Photo: Bolsa Chica Land Trust
Please click the links below to explore some of the variety of Flora found at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and wetlands.

Sage Scrub Plants

Coastal Strand Habitat Plants

Wetland Plants

Coastal Sage Scrub Plants found on the Bolsa Chica Mesa

CA sagebrushPhotograph courtesy of Jane Lazarz

A dominant plant on the Mesa. Silvery-green feathery leaves; very aromatic; good for erosion control; provides a multitude of seeds for birds in autumn and winter; plant grows up to 4 feet high, and 3 wide.

Tiny emerald green leaves; pinkish-white flowers cover the plant during summer, dry to a rust color; Buckwheat flowers are an important butterfly and bee nectar source. Another dominant Mesa plant; exremely drought-tolerant; plant grows up to 4 feet high, and spreads 5 feet wide.

sunflowerPhotograph courtesy of Jane Lazarz 

A dominant indigenous plant on Bolsa Chica Mesa; starts blooming with the winter rains and into early spring; the brilliant yellow daisy-like flowers cover the Mesa bluffs especially during February and March; plant grows up to 3 feet high, and 4 feet wide.

coastal buckwheat Photograph courtesy of Erin Chin

A prostrate sub-shrub with small green leaves and white flowers which bloom in summer and attract  butterflies. It is an important plant of the blufftops; grows up to 4 feet high and 5 feet wide.

coyote bushPhotograph courtesy of Marinka Horack

An evergreen drought-tolerant shrub; has fuzzy cream-colored flowers in fall & winter which attract butterflies; leaves have a waxy coating which protect them from sunburn; up to 8 feet high, 8 feet wide.

Small bright green leaves, graceful branches grow in all direction, bright yellow and red flowers bloom in spring and attract butterflies;  up to 3 feet high and 3 feet wide.

bladder podPhotograph courtesy of Marinka Horack

An extremely drought-tolerant plant which is indigenous to Bolsa Chica; it has lacy gray-green leaves and bright yellow flowers which grow year round; it attracts Harlequin bugs, hummingbirds and bees; has large and interesting seed pods with pea-sized seeds inside; grows up to 5 feet high, and 5 feet wide.

prickly pearPhotograph courtesy of Jane Lazarz

Iconic cactus plant of the American West; this species is found in coastal California; has succulent pads covered with very sharp spines; extremely drought-tolerant; has lovely yellow silky flowers bloom in summer; and has edible and delicious red fruit; pads are a nutritious vegetable; plant grows to 3 feet high, and up to 10 feet wide.

coast chollaPhotograph courtesy of Jane Lazarz

Bluff slope cactus of coastal California with narrow cylindrical segments; grows up to 6 feet high, and 6 feet wide.

Gray-green leaves on an extremely drought-tolerant, and salt-tolerant plant which grows in poor soil; produces countless numbers of seeds to feed birds in the fall; grows up to 6 feet high, and 10 feet wide.

quail bushPhotograph courtesy of Erin Chin

This very large bush has gray-geen triangular leaves and produces massive amounts of seeds in the fall.  It is extremely drought and salt tolerant and grows well even in poor soil. It provides safe habitat for small mammals and birds, and helps prevent soil erosion. It grows up to 10 feet high and 8 feet wide.

A very aromatic dark green sage; blooms spring and summer with tiny blue or white flowers; attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds; bees produce sage honey from its nectar; grows up to 5 feet high, and 6 feet wide.

Sacred plant to Native Americans who burn its aromatic leaves in religious ceremonies; it has long graceful stems and silvery-white leaves and tiny white flowers; attracts bees and butterflies; its a very attractive plant for the home garden; grows up to 6 feet high, and 5 feet wide.


A profusely flowering bush with sticky bright green leaves and yellow flowers which attract Hummingbirds; it has become very popular in home gardens because of its pretty flowers; grows 2 feet high, 3 feet wide.

box thornPhotograph courtesy of Erin Chin

An increasingly rare plant, it grows on coastal bluffs; has tiny dark green leaves; tiny pink flowers bloom in spring on thin, rigid branches; grows about 4 feet high, and 6 feet wide.

lemonade berryPhotograph courtesy of Erin Chin

A large and very handsome evergreen shrub with leathery green leaves; blooms in spring with small pink flowers which attract multitudes of bees; it produces small lavender berries that taste like lemons; prevents soil erosion; the plant grows up to 15 feet high, and 10 feet wide.

A small, attractive bush which grows on the bluff overlooking Bolsa Chica’s restored Pocket Wetland. It blooms in the spring with purple flowers.  Its height is about 2 feet, and width about 3 feet.

ToyonPhotograph courtesy of Erin Chin

This is a large handsome shrub which blooms with white flowers in summer and red berries in winter.  It was very common to the wild slopes of Southern California in the days before development, in fact, Holywood was named after this plant. It is an excellent plant to prevent soil erosion.  It goes up to 15 feet high and 15 feet wide.

common tarplantPhotograph courtesy of Erin Chin

This small annual sprouts up in summer along disturbed soil such as trail edges. It has bright green leaves and small yellow flowers. It dries up in the fall. It grows about 2 feet high and a foot wide.

southern tar plantPhotograph courtesy of Marinka Horack

This is a highly endangered plant. It grows in very alkaline soils. Now it is found in only a few places such as Del Mar, Newport Back Bay, Bonita Canyon, Los Cerritos Wetlands, Catalina Island, and Bolsa Chica Mesa.  It differs from the Common Tarplant which is soft to the touch, while the Southern Tarplant is prickly.

Coastal Strand Habitat Plants found at the Sand Dunes of Bolsa Chica

This lovely California native spreads along the ground and grows in flat lacey patterns on sand dunes and beaches. It spreads about 3 feet wide. Its small regularly spaced gray-green leaves are enhanced by silky yellow flowers which brighten up the Sand Dunes trail in the spring and summer.

