Field of Iris
Photo by Ron Wilson

To discuss the grassland, or prairie habitats, one needs to consider their recent history. A century ago we had basically three biological communities on Montara Mountain: grassland/wildflower areas, chaparral, and forests. The grasslands were maintained by Native Americans, who burned frequently to increase their food supply. In the absence of frequent burning shrubs invaded the grasslands, converting them to chaparral. Consequently, Montara Mountain is today almost all chaparral and forest, the grasslands surviving only in minuscule patches and hugging the trails, which can be seen on the Hazelnut Trail.

A walk along the Hazelnut Trail, especially in the spring, reveals the richness and beauty of this community. Blooms of annual wildflowers such as Douglas iris, mission bell, sun cup, and blue-eyed grass can be seen. Habitat restoration projects have been underway to remove shrubs from grassy areas, to enable this diverse community is to survive conversion to chaparral or coastal scrub.

Coast live oaks dot the landscapes in suitable places and their history is connected to that of the grassland. Many oaks likely survived the burns by Native Americans; once their canopy gets above a few feet height, it probably survived the relatively cool grass fires. Also, its bark is good insulation against the heat of fires. If a coast live oak tree burns today, provided the fire is not too hot, it will resprout from trunks and branches, though it may be defoliated by the heat. A few magnificent examples of large coast live oaks grow at the western end of the Hazelnut Trail.

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