Native Plants and Native People Trail
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The Native Plants and Native People Trail leads through some of the rarest habitats in the country: the coastal sage scrub and southern maritime chaparral of Southern California. Learn how Native Americans used the plants here for food, medicine, clothing, shelter, and tools.

Humans probably first used these plants more than 10,000 years ago. The Kumeyaay people who lived in this area when the Spanish arrived had long developed a system of practices to carefully manage their environment. Successive groups of Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers later used many of the plants found on the trail for both food and medicine. Today some of these plants continue to be important to San Diego County Native Americans.

Three plant communities are found along the trail: coastal sage scrub which has semi-deciduous shrubs such as California sagebrush, buckwheat, and black sage; southern maritime chaparral with its evergreen shrubs like chamise, Del Mar manzanita, and scrub oak; and riparian wetland with tules, rushes, and willows.

The coastal sage scrub and southern maritime chaparral communities are adapted to the mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers of our Mediterranean climate. Many of the plants here conserve water with leaves that are small, leathery, needle-like or succulent. Some plants survive with deep root systems or by losing leaves and becoming dormant during the dry season. Many plants are adapted to wildfires, sprouting from stumps after fires or germinating from seed after fires.

Animals live here too. Look and listen for lizards, small mammals, and birds such as scrub jays, towhees, black phoebe, and quail. They have all formed ecological relationships with these plant communities, and their survival depends on protecting these habitats.

Please do not pick any plant materials or disturb any natural features. Please stay on the trail. No smoking is allowed.Native People

The Medicinal Plants Disclaimer: This information is intended as an introduction to the uses of plants for educational purposes only. San Diego Botanic Garden makes no claims as to the medicinal effects of any plants.


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Plants of the Native Plants and Native People Trail

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Comman, Botanical and
Kumeyaay Name

(Adenostoma fasciculatum)

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This evergreen is the most common chaparral shrub. Clusters of white flowers bloom in spring and early summer. The wood is very hard and heavy. Chamise is very flammable, but resprouts after fires. The Kumeyaay used chamise medicinally, to make shelters and arrow shafts, and for firewood.

Endangered Plants
Coastal Sagebrush
(Artemisia californica)

This is the most common plant of coastal sage scrub habitats. To conserve water during the summer it goes dormant and loses many of its leaves. The aromatic branches were strewn on the floors of Kumeyaay houses to control insects.

Endangered Plants
Black Sage
(Salvia mellifera)
This is the most common sage in Southern California. Its pale blue flowers bloom from spring to early summer. The aromatic leaves were used to season food. Native Americans gathered the seeds to make a nutritious mush.
Endangered Plants
Lemonade Berry
(Rhus integrifolia)
This is a common evergreen shrub in coastal California. Attractive clusters of pink to white flowers bloom in early spring. The fruit have a lemon-like flavor, which was made into a drink by native peoples and early settlers.
Blue Elderberry
(Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea)


This large deciduous shrub or small tree has clusters of white blooms in spring. The berries are eaten by wildlife. The Kumeyaay also ate the berries. Tea from flowers was used medicinally for babies. The hollow stems were used for flutes.

Endangered Plants
Torrey Pine
(Pinus torreyana)
This is the rarest pine in the U.S., and is native only to Torrey Pines State Park and to Santa Rosa Island. The large seeds were an important food of the Kumeyaay who ate them dry and roasted. The resin was used medicinally for head colds and sore throats, for sore muscles, and as a wound dressing. Pine needles were used to make baskets. Pine pitch was used to waterproof baskets.
Endangered Plants
Toyon or Christmas Berry
(Heteromeles arbutifolia)
This common evergreen shrub or tree has small white flowers during the summer and bright red berries from October to February. The Kumeyaay ate the berries while Spanish and American settlers used them for making cider.
Laurel Sumac or Taco Plant
(Malosma laurina)

This common large evergreen shrub has small, white flower clusters in early summer. The leaves partially fold up to conserve moisture.

Endangered Plants
California Buckwheat
(Eriogonum fasciculatum)
A common shrub of coastal sage scrub habitats, the attractive white flowers bloom from late spring through summer. The flowers were used by native peoples to make a tea to aid digestion and as a cure for headache, abdominal pain and diarrhea in infants.
Arroyo Willow
(Salix lasiolepis)
Willows grow along streams and ponds. Willow was an internal remedy for pain, inflammation and fever. It can also be used as an external wash for sores. The branches were used to make shelters and storage baskets.
Basket Rush
(Juncus textilis)
Native Americans in coastal Southern California utilized this widespread wetland plant. Its long cylindrical stems were peeled into three strips and used to make baskets.
Tule, Bullrush
(Scirpus sp.)
The long stems of this wetland plant were used to thatch shelters and bundled into small boats. The triangular shape of the stems makes a tighter fit than round-stemmed plants.
Endangered Plants
Scrub Oak
(Quercus dumosa)
This rare evergreen shrub or small tree grows in local chaparral. The acorns are bitter and so the Kumeyaay preferred to eat the larger, sweeter acorns from black oaks or coast live oaks.
White Sage
(Salvia apiana)

This sage grows in dry sites. It has white blooms and taller flower stalks than other local sages. Its soft, aromatic grey leaves were used in cooking and other purposes. It was also used as a ceremonial plant.

