Serpentine Grasslands

By Carol at 6:58 am on Friday, April 25, 2008

We were fortunate to have a docent-led hike on Coyote Ridge, in south eastern San Jose. The area has been acquired for preservation by the Silicon Valley Land Conservancy. From the freeway it appears barren and empty. But in April, at the end of the rainy season, there is an amazing wildflower show.

poppies and view of Coyote Valley

Hikers on the trail with poppies in the foreground, and Coyote Valley in the distance.

most Beautiful Jewel Flower

This unassuming plant is known as “The Most Beautiful Jewel Flower”, a rare and endangered species that is found only on serpentine grasslands here and at Jasper Ridge and Edgewood Park in San Mateo County.


Our docent, Craige Edgerton, is the executive director of the conservancy. Here he is holding up a sample of dwarf plantain, which is essential to the endangered Bay Checker Spot Butterfly, as a place to lay its eggs, and as the first food for the larvae.

serpentine rock

Larry holds up a specimen of serpentine rock which appears greenish, scaly and a little shiny. The soil in this area is low in nitrogen and considered an 8 on a scale of 1-8, with one being the best quality. The earth here contains a high level of asbestos and magnesium.

Coyote thistle

This thistle is another endangered species that grows in the damp parts of the area.

Santa Clara Valley gilia

The brownish clumps in the center are succulents which grow only in this area and are endangered.

poppies and owl's clover

Among the poppies is Owl’s Clover, one of the essential nectar plants for the adult Checker Spot Butterflies.


Wet ravines like this one are called seeps. The serpentine rock soaks up water like a sponge, and releases it gradually until August, creating watering places for birds and animals, and habitat for water-loving plants. Badgers, indicators of a healthy grassland, have lairs up on this hill, so this seep is called Badger Creek.

wildflower meadow

After climbing to the crest of the ridge and over the top, we came to this wildflower meadow covered with Tidy Tips, plantago and other plants that are crucial to the Checker Spot Butterfly’s survival. We were allowed to leave the trail to eat our picnic lunch. In the distance rich farmland and mountains with pine and oak forests were visible. This is the domain of Tule Elk herds, golden eagles and sometimes bald eagles. The conservancy is actively buying up farms and other property in the region to preserve this rare ecological system and to safeguard the natural wildlife corridors between the Coastal and Diablo Ranges.

Tidy Tips and white wild flower

Tidy Tips and Thornapple.

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