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Native Plants and Native People Trail


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The Native Plants and Native People Trail leads through some of the rarest habitats in the country: the coastal sage scrub and southern maritime chaparral of Southern California. Learn how Native Americans used the plants here for food, medicine, clothing, shelter, and tools.

Humans probably first used these plants more than 10,000 years ago. The Kumeyaay people who lived in this area when the Spanish arrived had long developed a system of practices to carefully manage their environment. Successive groups of Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers later used many of the plants found on the trail for both food and medicine. Today some of these plants continue to be important to San Diego County Native Americans.

Three plant communities are found along the trail: coastal sage scrub which has semi-deciduous shrubs such as California sagebrush, buckwheat, and black sage; southern maritime chaparral with its evergreen shrubs like chamise, Del Mar manzanita, and scrub oak; and riparian wetland with tules, rushes, and willows.

The coastal sage scrub and southern maritime chaparral communities are adapted to the mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers of our Mediterranean climate. Many of the plants here conserve water with leaves that are small, leathery, needle-like or succulent. Some plants survive with deep root systems or by losing leaves and becoming dormant during the dry season. Many plants are adapted to wildfires, sprouting from stumps after fires or germinating from seed after fires.

Animals live here too. Look and listen for lizards, small mammals, and birds such as scrub jays, towhees, black phoebe, and quail. They have all formed ecological relationships with these plant communities, and their survival depends on protecting these habitats.

Please do not pick any plant materials or disturb any natural features. Please stay on the trail. No smoking is allowed.Native People

The Medicinal Plants Disclaimer: This information is intended as an introduction to the uses of plants for educational purposes only. San Diego Botanic Garden makes no claims as to the medicinal effects of any plants.

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Torrey Pine

Native Plant Conservation

Preserving existing natural areas at the San Diego Botanic Garden is very important. The Garden is located in Encinitas, California within a mile of the coast. There are approximately eleven acres of natural areas and restored natural areas in the Garden. The local southern maritime chaparral and coastal sage scrub plant communities are some of the nation’s most endangered vegetation types as they are small in size and restricted to coastal areas. Over the past century these Southern California coastal areas have been in high demand for urban development.

Click here for more information

Southern California Ethnobotany
A list of the native plants used by Native Americans in Southern California. 

Download Self-Guided Nature Trail  

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Plant List

Adenostoma fasciculatum Chamise, Greasewood
Arctostaphylos glandulosa
ssp. crassifolia Del Mar Manzanita
Artemisia californica
Coastal Sagebrush
Baccharis vanessae Encinitas Baccharis
Ceanothus sp. California lilac
Ceanothus verrucosus Warty-stem Ceanothus
Cneoridium dumosum  Bush Rue
Encelia californica Bush Sunflower
Eriodictyon crassifolium var. crassifolium Thick-leaf Yerba Santa
Eriogonum fasciculatum California Buckwheat
Heteromeles arbutifolia Toyon, Christmas Berry, California Holly
Opuntia littoralis Prickly Pear Cactus
Rhus integrifolia Lemonade-berry
Salvia mellifera Black Sage
Quercus dumosa Coast Scrub Oak


Banner Photo: Nick Ruddick

Ethnobotanists and the descendants of native peoples sometimes disagree on how plants were used.
Different tribes may have used plants in varying ways.

Hedges, Ken. 1986. Santa Ysabel Ethnobotany. San Diego Museum of Man.

Lightner, James. 2011. San Diego County Native Plants,
San Diego Flora, San Diego, CA, 3rd edition.

Original artwork by David House and Lesley Randall

Kumeyaay Elder Jane Dumas
Remembered As a Friend to the Garden

Jane Dumas, a cherished friend of the San Diego Botanic Garden, made it her mission to share the knowledge, language, culture, and medicine of her people, the Kumeyaay, with organizations throughout San Diego County. A great advocate for the Native American community, Jane is remembered by many at the Garden for her work in the creation and development of the Native Plants and Native People Trail. Jane’s invaluable contributions to the Trail included providing the Kumeyaay names of the native plants found along the Trail, as well as their practical and medicinal uses. It was from her mother, a revered medicine woman and midwife, that Jane learned about native plants and their power to heal. Jane died of natural causes on May 3 in a nursing home in Lakeside. The tribal elder was 89.


Banner Photo: Rachel Cobb