Park Flora & Fauna
(flagrantly plagiarized, with permission, from the Rubine Pinnacles Climbing Guidebook)
The native life of Pinnacles is more complex than it appears. Both flora and fauna are diverse, interdependent and very well adapted to their environment. For more complete species information, please visit the wonderful exhibits in the Pinnacles Visitor Center.
There are basically four biotic communities found in The Park: Chapparral, Foothill Woodland, Ripirian (springs and streambeds) and Xeric (rock and scree).
The Chaparral community is the dense, scrubby brush on the hillsides and covers 82% of the park. These plants are well adapted for water conservation and can survive long periods of heat and drought. Chamise (or greasewood) is the most common chaparral plant and actually relies on fire to propagate the species. Ceanothus (also known as buckbush or wild lilac) also germinates better in fire conditions. Manzanita has a distinctive smooth red bark. Its berries were used extensively by the Indians and early Spanish settlers. These berries provide a reliable winter food source for small birds and mammals. The gray pine (or digger pine) is the only pine native to the Pinnacles. Its abundant seeds are enjoyed by squirrels, big-eared kangaroo rats and brown towhees.
The chaparrals dense, brushy habitat is ideal for sparrows, scrub jays, towhees and the wrentit. Rodents, rattlesnakes, kingsnakes, hawks and bobcats are also an integral part of this ecosystem.
The Foothill Woodland community consists of the sparser, rolling, grassy hills with blue oak trees and gray pines. This community covers 13% of the park. After the spring rains, the foothills bloom with beautiful bright wildflowers. Hawks and kites soar above while the woodpecker's tap tap echoes through the stillness. The mysterious feral pigs can be found in the valley along with the gentle Black-tailed Deer, rabbits and ground squirrels. California quail, other birds and rodents eat the abundant acorns and grasses in this "bread basket" of the park. They are, in turn, eaten by predators: hawks, gray fox, bobcats and the occasional mountain lion.
There are two, potentially, harmful members of this community which warrant your caution: rattlesnakes and poison oak (also common in riparian regions). If you see a rattlesnake, walk away slowly. Rattlesnakes will only bite when threatened or surprised, most bites occur after stepping on a snake. Walk cautiously, especially when stepping over rocks or fallen trees. Much more prevalent and perilous to park visitors is poison oak. If you do not know how to identify poison oak's many forms ask a park ranger before beginning any hike.
The Ripirian community includes springs and streambeds and comprises 3% of the park. Owls, raccoons and coyotes feed in the stream areas, though mostly at night. The huge, deciduous valley oaks, evergreen coast live oaks and white-barked California sycamore provide shade, shelter and food for the abundant bird life. Cottonwoods, willows, blackberries, ferns, cattails, stinging nettles and duckweed depend on the the constant water as do the salamanders, lizards and snakes.
The Xeric or Rock community occupies the smallest percentage of the park yet attracts the most attention. With little soil on the cliffs, the plants most common to this community are the lichens, mosses, spike mosses and Stonecrops. Over 90 species of lichens are slowly breaking down the rocks.
The animals that make up the xeric include the common turkey vultures, ravens, bats and lizards. Not so obvious, or numerous, are the raptors (birds of prey). Prairie falcons are fully protected and the peregrine falcons are endangered. The speedy precise hunters, along with the amazing golden eagle, nest in shallow caves and cliff ledges. The Pinnacles provide a special, protected, environment for these incredible animals. Public education, observation, research and conservation management all will help to support the survival of these magnificent birds.