A Journey Through the Scott Creek Watershed

Scott Creek Watershed from Highway 1

Scott Creek

Underlying our trajectory towards towards Eagle Rock is the counterpoint of Scott Creek proper, a descending journey from Little Basin to the Pacific Ocean that is defined, in part, by the complex sinuosity of the watercourse. Growing in the upper reaches of the watershed, above the confluence of Bettencourt Gulch with Scott Creek, botanical treasures abound.


Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis Corallorhiza striata Several uncommon orchid species can be observed nestled in duff derived from Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii) and coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) needles: calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis), (un)spotted coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis), striped coralroot (Corallorhiza striata), and wood rein orchid (Piperia elongata).


Growing sympatrically are several native grasses: pine reed grass (Calamagrostis rubescens) [ca. 25 years ago near the mouth of Bannister Gulch, I discovered a small population producing proliferous spikelets like Poa bulbosa]; Elmer's fescue (Festuca elmeri), variable as to stature, number of florets, and anther coloration—yellow or purple; crinkle-awn fescue (Festuca subuliflora), rare within the county; vanilla grass (Anthoxanthum occidentale), distinguished from all other local grasses by aromatic foliage; and tall trisetum (Trisetum canescens)—populations within watershed exhibit a high degree of variability, possibly due to past hybridization with nodding trisetum (Trisetum cernuum).


Ascending in an elevational profile, from streambank to chaparral's edge, 16 species and natural hybrids of ferns have been documented! Adiantum aleuticum

  • On moist rocks: five-finger fern (Adiantum aleuticum) and fragile fern (Cystopteris fragilis)
  • Spring courses: lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina var. cyclosorum) and giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata)
  • On shaded banks and in forest understory: Adiantum jordanii (California maidenhair), deer fern (Blechnum spicant), coastal wood fern (Dryopteris arguta), California sword fern (Polystichum californicum), Dudley's sword fern (Polystichum dudleyi), western sword fern (Polystichum munitum), and bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum var. pubescens).
  • On tree trunks and branches: nested polypody (Polypodium calirhiza)
  • On exposed outcroppings: California lace fern (Aspidotis californica), coffee fern (Pellaea andromedifolia), bird's-foot fern (Pellaea mucronata var. mucronata), and goldback fern (Pentagramma triangularis subsp. triangularis)


Fritillaria affinis Lilium pardalinum subsp. pardalinum Sheltered within an impenetrable tangle of California huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), Shreve oak (Quercus parvula var. shrevei), and tanbark oak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus var. densiflorus), scattered plants of bear-grass (Xerophyllum tenax) occur. Vegetatively, this locally rare monocot could be easily mistaken by the uninformed as a depauperate example of jubata grass (Cortaderia jubata). Other native monocots that thread their way through forested slopes and adjacent stream banks are checker lily (Fritillaria affinis), red clintonia (Clintonia andrewsiana), leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum subsp. pardalinum), Hooker's fairy bells (Prosartes hookeri), fetid adder's tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii), false Solomon's seal (Maianthemum racemosa), and pussy ears (Calochortus tolmiei).

Variety Within Plant Families

From a floristics perspective, one of the values derived from the watershed's biodiversity is the study of contrasts: the variety and plasticity of morphological templates within a specific family, occupying different niches in the same ecosystem.

  • Example one: A Rosaceae is a Rosaceae is a Rosaceae, or the case of the ant and the elephant! In terms of stature extremes, it is hard imagining two more polar opposites than western lady's-mantle (Aphanes occidentalis), a diminutive annual whose adult biomass can fit with room to spare on the nail of one's little finger and toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), a 6+ meter high sub-tree with ash-gray bark and fruiting panicles of luminous scarlet pomes.
  • Example two: Unless one is versed in Carrot Family (Apiaceae) taxonomy and has fruiting plants at hand, it would be difficult to connect Pacific oenanthe (Oenanthe sarmentosa), California hedge-parsley (Yabea microcarpa), and hoary bowlesia (Bowlesia incana) with footsteps-of-spring (Sanicula arctopoides), sweet cicely (Osmorhiza berteroi), wild celery (Apiastrum angustifolium), rattlesnake carrot (Daucus pusillus), and cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum). A diverse family indeed, but the constituent taxa are united by the structure of their fruits, these when mature splitting into two halves, each containing one seed and temporarily remaining attached to a portion of the central axis known as a carpophore.

Example three:

What is found growing on sandbars along the Scott Creek riparian corridor, is a monocot, and vegetatively simulates an iris but is not one? Excluding flowers and fruits, the genus Juncus affords the student of form and function a rare opportunity to observe a bewildering array of variations on a theme, often approaching a sophisticated level of mimicry that can seduce the first-time student into making a hastily arrived-at misdiagnosis! The aforementioned "iris poseur" is none other than iris-leaved rush (Juncus xiphioides). On the coastal prairies and adjacent grasslands can be found another foliar chameleon, brown-headed rush (Juncus phaeocephalus), which often grows with and masquerades as blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum). Occasionally forming a threesome is western rush (Juncus occidentalis), which creates cespitose tufts with leaves and nascent culms playing the roles of a perennial fescue (Festuca rubra/roemeri) or tufted hair-grass (Deschampsia caespitosa subsp. holciformis), both of which (to confuse matters further) can be found growing sympatrically!