California Coastal Commission

Right Column

Guide to Plants of Upper Newport Bay

Acknowledgements and References for Plant Information

Habitat Type

Californians are surrounded by a diversity of plants, including about 30 described plant communities. Plant communities are used to study broad patterns of vegetation. The plants identified here form communities in four distinct habitat types:
  • Coastal Sage Scrub: characterized by dry slopes and wet lowlands. The climate is moderate due to the proximity of the Pacific Ocean. Dominant plants include sage and buckwheat.
  • Wetland: characterized by hydric (wet) soils. The Bay is a type of wetland called an estuary, a place where fresh and salt water mix. A typical plant in this community is pickleweed.
  • Dune: an area that has accumulated wind-blown sand, often characterized by sparse vegetation.
  • Riparian: a region surrounded by flowing fresh water, such as San Diego Creek. These areas are often shaded by willow trees.
  • Ecotone: the transition between two habitats. You will find an ecotonal zone between the dry coastal sage scrub and wetland areas.

Coastal Sage Scrub
This habitat occurs in a region where almost 20 million people now live. Seventy to ninety percent of southern California's coastal sage scrub has been destroyed. Nearly 100 species of plants and animals that depend on coastal sage scrub are currently classified as rare, sensitive, threatened or endangered by federal and state agencies.

•  Black Mustard
•  Black Sage
•  Bladderpod
•  Brewer's Saltbush
•  Bush Monkey Flower
•  California Buckwheat
•  California Encelia (also called Bush Sunflower)
•  California Sagebrush
•  Coast Goldenbush
•  Deerweed
•  Golden Yarrow
•  Horseweed
•  Lemonadeberry
•  Lupine
•  Mexican Elderberry
•  Myoporum (also called Lollypop Tree)
•  Southern Spikeweed (also called Southern Tarplant)
•  White Sage
•  Yellow Star Thistle

Scientists estimate that up to 99% of southern California’s wetlands have been lost. Wetlands play a vital role in filtering run-off, holding floodwaters, and providing habitat for migrating birds and commercially valuable fish. It is estimated that 43% of all threatened and endangered species rely on wetlands for their survival.

•  Alkali Heath
•  Marsh Rosemary (also called Sea Lavender)
•  Pickleweed
•  Saltwort
•  Shoregrass (also called Wiregrass)
•  Woolly Seablight

Coastal dunes were once widespread all along the west coast, but through the combined impacts of development, off-highway vehicles, and the invasion of non-native species, only fragmented patches of intact coastal dune habitat remain. They are important foraging and nesting grounds for many shore bird species, and central to the population recovery of two endangered species, the California least tern and Western snowy plover.

•  Alkali Heath
•  Beach Evening Primrose
•  Iceplant, Sea Fig
•  Saltgrass
•  Wild Heliotrope

In Southern California, only five percent of the historic riparian habitat remains. More species of birds nest here than in any other California plant community. Twenty-five percent of California's land mammals depend on riparian habitat and 21 of these face threats of extinction. Streambank vegetation lessens erosion, controls the release of nutrients to the aquatic environment, and also provides habitat for invertebrates that are a source of food for aquatic and terrestrial life.

•  Arroyo Willow
•  Giant Reed
•  Mugwort
•  Mulefat


•  Alkali Heath
•  Brewer's Saltbush
•  California Sagebrush
•  Horseweed
•  Iceplant, Sea Fig
•  Saltgrass
•  Shoregrass (also called Wiregrass)
•  Wild Heliotrope
•  Woolly Seablight

For more information on the Upper Newport Bay Project, contact Matt Yurko at