San Francisco Campion (Silene verecunda ssp. verecunda)

Spring is once again upon us and this winter’s abundantrains have given us high hopes for an extraordinary spring wildflower seasonthroughout the Bay Area and the state. The grassy slopes of San Francisco’smany hills (those not already covered with dense stands of eucalyptus, pines orcondos) should offer residents fantastic glimpses of the botanical glory stillto be found.

Not to be outdone, the dune scrub communities at the continent’sedge also puts on a spectacular display of flowers and colorful new growthduring the spring. Perennial shrubs such as coast buckwheat (Eriogonumlatifolium), mock heather (Ericameriaericoides), lizard tail (Eriophyllumstaechadifolium), yellow bush lupine (Lupinusarboreus), sticky monkey flower (Mimulusaurantiacus ), and coastal sagewort (Artemisiapycnocephala) are especially prominent.Examples of our spectacular coastal dune flora can be easily viewed directlyabove Bakers Beach along Lincoln Boulevard in the Presidio. Look for therestored habitats in the northeast corner of Pershing Drive and Lincoln (Wherrydunes) and along the trail connecting Lincoln Near Bowley Street, just north ofLobos Creek, that connects Lincoln with the former Public Health ServiceHospital. The National Park Service is constructing new trails and putting upinformative signs to add to the enjoyment.

A rare member of our coastal scrub community is SanFrancisco campion. Also known as the Mission Dolores campion, it occurs incolonies on sandy soils and rock outcrops among coastal scrub, chaparral,coastal prairie and grassland habitats near the coast. This member of the pinkfamily (Caryophyllaceae-the same familyas carnations) is a perennial herbdeveloping several densely hairy, glandular and erect stems to around 20 incheshigh. Leaves are thin and flexible, the lower ones one to two inches long andlinear to lanceolate in shape. It produces fairly abundant white to rosecolored tube-shaped flowers with five two-lobed spreading petals. Floweringoccurs from March to August.

San Francisco campion is currently on the CNPS List 1B:3-2-3. This status indicates that the subspecies is rare, threatened orendangered in California, is distributed in one to several highly restrictedoccurrences, is endangered in a portion of its range, and is endemic toCalifornia. Although the subspecies has no formal status under the CaliforniaEndangered Species Act, it is considered a special plant. As such, all impacts must be addressed under theCalifornia Environmental Quality Act. San Francisco campion was formerlyconsidered a Category 2 Candidate for listing as endangered or threatened bythe United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). As of Feb. 28, 1996, theUSFWS ceased to maintain their list of Category 2 and Category 3 Candidatespecies and now considered San Francisco campion a species of special concern.It was officially rejected for listing by the USFWS in 1995 and it currentlyhas no status as a federally protected plant under the federal EndangeredSpecies Act.

Within San Francisco, San Francisco campion can be found onthe Presidio at Wherry dunes above Bakers Beach and on Mt. Davidson. The Wherrydunes population represents perhaps the largest and most intact stand of thesubspecies remaining. Historically, San Francisco campion is known from GoldenGate Park, the Sunset District, Lake Merced, Lands End and San Miguel Hills(Diamond Heights). As described in the California Native Plant Society’s Inventoryof Rare and Endangered Vascular Plants of California, San Francisco campion is known from fewer than 20occurrences in San Francisco, Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. However, a searchof the California Natural Diversity Data Base resulted in only four recordedlocations, the two listed above plus San Bruno Mt. and Edgewood County Park inSan Mateo County. (See Field Trips, April 20, page 4.) There is an additionalunconfirmed report of the subspecies occurring on Montara Mountain. SanFrancisco campion is not listed in Thomas’ Flora of the Santa CruzMountains of California although there isan unconfirmed report from Santa Cruz County.

If you’d like to get involved in restoring habitat for thisrare plant, the National Park Service has numerous ongoing projects involvingeverything from pulling weeds to building trails to propagating native plants.To find out what you can do to help preserve native habitats on the Presidio,contact Marc Albert at the Park Service field office at 668-4392. Friends ofLake Merced’s native plant task force is interested in reintroducing SanFrancisco campion near the lake, and always welcomes new volunteers.