California Native Grassland & Wildflower Field

Grasslands interface with coastal sage scrub and chaparral in California. Grasslands may be the most severely altered of all California communities. Formerly consisting of perennial bunchgrasses, grassland communities have been greatly altered by the introduction of grazing animals and the annual grasses favored by grazing. An alien species that now occurs commonly in grasslands is wild oats. Nassella pulchra (the purple needle grass) is an example of a native perennial bunchgrass. The golden hills of California weren't so golden before replacement of these bunchgrasses, which stayed green much longer than the annual grasses. Grasslands were formerly widely distributed throughout other parts of the state at low elevations. Most of these areas have been converted to agricultural land or other development.

The grassland community at the Arboretum is represented in the Athalie Smith Clarke Garden, at the top of the knoll bordering the marsh. This garden has an abundance of native California poppies in the spring. Intermixed with the poppies are species typical of grasslands. In particular, Nassella pulchra, the purple-needle grass, is well represented. Several patches of golden stars (Bloomeria crocea) flower in the spring. As this garden matures, we expect to see a rich assortment of plants native to grasslands, similar to those that occurred in the past in grasslands throughout southern California.