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Riparian ecosystems fare well with the seasonal cycle of flood and drought. Riparian means river's edge, and includes plants, birds, insects and animals that live within this special niche. Below is a sampling of some of the more common species.
The California sycamore, Platanus racemosa, is fast growing and very graceful. It can grow to 60 feet and its deep roots stabilize banks. Because its roots seek the water table, it can withstand years of drought as well as the ferocity of floodwaters.
Arroyo Willows, Salix lasiolepsis, are also common riparian trees found abundantly in the rivers. Willows fare especially well after the rigors of flooding. Willow waddling bundles are used to stabilize eroded banks because their roots set quickly.
Cottonwoods, Populus fremontii, set deep aggressive roots and, like the willows, prefer wet places and moist habitats along streams. Cottonwoods are deciduous and can grow to 90 feet tall. They have been found to be excellent in remediating groundwater pollutants.
The Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia, is protected in many areas of Southern California. Many oaks still occur naturally higher up along the banks and in the headwaters. The Coast Live Oak groves were once dense and provided acorns as food for wildlife and Native Californians.
Mulefat, Baccharis viminea (salicifolia), is a riparian species that grows on the drier margins of numerous types of riparian habitat. Their root systems were strong enough to hold securely when early settlers used them to tie up their mules. The mules would eat the leaves and become bloated, hence the common name.
Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia, abundant in the region, was mistaken by settlers from the east to be holly, because its berries would red in winter. It is this plant that gave Hollywood its name.
California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, is still common in the foothills and alongside freeways. This plant provided food for natives and wildlife. Butterflies love them.
California Lilac, Ceanothus spp, is an aromatic shrub with showy, deep blue flowers.
The State flower, the California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica is seen along the banks during the spring. The poppy attracts butterflies and other insects.
The Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus, was used by Native Californians for food and medicine.
California Wild Rose, Rosa californica, is deciduous and thorny with fragrant pink flowers and edible red hips.
Purple Sage, Salvia leucophylla, is a very aromatic plant used by Native Californians for medicine and in rituals. Several showy sages are native to the watershed, including Black Sage, Hummingbird Sage, and White Sage.
Matilija Poppy, Romneya coulteri, aka the fried egg flower, is one of the larger, showier flowers with blooms as big as your hand.
Cattails, Typha dominguinsis, provide a favorable habitat for red-winged blackbirds. Native Californians used the roots, seeds, and pollen of cattails for food.
Watercress, Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, grows close to the banks and in small eddies, where it shelters tadpoles and crayfish. It is light green and peppery in flavor. Finding watercress is often assurance that the water is not polluted.
Other riparian plants such as duckweed, reeds, rushes, and grasses were used in baskets, ropes, dwellings, and clothing, as well as for food.