The Last of the Franciscan Region: A Talk with James Roof, ca. 1975

Publisher: San Bruno Mountain Watch
Reporter: James Roof

(this transcript is a work in progress, the rest is coming)

James Roof (1911-1983) was born in Daly City and spent his entire adult life studying and preserving California native plants. His work took him to every corner of California but his writings and talks on his native, Franciscan, region represent most of what is known about this unique and neglected land. San Bruno Mountain was his favorite place and he spent over 35 years of his life fighting to save it from annihilation. His garden of native California plants at Tilden Park still exists and is just beginning to be recognized for the incredible resource that it is. This talk was given at his garden in 1979 to people working to stop the development of San Bruno Mountain.

THE FRANCISCAN REGION is the smallest region known in California. It's an unrecognized region because it's so small and because there's a city planted on it. I think Willis Jepson was the first man to recognize that there was a Franciscan region, and it's found in his manual-the old 1925 manual tells about a Franciscan region. He was pretty far ahead of himself in postulating that there was a Franciscan zone, and he included the coast all the way up to Mendocino County, and all the way south to Monterey. But when you examine his premise you discover that the Mendocino and Sonoma type country is not Franciscan, and that rather than the Franciscan extending up to Mendocino County, the Mendocino/Sonoma country province extends southward to Mount Tamalpais. Tamalpais is only a southern outlier, a southern island of the Mendocino/ Sonoma-type country, which is Redwood in part, Douglas Fir country in part, and is not Franciscan. The trees up in Mendocino County and Sonoma County go right down to the ocean. You find Redwoods right down near the ocean, you find Bishop Pine on all the headlands up there. That's not Franciscan country. The Franciscan country starts just south of Muir Woods in Marin County, and includes the Marin Peninsula. When you go down the other way, you find an equal situation applying. You have the Monterey type flora, which has nothing to do with the Franciscan. You have the Santa Cruz Mountains extending north from Monterey Bay to Montara Mountain in San Mateo County. Now, Montara is not Franciscan. Montara is part of the Santa Cruz Mountains. And the people who worked on the survey of San Bruno Mountain and did the flora over there, and John Hunter Thomas down at Stanford, when he wrote the flora of the Santa Cruz Mountains, he says that the Santa Cruz Mountains extend to the Golden Gate and that San Francisco is the northern terminus of the Santa Cruz Mountains. That's not true. San Bruno Mountain is a sort of a transverse, small range that almost crosses the San Francisco Peninsula just down below the city. Montara Mountain has very little relationship to San Bruno Mountain. And you find a 9-or-10-mile gap between San Bruno Mountain and Montara Mountain, and that gap is flat land. It's not a continuous series of hills from Montara to San Bruno Mountain. This is a very wide separation for mountain ranges. I believe I pointed out last time that huge mountain ranges in California are separated only by the width of a highway. The Sierra Nevada and the Greenhorn Mountains are separated only by the road, the highway from Isabella over Walker Pass, the Walker Pass highway. The White and Inyo Mountains are two tremendous mountain ranges and they're only separated by the white line that's painted down the road in Westgard Pass. And these people are trying to tell us that these mountain groups that are 10 miles apart are the same thing. They most certainly are not the same thing. When you get a comparable situation in the Salinas Valley, you separate three mountain ranges just by the Salinas Val ley. You separate the southern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains, you separate the northern tip of the Santa Lucia Mountains, and then inland you have the Gabalan Range. And these mountain masses are definitely named and separated by geographical phenomena, and here you have this wide gap separating the Franciscan region from the Santa Cruz Mountains, which are represented at their northern end by Montara Mountain. North of Montara Mountain the Franciscan zone begins. As I said, it's a very small zone because it's not been seen or recognized. It hasn't been seen or recognized first of all because there's a city planted on it. The city of San Francisco is planted right in the heart of the Franciscan zone, and the geographers and botanists, taxonomists, zoologists have flirted around the edges of the Franciscan, not knowing what they were working with. The type of Franciscan is very interesting. It divides into two types, the Marin type, which is type II Franciscan: it's good Franciscan land and most of it is safe now because it's in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and as long as no one goes over there and plants pine trees all over the Marin headlands, which I don't think they'll do, we have a good preserve of Franciscan land stretching from Muir Woods south to the Golden Gate. It also stretches up in a small curve up towards Stinson Beach. It's on the seaward side. But as soon as it gets to Steep Ravine, no more, because the trees in Steep Ravine come right down to the ocean. Now this is called Franciscan type II, because if we were out to preserve Franciscan land, and we preserved the Marin peninsula and let everything go on the San Francisco side, we'd lose everything. Franciscan country is just fine in its so-called "barrenness", in its bare quality, no trees to speak of, except way back in sheltered places. But the type of Franciscan land is in type I, that's in San Francisco. Now the heart of the Franciscan country was right in the center of town, where you had the old 49'er cemeteries, where all the rare manzanitas were represented. Also Mount Davidson, where the Franciscan manzanita's been exterminated; also the Presidio of San Francisco, where some small remnants of Franciscan land remain. And the sand dunes out here on the Avenues-this is Franciscan country. Mount Davidson was just about the heart of it, and the whole Franciscan flora was found on the small mountain range in the middle of San Francisco. If the city of San Francisco had preserved Mount Davidson-to Sunset Heights-to Twin Peaks- to Diamond Heights just in its natural form, they would have had the heart of the Franciscan country-with some small spurs out at the Presidio and down at Hunter's Point, and so on. Now: the whole Franciscan type country has been destroyed, with the exception of San Bruno Mountain.

