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Common Native Plants Around Berkeley’s Historic Shoreline

By: Alex Brandmeyer

Riding west across the Berkeley 1-80 bike overpass, the San Francisco Bay and shoreline come into view as part of the quintessential panorama of the city, Golden Gate and Marin Headlands. In front of me is the newest addition to the McLaughlin Eastshore State park: Brickyard Cove, a public recreation space currently under construction by the East Bay Regional Parks District as part of their partnership with the State Park services for the patchwork of nature and recreation areas between Emeryville and Richmond that have constituted the Eastshore Park since its initial creation almost 20 years ago. Brickyard Cove, like the neighboring Berkeley Meadows, is home to a number of common native plant species that are part of the northern coastal scrub plant community. These include the common coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) and California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) which you’ve likely observed many times when passing through the parks and open spaces of our region.

These native plants and public spaces are tied to the rich history of human intervention along the shoreline of the East Bay. The historic shoreline lies to the east of Interstate 80 near the current railway and Fourth Street shopping district, and hosted the Shellmounds of the Ohlone people. These native plants were used for brewing teas and for medicinal purpose such as pain relief and treatments of coughs and colds. I’m now observing them in Eastshore park lands which are primarily built upon landfill areas which were previously shallow areas of the bay, and some of which exist on former waste disposal sites. Berkeley Meadows in particular represents a wildlife restoration zone in which both native plant and animal species are being provided additional space in order to further restore the natural ecology of our region.

Looking across the Eastshore Highway under a sky troubled by wildfire smoke, these native plants also grow in the open lands owned by CalTrans near the University Ave. freeway ramps that currently host a community of unhoused individuals and families. These plants, while quite common and maybe unremarkable to some, represent a common thread for the many communities who have resided here throughout the history of this region. Knowing their names and their ties to the native ecology of my home helps me to feel more grounded in the midst of the many societal and environmental challenges that we are collectively confronting. I hope learning their names and some of the history of this region may do the same for you.

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