The next time you walk through the UCSF campus or hike past Rotary Meadow on the way to the summit of Mount Sutro, keep an eye out for a new series of beautifully illustrated interpretive signs highlighting key relationships between native plants and animals.
Allen’s hummingbird (2), which is an important pollinator species that spends its summers along the California coast, siphoning nectar from a native pink flowering currant (1). Each day, this hummingbird may visit as many as one thousand flowers and consumes twice its weight in nectar, giving it ample opportunity to spread pollen between many plants.
Over the past year, funding from the City of San Francisco’s Community Challenge Grant (CCG) program has made it possible for Sutro Stewards to commission and install six signs with support from UCSF. Staff worked with artist Jane Kim, co-founder of Ink Dwell Studio in Half Moon Bay, to develop the illustrations, each of which features a colorful combination of local plant species and associated pollinators.
Kim is known for her lifelike and morphologically accurate renderings of the natural world. Her growing portfolio emphasizes large-scale public art installations at high-profile locations around the United States, including a 2,500 square-foot mural at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that depicts 375 million years of avian evolution.
A West Coast lady butterfly (2)alights on a checkerbloom. Adult butterflies rely on flower nectar as a primary food source, and individuals of many species spend their entire larval phase—as much as 11 months or longer in some cases—feeding on and sheltering within the base of a host plant.
A native yellow-faced bumblebee buzzes near a sticky monkey flower (above). They spend their days collecting pollen to carry back to the hive, and they inadvertently cross-pollinate nearby plants simply by crawling in and out of many flowers.
You can find five of the Sutro signs on the UCSF campus along Irving Street and in front of the Millberry Union planter beds on Parnassus. Along with the new signs, various native plants grown at Sutro Nursery were planted, adding biodiverse and drought-tolerant landscaping that also supports local wildlife. Another sign is being installed at Rotary Meadow near the summit of Mount Sutro. Each sign was designed to represent the plant and animal species in the planter boxes, giving passersby the chance to learn more about the web of life around them. The message at the top of each sign is clear: “Native plants support birds, bees, and butterflies.”
The Community Challenge Grant program was founded by a voter initiative in 1991 to support neighborhood improvement projects undertaken by community groups, businesses, schools, and nonprofits. The goal of this particular interpretive sign project is to highlight the habitat restoration work being done on Mount Sutro as well as to provide visual representations of the important ecosystem relationships that we support by facilitating biodiversity.
Mount Sutro is also home to many important interspecies relationships that don’t involve pollination. On the forest floor, salamanders like the slender salamander (5) and the yellow-eyed ensatina (7) play an important role as major predators in the decomposer ecosystem that breaks down organic matter.
So why is biodiversity important? An increasing body of evidence suggests that more diverse ecosystems are more resilient to human disturbance, habitat fragmentation, and shifting climate conditions. This is especially important within the context of what many have called a global mass extinction event. A sweeping United Nations report published this year stated that the average abundance of native wildlife in most terrestrial ecosystems has fallen by at least 20 percent over the last century, and that unless we take swift action to protect habitat and curtail the worst of our pollutive ways, we may see far more dire consequences in the century to come. In particular, the loss of crucial native pollinators like birds, bees, and butterflies threatens not only to compromise wild ecosystem function, but also to destabilize the delicate ecological balance at the heart of human agriculture.
The native habitat conservation work being done on Mount Sutro is a way to take local action to support biodiverse native ecosystems within the global context of mass extinction. The first step to protecting these ecosystems is engaging with them: noticing and appreciating the intricate threads of life that tie us all together, from the roving hummingbirds and insects that pollinate wildflowers down to the carnivorous salamanders that roam the forest floor.
Once the flowers of Mount Sutro make fruits, various bird species eat the berries and then spreading the seeds elsewhere on the mountain. The Wilson’s warbler (2), for instance, feeds on red elderberries (1) (which are toxic to humans). The song sparrow (4) favors the California coffeeberry, enjoying both the fruit and the shelter provided by the dense shrubs.
So visit the signs and look around. Appreciate the artwork, then try to identify the species from the illustrations in the surrounding habitat. Also stay tuned for a forthcoming series of guided tours in which Sutro Stewards staff will explain some of the inter-species relationships depicted on the signs. Wildlife abounds on the UCSF campus, and these signs can be a great way to peer beneath the surface!