We can't look at the political line, the San Mateo county line, separating San Francisco county from San Mateo county. We have to look at the whole type Franciscan area. And, that type area, unspoiled, is only on San Bruno Mountain. That's all that's left. Now what sets type I apart from type II is the flora. There would probably be a better fauna in Marin County because deer can range down from the park back there, maybe a mountain lion could range down. This is not going to happen down here. This is almost all city-locked. But I would say that the Marin Franciscan has the fauna, and the type Franciscan has the flora.

Now, this zone here is unique in the whole world. The conditions that cause , it are pretty well known. You have the huge valley out here with the tremendous \ area and high summer temperatures, and out here you have the Pacific, which is, with its prevailing westerlies, always pushing air onto the land. Now in the wintertime the push comes from storms, but in the summertime, the push l comes from fog and fog wind. And this is caused by rising hot air out in the val- , leys. The hot air rises out there and this causes a pushing and sucking action ; through the Golden Gate. And the wind action is almost constant, because you have storms in the winter and you have this very cold fog wind pushing in all summer. So you have very little rest for this area, which causes the trees on the west side of both peninsulas, the Marin and the San Francisco-facing the i ocean-causes them to be treeless. The Franciscan zone gets quite a bit of water. They get all the winter rain that the whole area gets. But over on the west side of the Franciscan peninsulas they also get fog. And it's very easy to pervert the Franciscan land, because everyone who comes to San Francisco wants a tree in their yard, or they want to plant trees all over the "bare hills." These hills are not bare, they're rich in animal and plant life, bird life especially. But when trees are planted on the Franciscan land they pervert it very easily. They catch the fog drip in the summertime, and people are not aware of that. As soon as they plant pines or eucalyptus on this open Franciscan land, the trees start to catch fog drip and they increase the moisture available to them. The fog isn't trapped, it just goes on over the country and it has a cooling effect and a slight watering effect, but if you can trap fog, it's just as effective as rain. And if you would get say, 30 inches of rain a year on San Bruno Mountain, and somebody plants a pine up there and the pine traps the summer fog, it's getting 30 inches of winter rain, and it's getting 10 additional inches from trapped fog. So the to- tal would be 40 inches, which is giving it practically a local rainforest effect. It does create what they call fog forests up there in the saddle area. Those cy- presses up there have leather ferns growing up and down their trunks. And these are epiphytes, these are marks of a very wet region where ferns grow on tree trunks. So those effectively are perverted, that's perverted Franciscan country. The people who inhabit San Francisco are almost always from the East. They look at the Franciscan land and they scorn it. They say, "It's bare, it's bare, we've got to plant something on it." That's what Sutro did when he was the mayor of San Francisco, he perverted the whole center, the whole cen- tral Franciscan garden of Mount Davidson, Sunset Heights, Mount Sutro; and he just did leave Twin Peaks alone because it was a symbol of the city. Well, Twin Peaks is the least of the Franciscan mountains. It didn't have the flora- it had wildflowers-it didn't have the flora that Mount Davidson, Sunset Heights or Mount Sutro had. You can still find remnants of that flora over there, but all the manzanitas are gone. All of the things that made the heart of the Franciscan zone have been subdivided out. And that's what the Crockers, and the Foremost dairy, and the conglomerates are trying to do to San Bruno Moun- tain. They're trying to wipe it out just the same way. I say that this is a tired old pattern that's been done here and they tried to do it in Marin County at Marin Shallow. And they want to do the same thing here and it's stupid. It's ignorant and stupid, and it betrays an utter lack of knowledge of the country.

