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The Mixed Evergreen Forest Plant Community of California

Holodiscus discolor (Ocean Spray or Cream Bush), a member of the Mixed Evergreen Forest plant community

It is rather hard to define exactly, but somewhere between the cool coastal giant redwood forests and the hotter interior grass foothills dotted with majestic oaks lies the community of the Mixed-Evergreen Forests. This region is primarily a part of the coastal mountains and supports trees, shrubs, and plants from both communities. The temperature can swing between hot in the summers-time to cool and somewhat wet in the winter. The trees that belong to this community are large and expansive and provide dry shade to their understory plants. Trees such as the Douglas Fir and Madrone have deep roots and can get quite large.

Shown in the three images on this page are the beautiful cream flowers of Ocean Spray or Cream Bush (Holodiscus discolor), Coffee Fern (Pallaea andromedifolia), and the fruit of the Hillside Gooseberry (Ribes californicum).

In fact, sometime around 1770, if you had cared to part from the glamorous courts of Europe and made the dangerous Atlantic crossing and then braved the passage around Tierra del Fuego to come visit the Bay Area Pensinsula, then ask yourself what you would have seen. Riding south from the current location of the city of San Francisco, from approximately the mountains currently referred to as San Bruno south to the mountains of the city of Los Gatos, you would have ridden mostly through the pleasant mixed-evergreen forests.

Coffee Fern (Pallaea andromedifolia)

Closer to the coast you would have been among the coastal prairie and bluffs, with a belt of redwood forest. The redwood forests would give way to evergreen woodlands and further east of this forest would be the hotter foothills with intermittent single oaks and oak woodland areas. The most pleasant way to ride south would have been through the evergreen forest rather than the hot foothills or through the redwood forests on the West-facing slopes. But these forests are not limited to the Peninsula, there are broad swathes in other areas of the Bay, in some less arid parts of Southern California, and a somewhat different version in the lower Sierra Nevadas.

Fruit of the Hillside Gooseberry (Ribes californicum)

This plant community has some dense shade and can be drippy most times of the year, more closely resembling the Pacific-Northwest. If you have mild weather where you live, then you can take a relatively hot and sunny spot and turn it slowly into a cool and shady area. Start with planting a few shrubs like Ceanothus that will tolerate heat. Then, as they get larger, plant trees in their shade. The important trees of this community would include the oaks, Madrone (Arbutus menziesii), the California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica), Tanbark Oak (Lithocarpus densiflora), and Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) among others. The understory shrubs can vary between those that are more tolerant of moisture or not. Once the trees are sufficiently tall to provide shade, plant the understory plants like Cream Bush (Holodiscus discolor), Ribes spp., Mahonia (Oregon Grape) and others. To protect the roots of some of these trees and shrubs which can be more tender than say plants from the chapparal community, use a thick layer of mulch.

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