These are not the heroes of Marin’s native plant world, however. That distinction belongs to
the plants that anchor its soils, feed its pollinators and wild creatures, and create the landscapes
that we all cherish. These plants have had millennia to adapt to the region’s local climate and soils,
coevolving with insects, fungi and microbes to form complex networks of relationships that create
the foundation of the region’s natural communities. If you look closely, you’ll notice that certain
groups of plants tend to appear together wherever the climate, soil and temperature are suitable
for them. These familiar groupings create distinctive habitats, each nourishing its own ecosystem
of plants, insects and animals. In addition to evergreen forests, some of the predominant habitats
in Marin include riparian, oak woodlands, chaparral and grasslands.
RIPARIAN The riparian community that flourishes wherever there are waterways is populated
by plants that not only require somewhat regular water, but can survive inundation — some for as
much as two months at a time. This habitat is rich with places of refuge and diverse resources for a
multitude of visitors, many of which are temporary migrants. Here, willows, rushes and horsetails
help anchor the streambed, while ferns, thimbleberry and sedges stabilize the banks and create
tangles of vegetation.
A little farther from the stream banks, deciduous valley oaks and buckeyes and evergreen
redwoods, bays and madrones help cool the waters in summer and allow more light in winter,
both conditions vital to the creek’s life support systems. Natural sloping banks, fallen logs, and
dense overhanging vegetation create dappled shade and resting places for salmon and steelhead.
A walk along Devil’s Gulch to Stairstep Falls or from Cataract Creek to Cataract Falls will cross
waterways where giant elk clover and huge chain ferns dominate the banks, creating the atmosphere of ancient forests. Mount Tam’s Rock Spring Trail leads to a meadow traversed by a stream
along which fragrant native azaleas bloom in late spring. Thanks to the mountain, the county is
crisscrossed with streams and riparian habitats, yours for the exploring.
Spring waterfall at
Cataract Falls, Mount
Tamalpais State Park.