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Exploration of Nature in San Francisco

By: Eduard Myasnyankin

Introduction Wandering around my neighborhood, I started to look at plants more and more in depth. People around me noticed and stared weirdly, probably thinking “what’s he doing”? Meanwhile, I was bending down and trying to identify these interesting species which we all live around but never take the time to examine. In our day and age we prioritize certain things in our lives, such as our jobs or education. With this coronavirus pandemic, most of us have stayed inside our homes for a couple years and have had extra free time to use on hobbies. This opportunity to be in the Sutro Stewards’ “Nature in Your Neighborhood” program gave me a new hobby and perspective. I have always liked using my camera to take close up pictures of things that I found interesting, and I never suspected plants to have such intricate details when examining them more closely under the lens. I combined this hobby of photography with this program and went outside to explore the nature around me. All the pictures shown here are pictures I took with my camera!

My Adventures in Parkmerced and Lake Merced

Creeping Myoporum (Myoporum parvifolium)

Across many of the small sections of plant life around the Parkmerced buildings, I found a lot of Myoporum parvifolium. Commonly known as creeping myoporum, these plants are part of the figwort family, Scrophulariaceae. Creeping myoporum is an angiosperm and a dicot. It is known for its star-shaped flowers which can be seen in late spring through early autumn and is a low shrub with long stems. The star-shaped flowers are usually white, but can also be pale pink with purple spots. This plant is not native to California, and was probably transported and planted all around the Parkmerced area. This genus has about 30 species, and sixteen of those species are found in Australia!

Blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis)

While walking across Lake Merced, I saw a couple blackberry bushes but was not sure if they were blackberries, or poison ivy. I was told their leaves looked very similar, but after careful observation and using iNaturalist, I determined that these were blackberries! I also found a blackberry growing on one of these bushes. Did you know that the Greeks and Romans used blackberries way back as medicine. Blackberries do have good health benefits, such as high vitamin C, high fiber, and they are high in manganese. Native Americans also used blackberries as a food source, and to dye animal skins. Scientists have also tested blackberries for their numerous health benefits and have found that they can treat inflammation, diabetes, and diarrhea. Also I found it interesting that if you have throat or mouth irritation, you can rinse your mouth with the fruit to clear up the irritation!

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)

The Centaurea cyanus, commonly known as the cornflower, is a beautiful plant which grows annually. It comes in different colors, such as pink, lavender, white, maroon, and blue. It blooms from late spring to late summer and is also a favorite among the pollinators. These plants are very well adapted and can grow in harsh conditions, such as poor soil, but do need lots of sunlight or light shade. Their adaptations allow them to be deer resistant, drought tolerant, and they don’t attract many pests. They are originally native to Europe and I found them growing near the grass fields in Parkmerced! Looking at the picture more closely, you can see the egg-shaped bracts surrounding the base of the flower. These are meant to provide protection from extreme environmental conditions, as well as insects and pests.

Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus)

Erigeron karvinskianus, or commonly known as the Mexican Fleabane or Mexican Daisy, is a woody based perennial plant which produces lots of daisies year round. In the background of the photo are soft pink flowers. These flowers, which are originally white, change color to pink and purple, which attracts pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Similar to the cornflower, the E. karvinskianus also needs lots of sunlight or light shade. They are native to Mexico and parts of Central America, as shown by the common name. A major problem with this species is that they can become very invasive through self-seeding. That is why when we walk around many parks we always see these daisies!

Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica)

The Zantedeschia aethiopica, commonly known as a Calla lily, is a semi-evergreen perennial plant and is native to Southern Africa. This plant has large trumpet shaped flowers with a yellow spadix sticking out from the center. I took notice of these since they looked very elegant, with a smooth white color and huge long stems. They can actually grow up to 3 feet tall! Be careful of the sap because it does cause irritation of the skin and eyes. This causes it to be toxic to animals such as horses, dogs, and cats.