Now the portions of the mountain that may be preserved should never be planted with trees. As soon as you plant trees in Franciscan country, it's no longer Franciscan country. This is a great danger to it. If parts of San Bruno Mountain are made into a park, all the scoutmasters up and down the peninsula will be trying to plant pine trees up there. And you have to call in the Ecological Vigilantes, the EV's, on the night of the full moon, out they come. If you're going to preserve Franciscan land you have to take vigilante action. You can't head these guys off in the newspapers or anywhere else. The newspapers support it. Look at McLaren Park, for example. It's Franciscan country, and the Examiner and the police department have these planting days up there where the Examiner furnishes Coke and hot dogs, the park department furnishes the trees, and the police go up there and help the boy scouts plant. I think we got into that once before, over in Buena Vista Park in San Francisco, almost on the same day they were planting McLaren Park, the police were demanding that Buena Vista Park have the trees taken out of it, because so many nurses were getting raped when they walked home in the evening from St. Joseph's Hospital over to the Haight-Ashbury. So, you have on the one hand these nuts all planting trees, and on the other hand you have the police taking them all out, demanding that they be taken out so they can have an open field of fire on the thugs and rapists. So you have a pretty good selling point there on not planting the area. But San Francisco has always been a home of strangers. We have no gripe against people from NewYork or New Jersey or Iowa, but our point is that they just don't know what they're looking at. And it's not up to them^adThe ^^^--eFranciscan land, because they don't even knowThS^ wnen t ^ us em what this is'and ^lt should be P^erved. Now when the49erscametoSanFrancisco,theyset up theirpads down, way down town, up to Kearny Street and around the bayshore there. But one or two ofThe om- tuners were pretty good botanists, and they walked around the b^short and they tell about this fringe of trees. As soon as they'd get out of town and get up towards North Beach, out towards where the Presid'o is-hwa^here hen-whentheywalked south down towards Hunter's Point they spoke of A fringe of trees around the Bay area, around San Francisco baysho^e And the keTarAn?^ ike that. And they just formed a green margin around the bay. And the last of those lingered right here at Point San Bruno up til a few years ago five or s^x tC^^"^'^018"^0^^^"0-0^ there, filled in a portion of the bay, and ruined that little bit of bayshore But we photographed it before they ruined it.

cut we ^s^T' sor! of a logical eastern terminus for san Bruno ^ain and it s included in our lecture. Point San Bruno, representing an original piece of bayshore and San Bruno Mountain representing the last Franciscan open country in the world. Okay. does that answer the first question?

Q. Did you say something about the soil differentiation? Yeah I'm glad you asked that. The Marin Peninsula doesn't have the soil differentiation that the Franciscan type country has. See, there's a big band o se ^en me that runs from northwest to southeast in San Francisco.^heGol^ ^zj^^I'r'TT'116"^3"^^^10^^^^^^^ franciscana there. And it went right through Mount Davidson, you havefL- c.cana there. It went right through the old cemeteries and yo^ have sevZl ^eT^^-^11�^^0""10"^ c^'one ofZm"^^^^^ wlld onion' Amum dichlam^ ^ so on So one of the mam things in Franciscan country was this band of serpentine It still Preserved in the Presidio. If we can get that fragment set into a p ant preserve, which I think the army's willing to do, we'll save a piece ofF^S can serpentine. I think the rest of it's all gone, there's no more on DaXT there s no more in the cemeteries. These four cemeteries had both sand and e^-'

