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Native and Introduced Plants on the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are sometimes referred to as the North American Galapagos due to the unique species and sub species that can be found on these isolated and less disturbed Island habitats. Both plants and animals on the California Channel Islands have developed unique characteristics. The plants on the islands represent native species, which have lived on the island since before European colonization began, and they include introduced plants that the settlers brought with them. The islands also have plants with utilitarian and medicinal properties understood by the Native Americans who lived on the islands since up to 13,000 years ago.

There are twelve plant communities identified on the Islands, but not each island has all twelve – they each have their own blend of plant communities, including :

Valley and foothill grasslands

Maritime cactus scrub

Island woodland

Coastal oak woodlands

Coastal bluff

Pine woodland

Coastal strand/dunes

Coastal sage scrub

Salt coastal marsh

Fresh water marsh




Inside each of these 12 communities, there can be any of five categories of plants used by ecologists to distinguish plants groups on the Channel Islands.

Ancient plant fossils

are the remains of plants no longer living on the islands, and that may not even have been living when the first Native Americans settled on the islands 13,000 years ago

Native plants

are plants that have been living in a location before the arrival of humans

Endemic plants

are those that exist only in one place, like one channel Islands, or on the Channel Islands but not on the mainland

Exotic or Non-Native plants

have been brought to a location by humans and may or may not have had harmful impact on the native and endemic plant species. There are a group of plants that were brought to the Channel Islands by early American and European settlers that have been causing serious damage to other plant populations, and work is underway to study these plant communities, and to determine a means to return much of the islands to their original – pre-Western human contact – state.

Endangered plants

these are native or endemic plants that are in danger of being eradicated due to human impact on the environment and that require close attention in order to preserve them as part of the earth’s natural bio-diversity.

Let’s look at a natural history over view of these five plants groups, and then see a selection of plants that can bee seen today on the islands.

We invite you to send drawings you make after your visit to the Berkeley Digital Library in to the Camp for posting on the web site.

We will include both the scientific and common name when ever possible in our explorations. And we would like to thank Steve Junak, from the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens, William Bushing, from the Catalina Island Conservancy, and Marla Daly, from the Santa Cruz Island Foundation for their fine reference materials that have provided the basic source material for much of this study unit. Special vote of appreciation also for the UC Berkeley Digital Library Project for the in-depth library of photographs.

Ancient plant fossils

Native plants

Endemic plants

Non-native exotics

Endangered plants

Why Grow Native Plants?