top of page

The Natural Inhabitants of the Gateway to the Peninsula


The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone’s livelihoods in one way or another, resulting in a time when outdoor contact is limited to ensure the safety of others. For instance, as a second-year student at the University of San Francisco taking Pollination Biology, a course known for working labs in the field and volunteering for various organizations, the pandemic has drastically changed the dynamics of the class. Nevertheless, when I was introduced to Sutro Stewards’ “Nature in Your Neighborhood” program during one of our Zoom sessions, I saw an opportunity to learn more about and connect with my natural surroundings. Even though I attend school in San Francisco, I have lived in Daly City for my entire life, an area unfamiliar to most people. Though the two cities are fairly close to each other and are similar in some ways such as weather, I find the environment much tamer here in Daly City compared to the bustling city of San Francisco. Because of these subtle differences in atmosphere, I wondered whether or not the local fauna in Daly City would be different than the plants commonly found in San Francisco. Thus, for my project for Sutro Stewards, I decided to identify and research plants within my area.

My Neighborhood

To start, I first explored my neighborhood for any notable plants and flowers. My immediate area is filled with roads and houses, along with a nursing home for the elderly and a church nearby, leaving relatively little room for plant growth. However, there is surprisingly a wide variety of plants outside each household. Although I found many unique species of bushes and flowers throughout people’s front yards and around various buildings, the following are the ones I thought were interesting and common to the immediate area.

Blue Lily (Agapanthus praecox)

The blue lily was one of the first flowers that caught my eye due to its vibrant blue color. A. praecox is a perennial that is nonnative to California; it is native to South Africa, primarily the Western and Southern Capes. A. praecox is botanically divided into 3 subspecies based on their native origin and characteristics: subsp. Minimus, subsp. Orientalis, and subsp. Praecox. The one I found is likely subsp. Orientalis, which originates from the Eastern Cape and the southern KwaZulu-Natal region. Also known as the “African lily” or “lily of the Nile”, it consists of evergreen leaves and tubular flowers with 6 petals each that typically bloom from around summer to fall. They grow to about 1m tall and attract pollinators such as hummingbirds and bees, but are slightly toxic when ingested (likely to dissuade predators), which can result in mouth ulcers and/or burning sensation. The plant is extremely durable; it can live for more than 7 decades and can grow within a wide temperature range (about 0°C - 40°C) and in most types of soil.

Because of the blue lily’s durability and ease of growing, it is primarily used as an ornamental plant that can also provide soil stabilization. However, A. praecox has the potential to have pharmaceutical uses. Some African tribes, aside from using the plant for its magical properties as a love charm or to ward off thunder, utilized the blue lily to treat people with heart diseases, coughs, and chest pains. This is because A. praecox contains saponins and sapogenins that have anti-inflammatory, anti-edema (reduce swelling due to accumulation of fluid), antitussive (relieve coughing), and immunoregulatory properties. However, more studies need to be performed to analyze the true pharmaceutical effects of the plant.

Blue Blossom (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus)

When walking around my neighborhood, I noticed several blue blossom shrubs. To my surprise, blue blossoms, or C. thyrsiflorus, are native to both Oregon and California. These evergreen shrubs can grow up to 30 feet tall, but can also only be about 2-3 feet tall. Blue blossom’s most distinguishing factor is its flowers, which are individually really small, have a vibrant blue color, are dotted with yellow stamens, and bloom in either winter or spring. The flowers grow in puffy clusters that cover the whole shrub, which makes sense given the plant’s common name. C. thyrsiflorus typically grows in California’s chaparral habitats, as the plant can tolerate rocky/sandy soils and drought-like conditions. But, it can also grow in damper, shadier areas as well.

Blue blossoms attract a wide variety of pollinators, including bees, moths, butterflies. After blooming and providing pollen, the flowers mature into a dry, 3-lobed seed capsule, which serves as an important food source for small mammals and birds. The shrub itself is also essential, serving as a habitat for small animals. C. thyrsiflorus, however, is vulnerable to scale insects, honey fungus, and phytophthora root disease (caused by the pathogen Phytophthora sojae, resulting in root and stem rot).

New Zealand Hebe (Veronica speciosa)