Sand Verbena has semi-succulant small oval shaped leaves and purple flowers which grow in umbrella-like culsters on red stems; the plant grows in a lacy mat on the sand.


A parasite which grows on top of plants. It looks like bright orange hair, often covering entire plants. Since it has no chlorophyll it depends on green plants for food.

Photograph courtesy of Marinka Horack

This ground-hugging annual is found along the Sand Dunes trail near the South Lot. It is becoming increasingly rare. Small populations of this plant can be found at Bolsa Chica, Upper Newport Bay, and in San Diego County. It is a member of the buckwheat family and a halophyte (can grow in salty soil). When it sprouts in winter in response to rain, it is in a rosette form with aqua-blue leaves tinged in pink. The leaves can be up to 2 inches long. As it matures the leaves dry up and curl inward to the center to form a gray woolly ball.  Then the plant sends out thin wiry branches (in an octopus fashion) which sprout tiny greenish-white flowers.

This perennial vine grows on the sand and has attractive shiny green leaves and pale pink to lavender flowers. Insects serve as pollinators for this plant.

This is a species of ragweed which grows on beaches from Alaska to Baja California.  It’s a large sprawling perennial that can grow into a large flat mat more than 9 feet wide. The silvery-green leaves are woolly and variable in shape.

This member of the sunflower family sends out a multitude of fuzzy mustard-colored flowers on top of 3 foot tall stalks.  It blooms in September and October when most plants are dormant.Goldenbush is so common along the Orange Coast that it is almost considered a weed, but it really brightens up the roadsides and it has a very pleasant fragrance.  It is plentiful along the Sand Dunes Trail.

Wetlands Plants found at the Bolsa Chica

An occasional perennial, heavily branched, compact, grows to 12″.

Pickleweed is the one of the most common plant species found in Southern California salt marshes. It is a halophyte (salt tolerant plant) which has the ability to grow right in the salt marsh. Since up to 95% of our coastal wetlands have been destroyed by development, these plants are rare overall. Pickleweed is nesting habitat for the endangered Belding’s Savannah Sparrow, and this bird species lives there year round.

Cordgrass is a perennial which reaches 1 to 4 feet tall and it grows in the lowest zone of the marsh and, thus gets the most exposure to the tides.  It is important habitat for the endangered Light-footed Clapper Rail.  This is a bird which ties its nests directly onto the cordgrass.  Over many decades, oil drilling damaged much of the cordgrass habitat at Bolsa Chica and scared off the Clapper Rail.  Now restoration is underway to return cordgrass, and Clapper Rails, to Bolsa Chica.

salt grassPhotograph courtesy of Erin Chin

This is a tough and hardy perennial grass that grows on the edge of the marsh and forms a low thick mat of green about 12 inches high along the banks of Bolsa Bay and in the sand of the coastal strand.  Saltgrass provides habitat for the larvae of the Wandering Skipper, an increasingly rare wetlands butterfly.

A succulent perennial plant, Saltwort is a halophyte (salt tolerant) plant which grows in the salt marsh.  It is a flat trailing plant that can reach a length of 40 inches across in the mud. Research shows that Saltwort could be a suprisingly nutritious untapped source of food.  Saltworth seeds have high amounts of protein, oils, starches, and antioxidants, and they have a nutty taste.

A succulent, low-growing protrate perennial plant, Jaumea is very similiar to Saltwort, however, when Jaumea blooms, it has bright yellow flowers (Saltwort does not). Jaumea spreads vegetatively through the mud up to 12 inches.

A clumping perennial rush with sharp-tipped, dark green blades which grow to more than 2 feet tall.  It is found in moist saline habitats like salt marshes.  It blooms from May to June.

Grows along the banks of Bolsa Bay.  Broad leathery leaves at the base of the plant support a long central stem which shoots up to 2 feet high and blooms with tiny pale violet flowers at the top. Sea Lavender is a smaller and paler relation to the home garden variety Statice.

Grows along the edge of the marsh, spreading as much as 32 inches. Its narrow linear succulent leaves are crowded on the stems of this much branched perennial bush.

Frankenia salina alkali heath 2Photograph courtesy of Erin Chin

Low bushy perennial which grows to about 12 inches tall at the edge of the marsh.  Small pink flowers bloom in the summer supported by small oval leaves.

A perennial, prostrate grass which grows in dense mats in the upper levels of the salt marsh.  It has short leaf blades that are heavily clustered together on stems up to 11 inches tall.

This plant can be found growing on the banks of Bolsa Bay along the Sand Dunes Trail near the South Lot. It has large leathery green leaves.  In May, it puts on quite a show of bloom. Its multitude of tiny white flowers grow on conical spikes (called Lizard’s Tail) surrounded at their base by white “petals.”  Native Americans used this herb for a wide variety of medicinal purposes. It was used to treat such ailments as asthma, skin cuts, muscular aches, indigestion, skin diseases, and as a poultice to reduce swellings.

This is a freshwater wetlands plant. Cattails can be found at Bolsa Chica in the area just west of the the South Lot along the Sand Dunes Trail.  Here there is a source of fresh water likely coming from runoff from the State Beach irrigation across the street of PCH, and urban runoff during the rain season. Cattails are an upright perennial upt 6 feet tall, and have rich brown cigar-shaped seed pods.

mule fatPhotograph courtesy of Erin Chin

This is a large shrub which grows next to wetlands.  It has willow-like leaves and blooms on spring and summer with small,fuzzy, cream colored flowers. It grows up to 10 feet high and 8 feet wide. It common name comes from the fact that mules grazed on it.