pentine in them. Now that was, as I said, the heart of Franciscan country. Now the Franciscan also has red chert. You see lots of outcroppings of chert in Golden Gate Park for example. Big raw cliffs of red chert. And there's a lot of raw red chert down along Shaughnessy Drive, south of Diamond Heights. Then you have the sand-dune flora out here on the ocean strip, and you have pretty good natural Franciscan dune country still. It's not as great as it was up in the Sunset district. But, Fort Funston, while it's completely overgrown with Hot- tentot Fig, it still has a pretty good dune flora. So, we can save these fragments here and there, we can get a pretty good representation of the Franciscan flora. Now, sandstone: San Bruno Mountain's mostly sandstone, and I think sand de- rivatives. Everything that washes down, like towards Colma or down towards Brisbane, is mostly sand-deep blue sand. And out at the west end of Colma Canyon where they cut the road up, there were a couple of pretty good sand dunes there. The flora of San Bruno Mountain says no, these are not sand dunes. I say well, they have a sand-dune flora on them. Well, they're not technically sand dunes. Well, I said, when the wind comes along and picks up sand and piles it into a heap, it's a sand dune. It might not have been white, like these dunes over here. I think it was more tawny. These dunes out here were pure white. The dune at the mouth of Colma Canyon was quite yellow, quite tawny, but it had a good sand-dune flora on it. Particularly Lupinus chamissonis, Chamisso's Lupine, and Lupinus nanus, and Platystemon. A little Platyste- mon's out there on that sand. So, have I forgotten a soil type in there? Serpen- tine, cherts, sand and sandstone. I think that's all of them. Now, if I've forgotten one, we can come back to it. But the serpentine band was the most important one, then it's backed up by chert. Q. There is some serpentine on San Bruno Mountain, isn't there? There is some serpentine, but it's very scarce and it doesn't contain an endemic flora. It's way over here by Pig Ranch. You find it in the San Bruno flora. A little bit of serpentine over here. They hunted serpentine on San Bruno for a long time and they couldn't find it. They finally found a little patch over here but it's so small and so weathered and so covered over I think with other sand, that it doesn't have any endemic plants on it, so it's negligible. I think if that were lost to subdivision down in here somewhere, I don't think we'd be out, I don't think it's a danger point. Soils; okay, what's next? Q. Some of the characteristics of the Franciscan flora. No trees facing the ocean. I left one thing out the other day and I'm kinda glad to get it in here because that was a part of my notes that the San Bruno flora peo-

i �' pie didn't have access to... I know what I wanted to say... When this botanist Behr, that's B-E-H-R-you find him in the flora of San Francisco more than you do in the San Bruno flora-When Behr went walking around, he also climbed the hills. He climbed Twin Peaks and he climbed Sunset Heights. And he pointed out that while Ceanothus thyrsiflorus, the coast Blue Blossom, was a kind of a coastal species (up north of San Francisco and down south, it hangs in on kind of low country, Lagunitas Canyon up in Marin County is full of it, and you find it up along Tomales Bay, and Point Reyes is covered with Ceano- thus thyrsiflorus)... But in San Francisco for some strange reason it crowned all the hilltops. Instead of this thyrsiflorus (well, it's down at Lake Merced too, it wasn't confined to the hilltop), but it's down around Lake Merced and it's up at the Presidio, the type locality is up just north of Lobos Creek in the Presi- dio-and it's still there. But he did point out that while it was generally found down near the ocean and in swales and ravines, near the sea, oddly enough in San Francisco all the hilltops were crowned with coast Blue Blossoms. And I wondered about that for a long time. But I got to Sunset Heights before they subdivided the very summit of the heights, there was still some Ceanothus thyrsiflorus up there. Really high you know. Sand had blown all the way up there from the dunes and there's Tanacetum camphoratum up there and Loni- cera ledebourii, the Coast Honeysuckle, way up on top of the Sunset Heights. They found these things also on Sutro Heights. You can still find remnants, Ceanothus and Garrya eliptica over there; on the north side of Mount Davidson you can still find Sambucus callicarpa, the Red Elderberry, and Ribes malva- ceum, the Franciscan form of the Chaparral Currant. But Behr, in remarking that, gave us a good clue when we got to San Bruno and went up on to the top of the ridge there east of the summit, we named that Blue Blossom Hill right away, because it's covered with Ceanothus thyrsiflorus. Now that, using Behr's data '� from San Francisco, shows us that San Bruno Mountain is clearly Franciscan country. It's got the same Blue Blossom hilltops that San Francisco once had. And these we preserve on San Bruno or we forget about them, you know? Q. In the Santa Cruz Mountains that does not occur? It doesn't fit, no. No, it's a Douglas Fir forest on the Santa Cruz Mountains. There are no mountains down there that are crowned with Blue Blossom, like San Bruno Mountain is crowned with Blue Blossom, but it doesn't have any | forests all around it. If you found a Blue Blossom patch in the Santa Cruz [ Mountains it would have a big forest all around it. I can't think of one summit down there that's crowned that way. I think it's typically Franciscan, and I don't think there's any way out of it. I don't think there's anything like that on the Marin peninsula. I mean I made floral studies over there while I was doing the ---

