Rincon Ridge Park Sensitive Plant Area

History of CNPS involvement

The Milo Baker Chapter adopted the Sensitive Plant Area of Rincon Ridge Park, City of Santa Rosa, in 2004 for conservation purposes. The park is located off Fountaingrove Parkway at Rincon Ridge Drive. Before the 2-acre area was fenced, chapter members were involved in surveying the plants and working with the city and homeowners to mitigate destruction of the natural habitat for the Rincon manzanita and Rincon Ridge Ceanothus, for which it was set aside. The initial park preserve was made possible by the hard work of Betty Guggolz, former longtime Rare Plant Chair for the chapter, and gained interest as a potential adoption by Greg Wahlert, former Southridge Preserve Steward, and Lynn Houser, who was exploring. The city’s fencing, which is taller and stronger than first specified, has been the preserve’s greatest asset, and is accessible to CNPS members by a combination lock.

Rincon Ridge Park

Rincon Ridge Ceanothus Ceanothus confusus

Rincon Ridge Manzanita

Rincon Manzanita Arctostaphylos stanfordiana ssp. decumbens

Activities at Rincon Ridge

Since adoption, chapter volunteers have participated in several work parties removing dead brush, invasive weeds, and aggressive Douglas firs, and have planted out locally propagated shrubs. We have made plant lists and taken vegetation data. A Rapid Assessment survey in 2005 began the scientific documentation of this rare vegetation type, which is of interest for the new edition of the Manual of California Vegetation, currently being revised by CNPS. Additional surveys are planned. A parks dedication with the Mayor and homeowners highlighted our efforts in 2005.

April 2021 update

Surrounded by construction and the quickening pace of Santa Rosa rushing onward into the future is a piece of nature that asks us to stop and remember the past. It is a place like none other in the midst of multi-level million-dollar homes and construction crews. The soil is reddish, dry, and rocky; few large trees remain and those that do are blackened, reminders of a disturbance that caught everyone off-guard and sent people running in the middle of the night. The Tubbs Fire started October 8, 2017 in the next county and within hours had burned 36,810 acres and taken 22 human lives.

This little scrap of nature though, 3 years later, tells a story of recovery and even longer story of California. Looking out across the 2 acres, the bushes are low, only knee to hip-high, and seem fairly nondescript, mostly woody shrubs with small evergreen leaves. Walk among the plants though, and variety begins to show itself—here is chaparral amid oak woodland, Douglas-fir forests, and endless variety of plants that humanity have chosen to adorn their front yards and pathways.

Chaparral species in general, require fires to endure. Seeds of ceanothus and manzanita require at least a medium intensity fire to trigger germination. Their continued presence is a nature-made historical marker that informs us that fire has existed in the landscape, in this case, a 1964 fire, the Hanley Fire, that occupied an eerily similar footprint to the 2017 Tubbs Fire (and possibly a 1923 fire event as well).

The chaparral plants that re-occupied Rincon Ridge Preserve are so special to this place that they are found nowhere else. There are two ceanothus species, growing shoulder to shoulder: wavyleaf ceanothus Ceanothus foliosus var. foliosus and the Rincon Ridge ceanothus Ceanothus confusus. The bigger wavyleaf ceanothus is already knee high and the most common shrub here; it quickly recolonizes after fire. The leaves are a dark glossy green with crenulated alternate leaves. The other ceanothus, is mostly found only here on this hilltop; the Rincon Ridge ceanothus is extremely low growing and rarely reaches taller than the top of your boot. It hugs the ground. Its low-growing habit distinguishes it from other opposite leafed ceanothus with its stem occasionally taking root. Three years later after the fires, on the first day of Spring, a select few of the ceanothus are starting to flower, both species’ blooms a mesmerizing sapphire blue.

While the ceanothus’ blooms have just begun, the manzanitas’ floral display is coming to a close. The taller common manzanita Arctostaphylos manzanita ssp. manzanita will become one of the most noticeable plants over time. But special to this place is a smaller manzanita, with little dark pink flowers like inverted tear drops and branches with an aspect so relaxed, if they were human, they would casually be holding a martini on a lazy afternoon. The Rincon manzanita Arctostaphylos stanfordiana ssp. decumbens only reaches about knee-height and once you’ve developed an eye for it, with its smaller size and bright green leaf, you see by its numbers, how much it loves this piece of rocky hilltop.

Mixed in are other rare plants and chaparral specials: Diogenes’ lantern, iris, Napa lomatium, coyote mint, bracken fern and pine violet. Also present are the classic chaparral plants: chamise, interior live oak, black oak, Douglas-fir, bay laurel, madrone, chaparral pea, toyon, coffeeberry, poison oak, and a lonely silktassel. Multiple plant lists reside on the Milo Baker website.

Currently our CNPS volunteers have been working hard to fight encroaching weeds; Jan Lochner and crew deserve endless thanks for their time, attitude, and energy. The property is city-owned and there is a split-rail fence planned for later this summer. Future plans allow for closer access to the plants, hopefully giving residents and the public a better view of these special plants and with that experience, deeper appreciation, and a desire to protect.

Help needed at this time: the Rincon Ridge Park preserve needs continual monitoring to help preserve the unique habitat. Volunteers are wanted for the following, to be shared and coordinated with the steward: to stop by occasionally and note plants blooming, weeds in need of attention, or damage; help recruit volunteers and educate homeowners, create publications and collaborate with the city, help at work parties, and generally commit to help care for the beautiful, rich Rincon Ridge Park preserve.

Plant List: Download a printable plant list for the Rincon Ridge preserve.