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

This is the iconic California Poppy, which has been the official state flower for California ever since 1903. Before that, it was discovered in 1816 by Adelbert von Chamisso, who was a German botanist on the Russian expedition ship Rurick. After discovering this plant, he named it after another botanist on the ship, by the name of Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz. An interesting fact about these poppies is that they respond to environmental stimuli! In the daytime with the sun shining, they open up. But when it is cold, windy, or foggy, which is often the case in San Francisco, they stay closed. Eschscholzia californica also attracts lots of pollinators, as seen in the picture I took! This bee has the common name Yellow-faced bumble bee, with the scientific name Bombus vosnesenskii. Also I found it interesting that people have taken liquid extracts from the poppy to sell as supplements for their sedative properties. Since E. californica has naturally occurring alkaloids, it is able to produce an effect of slight sedation, thus being able to mildly treat insomnia or anxiety.

My Adventures in Golden Gate Park and the Botanical Garden

Lemmon’s marigold (Tagetes lemmonii)

The Tagetes lemmonii, commonly known as the Lemmon’s marigold, is an evergreen shrub with bright yellow flowers. It is native to northern Mexico, and southern Arizona. It definitely reminds me of lemons when I see these flowers! They also emit a very strong aromatic scent, almost identical to the scent of lemons. The smell actually deters deer in the wild! They are very popular in the Botanical Gardens, with lots of people coming to rub the leaves of the plant which emits that strong lemon scent. This species can grow up to 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide! It definitely needs sunlight and well-drained soil. Besides its fantastic smell, T. lemmonii is also used for medicinal and other purposes! The plant has known effects of treating upset stomachs, and other digestive problems. Also many restaurants use the petals of the flower as garnish in salads, since they are edible. Interestingly, the oil of the plant can be extracted and used as a component in perfumes as well!

Orsett Geranium (Pelargonium 'Orsett')

The Pelargonium 'Orsett', commonly known as the Orsett Geranium, is a self pollinating perennial plant which is native to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. It caught my eye because of its vibrant color, and also because this shade of pink/purple is one of my favorite colors! Compared to most of the other plants that I have talked about, these ones do not want excessive sunlight. They do however still need sufficient sunlight to grow and bloom. The colors of the flowers attract many pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and birds. Also, rubbing the leaves gave a pretty strong spicy mint scent!

Fun side note! While exploring the Botanical Gardens I got a cool picture of this spider!

Sweet Pea Shrub (Polygala myrtifolia)

When in the Botanical Gardens I came across this cool looking plant. After going through iNaturalist I determined it to be the Polygala myrtifolia with the common name Sweet Pea Shrub. It belongs to the family of Polygalaceae. This plant is not native to California, and is actually a South African shrub! The flowers shown here are purple, but they can also be crimson or white. Also, at night the flowers close up similar to the California poppy! Interesting fact, the genus Polygala actually has 659 species associated with it. Also the word polygala meant “much milk” since people thought the plant stimulated milk production in European cows!

Roseleaf sage (Salvia involucrata)

The Salvia involucrata, commonly known as the Roseleaf sage, is a woody perennial plant that is native to Mexico. It is usually found in shady areas as well as the edges of forests. There are many pests that target this plant, such as slugs, snails, leafhoppers, and the capsid bug. The flowers that we see sticking out are encased in pink bracts which act as a form of protection! Many pollinators come to these flowers, such as hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. Personally I found this plant to be very pretty with its large leaves and protruding flowers.

Final Remarks Walking around San Francisco I did not think I would find such a variety of plants, especially around my neighborhood. Doing the “Nature in Your Neighborhood” project allowed me to focus on the nature around me. I feel like I never took the time to stop and examine the plants

and flowers in Golden Gate Park as well as near my house. This inspired me to take my camera out more often and take pictures of all the interesting looking plants in detail. Learning the histories behind those specific plants also provided extra context for myself and hopefully to you guys reading this! Golden Gate Park is a very important park to have in the city. It provides a multitude of species that we would not see if it weren’t for the park. Working for the Recreation and Parks department, I focused on teaching tennis to the public. I knew there were programs dedicated to plant conservation and gardens but I did not look into them. Now that I walked around the park and examined all these various species, I see how these parks are not only meant for recreation, but are very important for plant conservation. I hope that everyone can go outside of their busy schedules and appreciate the nature around us. Even walking around a couple of minutes a day and stopping to look at each leaf and flower changes your perspective on plants!

Resources Used

  1. iNaturalist App











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