It was a charmed morning for ten native plant enthusiasts. Trip leader Margot Cunningham, Natural Areas coordinator for the City of Albany, timed the 15 October 2022 Albany Hill outing to focus on the fruits of native plants—a suitable aim for this time of year. While we strolled on the wide paths of the flats Margot described the geology and hydrology of the area, the original plant communities that likely occurred there, and how the blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) forest came to cover so much of the hill. As we reached the lowest slopes Margot told us it was the ivy (Hedera sp.) that had gotten to her originally—the highly invasive ivy which takes over whole stretches where native plants once grew—it had prompted her into restoration action. And it was the ivy that first got all of us talking together, describing our own ivy challenges and swapping control tips.
As we strolled Margot told us so much more about the site stewardship by the City of Albany and associated volunteer groups. The restoration work is mainly removal of invasive plant species, allowing native plants to return, and planting native species grown from seed or cuttings collected from local Albany Hill plants. We all talked more amongst ourselves prompted by the plants that Margot identified: about where else we had seen the California buckeyes (Aesculus californica) that were on the lower slopes of Albany Hill, about edible items made from species of elderberry (Sambucus sp.) when we saw the remains of the blue elderberry (S. nigra ssp. caerulea) fruits, and so on. We saw the dried fruiting stalks of bristly phacelia (Phacelia malvifolia var. malvifolia) which is a species that is quite uncommon in our area (check out CNPS-EB’s Unusual Plant Data Base). And so many hazelnut (Corylus cornuta ssp. californica) plants, most still with their bright green soft fuzzy leaves.
Then a bit of climbing, which also develops camaraderie especially among a certain demographic that thinks more than others about the resilience of knee and hip joints. Close to the top the views, both east towards the Berkeley-Oakland Hills and west to the Bay, were inspirational. At the top we also learned about the leaf blight fungus that might require removal of the blue gum—no tears shed there by our group. And also at the top of the hill Margot showed us a lovely spot of exposed sandstone where thriving native plants had been used to restore the area after road grading, and told us about the monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) using the blue gums as a winter roost. More oohs and aahs of appreciation from all of us participants. A brisk walk down the hill and then for me, ever on the lookout for bakeries, a short walk into Pacific East Bay Mall’s Sheng Kee bakery for hot milk tea and a red bean paste bun. Yes, a charmed morning.
We saw other notable plants: California blackberry (Rubus ursinus), California pipevine (Aristolochia californica), winter cress (Barbarea orthoceras), sticky monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus), broadleaf aster (Eurybia radulina), and California sagebrush (Artemisia californica).
Margot Cunningham plans to lead another trip in the next few months where you can learn more about the native plants and restoration work at this beautiful natural area when the monarchs are present too. Make sure you join our Meetup group to track the next CNPS-EB trip there.
A few online resources for Albany Hill:
— Sally de Becker