Design in sandstone
cliff formation
Garrapata State Park

Monterey County

August 9, 2001

Having traveled much of California, I can honestly say that this beach was one of my favorite
beach sites anywhere. While I visited only a narrow portion of this state park, I was taken
with the soft hues and pastel flowers of the wind sheared coastal vegetation. Perhaps it was my
mood that day, but I thought this beach was stunning!

Though erosion is a significant issue (as you can see from the foreground), the thick vegetation
has done much to stabilize these coastal dunes atop this narrow marine terrace.

Hands down, this gem of a plant is my favorite new find of the Big Sur coastline! Bluff (or sea)
lettuce (Dudleya caespitosa) will bloom in dense colonies within tight rock crevaces, or
individually in sandy soil (as is the case here).

A host of varied plants grew in this tightly wind pruned clifftop garden. Coyote bush (Baccharis
, California lilac (aka. blueblossom) (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus), poison oak
(Toxicodendron diversilobum), lizardtail (Eriophyllum staechadifolium), Sedum, seaside
daisy (aster) (Erigeron glaucus), and dune buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium).
What a combination!

Slightly farther from the immediate cliff break and the damaging salt spray carried in strong
onshore winds, the vegetation grew taller (to about five feet). Coyote brush (Baccaris pilularis)
and California coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) dominated this zone (referred to as the coyote
bush scrub community, which occurs above the coastal bluff scrub community of the previous photo).

I have heard much of the invasive iceplant (aka. fig marigold) (Carpobrotus edulis), and, of
course, have seen it along the coast innumerable times. However, this was the first time I
realized the full impact of damage this species can inflict on a native ecosystem. The iceplant
pictured here was encroaching from the northern end of Garrapata State Park. There was a clear
boundary line between the coastal bluff scrub community (diverse in species count) and the
iceplant colony. Iceplant does not share living space with other native species. Its dense mat
overpowers the native plants and ultimately drowns them out. Here, only a much weakend, leggy
dune buckwheat and a single bluff lettuce survive in the sea of iceplant. It is sad to see the
diversity of native vegetation crowded out by the monotony of a singular, introduced species.

For more information on the natural history of Garrapata State Park and the Big Sur region, I highly recommend:
Henson, Paul and Donald J. Usner. 1993. The Natural History of Big Sur. University of California Press: Berkeley.


Revised: June 21, 2004

This site ©2004 Ann Dittmer.