sure. We thought it was a variation of yerba santa - which was also there - very similar long leaves, but the above have really dentate margins and so I'm not sure.

I believe this is  Ericameria ericoides - California goldenbush, pretty in seed. Can't wait to see it in bloom!

Even up here in these dry sandy areas we saw some fun fungus.

Colorful turkey tail sort of fungus
Vivid golden buttery kind of fungus

The Santa Cruz Fungus Fair is coming up! A good chance to learn exactly what kind of fungus these are. It's on January 11 - 13. Last year I listened to David Arora's talk the Wheel of Fungus - which was really - well - fun. He is nothing like you would expect - though I get the feeling the unexpected is to be expected when it comes to fungus fanciers. They are a jolly lot and very friendly - I recommend the fair as a wonderful experience.

A hiker we met warned us about ticks - he said that several local people have come down with lyme disease, caught from ticks. As soon as I got home, I stripped off and put all my clothing into the laundry, and carefully inspected my boots and showered and washed my hair!

If you are interested in learning more about the sandhill ecosystems, and seeing photos of many plants in bloom, visit the Sandhills Alliance for Natural Diversity web site. A partial plant list with photos is available on this iNaturalist site, too.

Also, I recommend this excellent article on the sandhills published in Bay Nature, April 2012, and this shorter article from a few years back, published on SFGate.

Despite the ticks -- I'm sure you would enjoy visiting this unique spot if you're in the area.

Santa Cruz - it's not just about the giant redwoods!


Cynthia Nicole said…
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Cynthia Nicole said…
The tall burned trees are mostly Ponderosas. The cones look like Knobcone. (I live near the reserve)
Country Mouse said…
Ah, thanks, Cynthia - another little nugget. My friend also told me that the sort of small goose honks/or loud beeps I heard were the pygmy nuthatches - meant to write that in the post - it was great to put the visual of the bird with its voice. Yes indeedy - the fun is in the learning and exploring!
Diana Studer said…
your first picture could almost be protea leaves.
I'm always impressed with how quickly burned areas come back to life. A lovely tour of the area. I haven't been up there since the fire.

Your buttery fungus is a type of jelly fungus. Quite possibly Tremella aurantia, which actually parasitizes the false turkey tail fungus, Stereum hirsutum. Have fun at the fungus fair! We have conflicts that weekend, as it's scion season for fruit trees.