Endangered Plants
Shaw’s Agave
(Agave shawii)
This agave is now rare in San Diego, but common in coastal northwest Baja. Leaf fibers were used for sandals and ropes. Large plants were roasted and eaten.
Endangered Plants
Yerba Santa
(Eriodictyon crassifolium var.
This native scrub grows in coastal sage shrub and chaparral. The fragrant leaves were widely used as a tea for coughs and colds. The woolly gray-green leaves can be eaten. Until antibiotics were discovered, it was used as a treatment for tuberculosis.
Deer Grass, Basket Grass
(Muhlenbergia rigens)

This grass grows in many habitats of the Southwest and northern Mexico. It was very important to Native Americans because its strong fibers were used in coiled baskets.

Coast Live Oak
(Quercus agrifolia)

This is the largest coastal oak and its acorns are important wildlife food. They were used by the Kumeyaay to make a nutritious mush or cake and to thicken soups.

Endangered Plants
Coastal Prickly Pear
(Opuntia littoralis)
This cactus forms large clumps. The leafless stems store water. The red-tinged yellow flowers bloom in April-May. Kumeyaay ate prickly pear fruits, seeds and blossoms. The young pads were fried or boiled. Spines were used in tattooing.
Bush Monkey Flower
(Mimulus aurantiacus)
This shrub of the coastal sage scrub and chaparral has large, orange-red flowers from spring into early summer. The Kumeyaay used the roots in a hot infusion to treat stomach disorders.
Endangered Plants
Del Mar Manzanita
(Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp.
This rare federally endangered species grows only on the sandy coastal mesas and bluffs from here down to Baja. This and other species of manzanita produce fruits important as wildlife foods. They were eaten by the Kumeyaay fresh or dried. They used the evergreen leaves to make a kidney tonic.
Mohave Yucca
(Yucca schidigera)

This long-lived plant with sharp-pointed leaves has attractive cream colored flower clusters in late spring. The long leaf fibers were used by the Kumeyaay to make sandals, nets, ropes, and brushes. The dried stalks were used as quivers for arrows.

Our Lord’s Candle
(Hesperoyucca whipplei)
This yucca grows on dry hillsides and has needle-sharp leaves. The leaf fibers were used by Native Americans to make basket bottoms and cradles. The young roasted bloom stalks and flower petals were eaten in the spring.
(Simmondsia chinensis)

This leathery-leafed evergreen shrub produces small oil-rich nuts, which are used in shampoos. The Kumeyaay ate the seeds raw or ground up to make a coffee-like beverage. Greenish flowers bloom in spring and the male and female flowers are on separate plants.

Orcutt’s Goldenbush
(Hazardia orcuttii)
This rare evergreen shrub grows in only a few locations locally and in Baja. The yellow flowers bloom from August through October.
Lanceleaf Dudleya
(Dudleya lanceolata)
This coastal succulent often grows under shrubs. Showy red-orange flower clusters bloom on long stalks in early summer. The leaves are edible. The roots were boiled to treat asthma.
Endangered Plants
Warty-Stemmed Ceanothus
(Ceanothus verrucosus)
This rare evergreen shrub is found in coastal chaparral. Unlike most ceanothus, which have blue flowers, this species has white flower clusters, which bloom in early spring. The Kumeyaay used the leaves and fruit to treat itching and poison oak rash. The flowers were used as soap.

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Native Plant Conservation

Preserving existing natural areas at the San Diego Botanic Garden is very important. The Garden is located in Encinitas, California within a mile of the coast. There are approximately eleven acres of natural areas and restored natural areas in the Garden. The local southern maritime chaparral and coastal sage scrub plant communities are some of the nation’s most endangered vegetation types as they are small in size and restricted to coastal areas. Over the past century these Southern California coastal areas have been in high demand for urban development.

Click here for more information

Southern California Ethnobotany
A list of the native plants used by Native Americans in southern California.   SDBG Plant List


Banner Photo: Nick Ruddick

Ethnobotanists and the descendants of native peoples sometimes disagree on how plants were used.
Different tribes may have used plants in varying ways.

Hedges, Ken. 1986. Santa Ysabel Ethnobotany. San Diego Museum of Man.

Lightner, James. 2011. San Diego County Native Plants,
San Diego Flora, San Diego, CA, 3rd edition.

Original artwork by David House and Lesley Randall

Kumeyaay Elder Jane Dumas
Remembered As a Friend to the Garden

Jane Dumas, a cherished friend of the San Diego Botanic Garden, made it her mission to share the knowledge, language, culture, and medicine of her people, the Kumeyaay, with organizations throughout San Diego County. A great advocate for the Native American community, Jane is remembered by many at the Garden for her work in the creation and development of the Native Plants and Native People Trail. Jane’s invaluable contributions to the Trail included providing the Kumeyaay names of the native plants found along the Trail, as well as their practical and medicinal uses. It was from her mother, a revered medicine woman and midwife, that Jane learned about native plants and their power to heal. Jane died of natural causes on May 3 in a nursing home in Lakeside. The tribal elder was 89.