It’s the first day of spring, and here on Catalina Island spring has definitely sprung! This is the time of year that many plants are either seen for the first time or are in full bloom. Catalina Island is home to approximately 400 native plants, some of which are endemic (found nowhere else on Earth!). The indigenous (native) Gabrielino people on Catalina Island used these plants for various purposed for thousands of years – and we continue to use many of them still today! Here are just a few that you might find on a visit to Island…
- Lemonade Berry – Rhus integrifolia
The lemonade berry is a shrub or small tree that can be found on sea cliffs and rocky slopes throughout the entire island. While in bloom, the lemonade berry has bunches of small pink flowers like those in the picture above. The fruits that this plant produces are small and yellow to pink in color – a lot like lemonade! But not only does this plant’s fruit resemble the refreshing tangy drink, it was also used by the native islanders and early settlers to make an acidic drink that tastes a lot like lemonade too. It is said that the seeds can also be brewed like coffee beans to make a warm drink for chilly spring mornings.
2. California Maidenhair Fern – Adiantum jordanii
The California maidenhair fern is one of the most beautiful and unique plants that can be found on Catalina. Because these ferns love shade and water, they are always rare and exciting to find on a desert island. On Catalina, they are most likely to be found in canyons with north-facing slopes because there is more shade and moisture in these areas. The California maidenhair fern is easily identified by its delicate black stems, which were used by island natives in their basket-weaving projects to create intricate designs.
3. Wild Cucumber – Marah macrocarpus
At first glance, the wild cucumber vine looks like something from out of this world! This native (and possibly endemic) species can be found everywhere from rocky cliffs, to grasslands and shaded canyons. The wild cucumber vine is easily identified by its small white star-shaped flowers and its apricot-sized spiked fruits. If you think these fruits look pretty cool, you’re not the only one! Native islanders used these fruits to make jewelry. They also used the oils found within the seeds to create paints for petroglyphs and other art forms.
4. Coastal Sagebrush – Artemisia californica
Coastal (or California) sagebrush is one of the most common plants on Catalina Island, especially on sunny south facing slopes. But don’t let its abundance trick you into thinking it’s boring – this plant is anything but! The soft, wispy branches have been referred to as “Cowboy Cologne” because of its pleasant and aromatic scent. It was also brewed into a tea by native islanders as a cure-all for illnesses like the common cold and sore throats.
5. Stinging Lupine – Lupinus albifrons
The stinging lupine just might be one of the most beautiful flowers you can find on Catalina Island, however, it is not very commonly seen. These flowers are generally only seen following years with heavy rainfall or after wildfires. We had a lot of rain this winter here at CIMI and we are being rewarded this spring with the lupine’s purple presence! The stinging lupine was known by the native islanders to have long and sturdy roots, which they wove together to make ropes and cords.