Two members of the East Bay chapter of CNPS, Tri Do and Helen Hancock, have used the COVID-19 shelter-in-place exception for recreation as an opportunity to search for plants not reported in Hayward’s Garin Regional Park for some time. They obtained lists of plants from the Unusual Plants Committee chair, Dianne Lake, and separately sought out these plants. Besides the benefit of getting out into nature, they discovered more than they expected.
These small trees have long been treated as “trash trees” by industrial lumber companies harvesting the large conifers they grow under. They faced an even greater threat in the late 1980s when a compound in their bark was found to be an effective chemotherapeutic agent against certain types of cancer. Synthetic versions of the drug, Taxol, have mitigated the threat, but the species is ranked “near threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
This lone occurrence of the Pacific yew is the second documented sighting in the East Bay. While the leaves can look a lot like coast redwood, the bark and seeds are very different. A cluster of Pacific yews occurs on the Peninsula near Crystal Springs Reservoir. Is it possible a bird ate one of the “berries” (arils) and left the seed in just the right location for it to germinate? Tri, who is a physician and appreciates the intersection of medicine and botany, happened to find this plant on a trail that he had been on many times without noticing it.
Helen wondered if a “mother yew tree” could be up the hill. Since the steep brushy embankment was impossible to climb, she instead took trails to the upper edge of Garin Woods and explored from there, using animal paths to make the going easy. Although her search for more yews proved fruitless, she stumbled upon three interesting clusters of deciduous oaks.
These small, twisted oaks are possibly the Jolon oak, a hybrid between blue oak (Quercus douglasii) and valley oak (Q. lobata), which is on Dianne’s list for Garin. We hope to revisit them as the leaves mature and as acorns develop.
Helen, who is a long-time docent at Sunol Regional Wilderness (currently closed due to COVID-19), took delight in seeing many of her favorite wildflowers right here in Garin.
Helen and Tri have also checked off several other species on the lists provided by Dianne, including California spikenard (Aralia californica), coast silk tassel (Garrya elliptica), a white oak hybrid of leather oak (Q. durata) and Oregon oak (Q. garryana) known as Q. ×subconvexa, Palmer’s oak (Q. palmeri), and mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides var. betuloides). They hope to complete their observations for this park, move on to others in southern Alameda County, and discover other rare and unusual gems as they connect with nature. Perhaps after the shelter-in-place order is lifted, they will also be able to meet in person!
— Tri Do and Helen Hancock