Dune scrub once covered almost one-third of San Francisco. Most of this habitat was lost as San Francisco developed. The Presidio, however, remains home to vibrant – and growing – dune plant communities.
With the support of thousands of community volunteers over the past fifteen years, approximately 50 acres of dunes have been restored and enhanced, from Crissy Field to Baker Beach.
An extensive dune scrub restoration effort in Lobos Creek Valley, which extends from the southwest corner of the park to the Pacific Ocean, is one of the most striking transformations in the Presidio. Begun in the 1990s by the National Park Service and dedicated volunteers, 13 acres of dunes have been re-established using local sand. Today, this blooming, buzzing valley is again home to insects, butterflies, and birds, some of which had not been seen in the Presidio for decades.
More recently, the Trust has restored a large dune landscape behind the former Public Health Service Hospital, commemorating a 19th century merchant marine cemetery with a memorial vista point and newly planted native dune grasses and plants. Hundreds of community volunteers planted more than 16,000 plants over three-and-a-half acres. The area provides habitat for the endangered San Francisco Lessingia, which is found in only one other place in the world.
“Serpentinite” is California’s beautiful, blue-green state rock. Though toxic to most plants, serpentine soils create a thriving environment for certain species that have adapted over millennia. These hardy plant communities are mostly native bunchgrasses with tiny annual wildflowers. Of the 16 plant species living on the Presidio that are designated rare, threatened, or endangered, eight can live only in serpentine soils. Restoration of the serpentine grasslands has long been a priority. Over the last decade, approximately 20 acres of serpentine habitats have been restored or enhanced, primarily at Inspiration Point on the eastern side of the park and the western Coastal Bluffs.
Inspiration Point is home to three federally listed rare plants, including one of just three populations of Presidio clarkia, an endangered wildflower. In 2001, park staff and volunteers launched a multi-year restoration effort to expand grassland habitat. The historic viewshed was restored, and 50,000 native wildflowers and grasses were planted. Volunteers continue the monumental task of weeding and tending the site. The American Kestrel, the smallest falcon in North America, has returned to the site. It is notable that nowhere else along the California coastline but in the Presidio do coastal bluffs occur on serpentinite. In 2007 the Trust removed Army landfills along the bluffs, preparing the site for 10,000 plants representing 80 species, including the Presidio clarkia. Two-thirds of the Presidio’s total plant diversity can be found here. Today, the bluffs are among the wildest places in the city.