Presidio of San Francisco (April 8, 2009) -- When Sting sings of walking “through fields of gold,” it’s not hard to imagine he’s envisioning the Presidio in springtime, when the park’s legions of goldfields are in bloom. When it’s in full bloom, generally March through May, the goldfield bathes the Presidio’s hillsides in yellow. The sight is so spectacular, according to one urban legend, the flower lent its name to the Golden Gate.
“Centuries ago the Presidio wasn’t a forest. It was big, open, rolling hills and a lot of those were covered in wildflowers,” says Andy Kleinhesselink, a biologist with the Presidio Trust. “At the turn of the century there were amazing wildflowers down in the middle of San Francisco. I think this time of year is special because you get a little taste here of how that might have been spread out across the entire city before it was fully developed.”
Spring has definitely sprung at the Presidio, and one needs to look no further than their feet to see the evidence. The goldfields are just one of dozens of wildflowers in bloom. A brief 40-minute tour along the Ecology Trail below Inspiration Point introduces visitors to more than a dozen different varieties ranging in size from the waist-high coast blue blossom to the barely visible pygmy weed, whose flowers, fully bloomed, are no bigger than a fingernail.
“When it comes to wildflowers, Inspiration Point is the best show in the Presidio. It’s where the colors are the most brilliant. The flowers here bloom all at once,” says Kleinhesselink.
With the Palace of Fine Arts and Alcatraz in the distance and rimmed by forest, Inspiration Point is home to the state flower (California poppy), the state grass (purple needle grass) and the state rock (serpentine). Smooth and scaly with a kind of bluish hue, serpentine rock calls to mind its namesake. Low in nutrients and high in heavy metals, it is the rock that makes Inspiration Point such a hot spot for wildflowers.
“You’ve got all these annual wildflowers, small stature wildflowers that bloom together,” Kleinhesselink explains. “The rock changes the soil chemistry, greatly reducing the ability of grass, scrub, bushes, trees, things that would block the wildflowers, to compete. The wildflowers have adapted to, and even thrive in the almost desert-like conditions. The harshness means the smaller plants have an opening, a chance.”
The Presidio gives refuge to nearly 300 types of native plants of which 15 are rare, threatened or endangered including the Presidio clarkia. Named for the Presidio, and William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame), the purplish flower is found in only two places in the world—the Presidio (near the coastal bluffs in addition to Inspiration Point) and in Redwood Regional Park in the east bay hills.
The Presidio Trust was established by the United States Congress in 1996 to oversee the Presidio of San Francisco, an urban national park located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The 1,500-acre site contains expansive open space and spectacular views, a 300-acre historic forest, and rare and endangered plants and wildlife. It also comprises nearly 6 million square feet of buildings, including 469 historic structures that contribute to its status as a National Historic Landmark District.