Perhaps the most dramatic of the winter-blooming shrubs found in the Knowland Park chaparral is the coast silk-tassel. As its name suggest, long elegant tassels dangle from the branches, bedecking the plant in soft gray-green catkins. The species is dioecious–there are both male and female plants-and the catkins on the male plants are longer than on the female.
Pollen from the small inconspicuous flowers on the male catkins is wind-blown onto the female flowers. Once pollinated, the flowers develop into a chain of berries which provide food for birds and mammals.
Like many chaparral plants, the coast silk-tassel has co-evolved with wildfire, and as the plant matures, it develops a burl at the base of the plant. Should wildfire destroy the adult plant, the burl will sprout soon after, and a new plant will develop.
This species (Garrya elliptica) is considered a locally rare plant by the California Native Plant Society’s East Bay Chapter. It is ranked B, known from only 6-9 regions, on Dianne Lake’s List of Rare, Unusual, and Significant plant of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Its rarity is most likely due to its occurring primarily in chaparral communities which themselves are rare in the East Bay. Coast silk tassel is prized as a specimen plant for native gardens because of its great beauty.
To see coast silk tassel on display, visit the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park (www.ebparks.org/parks/vc/botanic_garden).
Laura Baker is an environmental activist and former conservation chair of the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. She holds an MA in ecology and systematic biology. Growing up in Missouri, she learned early that the cure for most ills rests in spending time out in nature. She wishes for every child to have the experience of wholeness that nature provides.
Laura’s Knowlander blog is dedicated to building an online library of the natural history of Knowland Park so that the public may enjoy the park for the natural heritage treasure that it is. Knowing the land is a never ending process of inquiry open to all. We welcome your comments, contributions, and photos.