In the Bay Area, Rhamnaceae is represented by the genera Ceanothus and Rhamnus of tree and shrub-like plants. The flowers are usually small, but in Ceanothus they often have crowded, showy inflorescenes (flower clusters), and they may be very fragrant. Several species of Ceanothus have been cultivated, but the native varieties are just as attractive; Our Montara Mountain variety, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus, in particular, is a very popular native garden shrub.
Generally, the calyx has 5 lobes, though sometimes 4, and usually a corresponding number of petals and stamens. The stamens alternate with the petals (when petals are present), and are in-line with the calyx lobes. The single pistil in Rhamnus is free of the calyx and develops a fleshy fruit; in Ceanothus, it is joined to the calyx and develops a dry fruit.
On Montara Mountain, native Rhamnaceae members are two popular and easily identifiable and one not-so-familar species:
Flowers: Pale blue to bright blue, very fragrant, tiny; in dense 2 - 3 inches long clusters at ends of branches, forming from pale yellow clusters.
Blooms: February - June.
Leaves: Glossy, oval, dark green, .5 - 2 inches long, with 3 long veins meeting at base.
Fruit/Seeds: Green berry-like capsules, ripening to black, in tight grape-like clusters; June - September.
Location: Most trails through both McNee Ranch State Park and San Pedro Valley County Park - large specimens along both forks of Martini Creek.
Status: Native - Common.
Note the dark leaves and blue spray of flowers.
|Further description & Comment: The forms and sizes of Wild Lilac range from small, low speading 2 ft. shrubs to trunked trees 16 ft. tall. Evergreen. C. thyrsiflorus has a wide range, and can be found in riparian, forest, scrub, prairie and chaparral habitats. This is a prime species for the native gardener, and its adaptability allows it to fit into any landscaping design.|
The image at left shows a 15' tall tree along Martini Creek.
Photo by Bill & Barbara VanderWerf.
Lilac blooms can make a mild and refreshing soap - simply gather some of the flowers in your hands, add some water and rub vigorously. It won't get off the poison oak oils, but it smells nice, has a gentle cleaning grit, and leaves a soft feel on your skin.
|There are over 30 species of Ceanothus on the west coast, and they present a good example of the confusion that can be caused by common names: Buckbrush, Sticky Laurel, Mountain Balm, Snowbrush, Mahala Mat, Tobacco Brush, Deerbrush, Oregon Tea, Sweet Birch, etc. The closely related species C. velutinus, C. cuneatus, and C. integerriums are often referred to "Red Root", whose dark wine-red roots and root bark are used for astringent and anti-inflammatory herbal perparations. It is considered one of the "well herbs" - its greatest asset is its use in a preventative and early-corrective therapy.|
Flowers: White, star-shaped, sepals only, from green buds, in clusters at tip of branches.
Blooms: May - July.
Leaves: Light green when young, maturing to dark green, often with red tips; smooth, leathery, 2 - 4 inches long; edges curl under during dry summers to conserve moisture.
Fruit/Seeds: Clusters of berries, beginning green, ripening to ornage/red and finally black in August - October.
Location: All trails and all areas.
Status: Native - Common.
Rhamnus californica californica
|Further description & Comment: 2 - 6 feet tall, compact evergreen shrub with red-purple stems. In the images below, note how the edges of the leaves curl under to conserve mositure.|
|Coffeeberry bark is a popular herbal remedy for chronic constipation - Both it and Rhamnus crocea - Spiny Redberry - are sold commercially under the name of Cascara Sagrada. The preparation is tricky (it involves aging it for a year followed by extensive heat teatment and tincture preparation) so I wouldn't recommend just chewing on some raw stuff.|
Flowers: Lacking petals but with 4 sepals, light green, small.
Blooms: April - May
Leaves: Up to 1.5 mm long, dark green, shiny, lightly toothed to smooth margined, prominent center veins, similar to small-leaved Ceanithus. varieties.
Fruit/Seeds: Fleshy but rough-skinned red berries, June - July.
Location: Coastal cliffs near Devil's Slide.
Status: Native - Uncommon.
Further description & Comment: Low growing creeping bush, 1 to 3 feet tall; dark red woody stems. Although seen throughout the Bay Area, I just found this plant growing on Montara Mountain in a very out-of-the-way location this summer (June, 1999). I'm not sure of the distribution, as it's similarity to a small-leaved Ceanothus may have let it be overlooked.
Redberry bark is a popular herbal remedy for chronic constipation - Both it and Rhamnus californica californica - Coffee Berry - are sold commercially under the name of Cascara Sagrada. The preparation is tricky (it involves aging it for a year followed by extensive heat teatment and tincture preparation) so I wouldn't recommend just chewing on some raw stuff.
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