Tag Archives: Plants

Spring Arrivals on Catalina Island!

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…

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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. 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.



Who’s Sucking Up All The Water!?

CactusIf you have ever visited CIMI, the chances that a Prickly Pear Cactus victimized you are highly likely. I know my feet have suffered many times on leisure hikes from those pesky spines that borrow into your skin and call your little toe-piglets home for several days. Let’s not jump to the chase, although, and show some appreciation for these super-plants and all others like it. These herbaceous beauties spend their days surviving in the hot sun and living in dry, rainless conditions. We call these types of plants, succulents.

Now you may be unfamiliar of this name or some examples from this group, but more than likely you have once owned or shared property with a succulent plant, or have even used one to help relieve some of your past shameful sunburns. But lets not get too personal just yet…

SucculentA succulent is a type of plant that exhibits characteristic swollen, fleshy leaves and stems that are used for the soul purpose of retaining water. Naturally, these plants grow and thrive in extreme environments, particularly those where there’s minimal rainfall and dry air and soil. The most common examples of this group include cacti and medicine plants, such as aloe vera. Here on Catalina Island, the most prominent of succulents is the Prickly-Pear Cactus. These fellows lavish the hillsides with their spiny, lobed blades and occasional juicy, red tunas and yellow flowers. We also have our endemic Catalina Island Live-Forever and its invasive doppelgänger, the Ice Plant.

So how do these plants manage to survive in such arid, drought-ridden environments? The answer lies within a specialized form of photosynthesis, called Crassulacean Acid Metabolism or CAM. During normal photosynthesis, pores called stomata located throughout a plant’s epidermis open up during the day to take in carbon dioxide from the air. This gas, along with water stored within, undergo a chemical reaction using the sun’s energy to produce it’s own food, in the form of sugar, and breathable oxygen. While these stomata are open, water from within the plant escapes back into the air through transpiration. The cycle then repeats. With CAM plants, such as our succulents, these stomata stay closed during the day, but open at night when the sun is set. This allows the succulents to prevent any water loss during the day and collect carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is then stored within the plant’s cells overnight and is later accessed in the daytime to complete photosynthesis.

The next time you make your way out to CIMI, or Catalina Island, be on the lookout for these guys as your hike around. Just remember to look for swollen, meaty appendages, and bushes of spines when you are searching around. While you are at home, look around in your own yard and even think about adopting some of your own succulents. Their beauty is diverse and unique, plus you may find some household and medicinal uses for them that could come in handy one day. Oh, and did I mention they are great water conservationists? Say hello to drought-friendly décor!

Written by: John Cornett



Freshen Up with Coastal Sagebrush

Hiking is no easy feat! Have you ever gotten to that point when you’ve been hiking along the island and realized you smelled horrible? Next time grab some coastal sage to help freshen up!


Coastal Sage

Native to Catalina coastal sage, Artemisia californica, is one pretty amazing plant found here on the island! Nicknamed “Cowboy Cologne” due to its attractive smell, coastal sage has been used in a number of ways over the years. The native Tongva people would use the smell of coastal sage in order to keep insects out of their homes. Some would even brew this plant into a delicious tea!


Single Branch of Coastal Sage

Cowboys and ranchers also used coastal sage for its appealing smell. After roaming the island for a few weeks surrounded by dirt, sweat, and horses men would utilize cowboy cologne to help cover up how bad they smelled!


Coastal Sage & a Prickly Pear Cactus

Even us instructors utilize the smell produced by coastal sage! However coastal sage is not the only type of sage found on the island. Both white sage as well as black sage can be found throughout the island as well!

Author: Alex Feltes


Plants on Catalina Island

The chaparral environment of Catalina Island provides little rain for terrestrial plants. Most of the coastal environment is dominated by small shrub-like plants and scrub communities. These include scrub oaks and Coastal Sage Brush. Catalina Island is also home to several endemic species of plants, meaning they are found nowhere in the world but the island! St. Catherine’s Lace, Catalina Liveforever, Catalina Bedstraw, Catalina Figwort, Catalina Manzanita and Catalina Island Mountain-mahogany are among the endemic species on Catalina Island.

There are also many plants on Catalina Island with varied histories and uses. Coastal Sage Brush is also nicknamed Cowboy Cologne, for its pleasant smell. When men came to the island after spending time at sea, they would rub the small leaves on their bodies to mask their smells before heading into town. The native Tongva people of Catalina Island used the smell of Coastal Sage Brush to keep pests out of their homes. Lemonade Berry is a shrub with waxy leaves to prevent dessication, and bundles of small red berries. The Tongva people historically used these berries to create a tart lemonade drink. Wild Cucumber is an epiphytic vine, meaning it winds its tendrils on other plants. These plants have large, intricate seed pods that, when dried, were used by the Tongva people to create jewlery and accessories. Another very common plant found on Catalina Island is Prickly Pear Cactus. These cacti prove particularly problematic for inattentive hikers, because the possess two types of spines. Prickly Pear Cactus have long, splinter-like spines as well as numerous hair-like spines that break off into the skin, called glochids. Glochids possess barbs on their ends, and can be particularly problematic to remove. On a sweeter note, Prickly Pear Cactus bear a bright purple fruit called a tuna, which is edible. Just make sure to remove the spines!


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