floral study on San Bruno. I wanted to see if we could sacrifice San Bruno Mountain and say, well we got it all over on the Marin peninsula. My studies show that we can't duplicate it over there. We can't duplicate this at all. Not that flora. It's floristically quite dull over there. Scenically grand, I love it, but flo- ristically not. So, that's Blue Blossom. Tanacetum is up at Sutro Baths. It may be included in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, but that's no reason to sacrifice the one plant on San Bruno Mountain. It's probably emerging now. Did somebody tell me it was gone? That it died? It dies back, it' 11 come out, ours are starting to come out now down in the garden. Q. What are some of the especially Franciscan type I characteristics on San Bruno Mountain, besides the Blue Blossom? I'd say the manzanitas, the huckleberries, all of those things that grow on open sandstone. California is full of these little endemic areas and San Bruno Moun- tain is quite rich in them. The summit itself is an area of endemism. It contains Arctostaphylos imbricata. Kamchatka Point has imbricata, uva-ursi miniature, Vaccinium arbuscula, which is extremely rare, and Maianthemumkamchati- cum. When you get over to Romanzoffia Ravine, you get Romanzoffia there. You get over to Power Line Ridge you've got uva-ursi and imbricata again, plus Coast Huckleberry. All these patches of Coast Huckleberry are sitting on very thin soils and they're the old, old pioneer plants that go back beyond time. And there are a great many areas of those on San Bruno. Now this is almost duplicat- ing the southwest slope of Mount Davidson or the southeast slope of Mount Da- vidson where Arctostaphylos franciscana occurred. You don't have francis- cana native on San Bruno Mountain, but you have Arctostaphylos pacifica there which is the equivalent. And you have the great Manzanita Dike, which is covered with Arctostaphylos imbricata. This is the whole floristic history of the mountain written right there in the plants. And these endemic areas, you know, got to be saved! Now, the subdividers will tell you that they don't have any intention of going up there and subdividing those endemic areas, for heaven sake! They are gonna stick right down there in the saddle area and we' re going to get the whole mountain. But when they subdivide down there it con- centrates people onto the endemic areas. They've got a population of 25,000 there, postulated, and you have the whole Bay Area surrounding the mountain. Daly City, Colma, South City, and Brisbane, and it's going to become a very popular place. And, when they say that they are not going to bother those areas up there, they don't know what they're talking about. The saddle area would bethe area that would give the most recreation to the most people. They could sit down in there and picnic and so on, and only those who are interested in the

mountain area would go up and look at the plants. But if you take the saddle 1 area away, then everybody is going to be concentrated on the endemic areas. And this is going to be very damaging and it's going to require things that we won't find acceptable-putting chain fences around these rare plants and try- \ ing to keep people from making cuttings and ripping them off. It's not gonna be easy no matter which way they play it, but it's gonna be an awful lot easier if they don't build in the saddle area, and concentrate most of the people down there. I wouldn't recommend lawns for the saddle area, but sometimes they can put a mower in there and mow the native grass down and guys can throw fris- bees or play baseball, or what have you. I'm not against that in the saddle area, because, you know, the rare plants aren't there. But the saddle area should take the heat off of the upper mountain. Now I don't care what these people say, they said the same thing for Mount Davidson. They said, "Look at Mount Davidson, it's not spoiled, for heaven sake, there's the whole top up there and it's been left in a natural condition, and blah, blah." Well it hasn't been, it's absolutely and j grossly mutilated. Mount Davidson has been crowded to the last lot they can carve off of the side of it, and the last lots have these huge stony banks in their backyards. Just recently kids have been up on top of the banks throwing rocks down on the houses. Now, whether that land is rocky or not, it someday is going to subside. A mountain like that has to come into a condition of natural repose, and, when it does, all those houses are gonna have what they call problems, and problems are caused by not letting the Earth alone. There is a small area of na- tive plants on Mount Davidson, but the west half of it has been grossly per- verted with Sutro's stupid Eucalyptus trees. He perverted the central mountain chain in the Franciscan zone and he also perverted Sutro Heights out by the CliffHouse. And I think that Sutro Heights probably contained some very, very , valuable native floristic evidence which we'll never know about. And it's the j destruction of these things that later on gives you the idea that you goofed. You say, "Gee-I shoulda gone there and looked at that." Somebody shoulda gone to Sutro Heights and looked at Sutro Heights before Sutro got a hold of it. It was probably one of the great endemic areas in the Franciscan zone, and we' 11 never ; know if anything grows there or not. He's planted it all with this tropical crap. | Then when they get through perverting the country, they hand their pad over to the city and say, "Here, this is your park," andtheysay, "Oh! He's given us this wonderful park!" I'd just tell them to keep it. It's just a jungle of perverted Franciscan land; and to me, it's extremely unappealing because I can't look at ' j it without thinking: "What was there? What did grow there?" We'll never know. Like I say, these apes come from all over and they don't know what | they're doing. They say, "We made the bluff blossom." I say the bluff was blos- I soming before you got here, Jack! Okay that's ... Next question ...