For those who love our native flora and fauna, there is a rich and diverse site nearby: San Bruno Mountain—a plant and wildlife treasure trove, a place of natural beauty and gorgeous views, historical heritage, creeks, hidden valleys and high ridges. And it is all within easy reach of Glen Park gardeners.
Like many people in the region, I have been driving past the mountain for years, unaware of its wealth of plant and wild life. But once I started walking on the well-kept trails and joined guided walks, I became an enthusiast—this is a hidden gem worth exploring.
The go-to place for information and activities is San Bruno Mountain Watch, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve, protect and expand the native ecosystems of San Bruno Mountain. On their website (below), you can sign up for guided walks and find out what is blooming on the mountain.
The center of their efforts to nurture the diverse ecosystems is the Mission Blue Nursery, where volunteers and staff propagate native plants for replanting on the mountain. Best of all for gardeners, this nursery has quarterly public sales of large, healthy plants acclimatized to our environment. Kris Jensen, a Bay Area native and the executive director of Mountain Watch, quoted Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson, who wrote, “San Bruno Mountain is one of 18 global biodiversity ‘hot-spots’ in need of immediate protection.” Kris pointed out there are 13 rare and endangered plants on the mountain, and three endangered butterflies: the Mission blue, San Bruno elfin, and Callippe silver spot. He described the park as a "challenged, delicate, diverse, rich and interesting resource."
The mountain, about 1,300 feet high at its peak and covering about 3,400 acres, has been under threat by developers for many years. One of the wackiest proposals in the late 1970s recommended slicing off the top of the mountain, moving the resulting huge amount of soil over Highway 101 in conveyer belts and dumping it in the bay—thus creating two areas for development. Fortunately for us, that plan failed, due to the efforts of activists.
You can help this effort by volunteering in the Mission Blue Nursery or joining the “weed warriors” who fight the battle against invasive plants.
A good introduction to the secrets of the park is to take a walk with San Bruno Mountain Watch staff, who will show you such treasures as the shell mounds of the Ohlone people, lovely Buckeye Canyon, grasslands filled with flowers, seeps, bogs and hidden trails.
But the best thing is just to visit and walk. I hike on the Saddle Loop trail, a moderate three-mile ramble among rolling hills covered in low, mounding plants such as coyote brush, coffeeberry, manzanita and more. I often see butterflies, hawks, the ever-present California ravens, and I listen to the songbirds in the eucalyptus forests. There are so many flowering plants to enjoy—and always something new to see each season. Here are four typical plants that will also grow in your garden and, if purchased at the Mission Blue Nursery, will be acclimatized to this area.
San Franciscan wallflower, Erysimum franciscanum: Usually one the first flowers to appear in spring, this lowgrowing biennial garden plant has lovely creamy-yellow flowers and tolerates many soils. I selected this as it appears early in the season, and that pale yellow color is so hard to find. Coast rock cress, Arabis blepharophylla: This cress sends up thin, hairy stems topped with pink-purple flowers from a low-growing clump of graygreen leaves. A sweet-smelling perennial often grown in gardens and endangered in the wild, it tolerates many soils and drought.
Pearly everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea: A tall perennial with clusters of white and yellow bracts and flowers. The clusters dry up and stay on the plant for weeks and look super planted in groups in a sunny wild native garden. They cover the slopes of the Saddle Loop like snow in fall, and are just starting to grow again now. Checkerbloom, Sidalcea malviflora: A perennial that is showy, low and best in large groups, it tolerates many soil types, some shade, and is drought tolerant. Low, profuse pink flowers are charming in the garden and good for butterflies.
Here are some resources to get you started:
San Bruno State and County Park
555 Guadalupe Canyon Parkway, Brisbane
Maps, directions, volunteer opportunities.
There is a charge for cars to enter the park, seniors are
free during the week, dogs are not allowed.
San Bruno Mountain Watch:
Mission Blue Nursery:
California Native Plant Society:
Bay Natives Nursery:
10 Cargo Way, San Francisco