San Francisco Department of the Environment

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Dominated by numerous species of annual and perennial grasses (red fescue, purple needlegrass, etc.), the grassland community also includes a huge diversity of flowering plants such as goldenrod, footsteps-of-spring, checkerbloom, Johnny jump-ups (now rare), shooting stars, lupine, and many more.  Grasslands provide colorful spring wildflower displays and produce seeds, bulbs and nectar for many animal species.  The deep-rooted perennial bunchgrasses play an important role in holding the soil and preventing erosion.

For millions of years, California’s original grasslands were grazed, browsed and trampled by now-extinct megafauna such as ground sloths, camels and mammoths. After these mammals became extinct 10,000 years ago, they were replaced by antelope, deer, bear and small mammals. Native Californians were the first humans to intensively manage grasslands, primarily through annual burning.

With the arrival of European settlers, the indigenous grasslands were almost entirely displaced by non-native species. Brought in with the domestic livestock industry, non-native species have become the most abundant plants in California’s grasslands, including in San Francisco.

Grassland habitats support a wide array of wildlife, including mammals, birds, amphibians & reptiles, insects and other invertebrates.  Historically, the most common plant community in San Francisco was coastal prairie (prairie is the French word for meadow), treeless grassland that covered most of the City.

San Francisco also supports serpentine grasslands. Serpentine is a mineral that produces a nutrient-poor soil, often containing pockets of naturally occurring heavy metals toxic to plants not specially adapted to its distinctive chemistry.  This rare ecosystem supports a number of unique species of plants and animals.

Today grasslands in San Francisco can be found mainly on our hills, including on Twin Peaks, Bernal Hill, Billy Goat Hill, Bayview Hill, Mount Davidson, and Corona Heights. McLaren Park and Glen Canyon Park also have important grasslands. A special area of serpentine grassland is being restored at Inspiration Point in the Presidio.

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