In The Middle of it All

Grasses, Camp Reynolds, Angel Island SP (9//19) Gillian Espinosa

Angel Island is in the middle of it all.

The largest island in San Francisco Bay, Angel island isn’t thought of as having much fall color, though it is loaded with native plants, many of which are winter deciduous.

Frémont cottonwood, western sycamore, black and blue elderberry, bigleaf maple, box elder, valley oak, red and white alder, creek dogwood, Garry’s oak, bitter cherry, western chokecherry, Oregon ash, and several type of willow grow on the island. Though, grasslands are what give Angel Island its autumn glow.

For time immemorial, the island’s north and east-facing slopes were covered with oak woodland, while native grasses and north coast scrub were predominant on west and south-facing slopes. Indian use of fire, California State Parks explains, extended the island’s grassland environment, restricting forest and brush to the northeast side of the island.

Then, in the 19th century Angel Island’s flora changed when native grasses (mostly perennials) were overwhelmed by aggressive European grasses whose seeds were brought in with hay. Then, most of the first-growth oak woodland was cut down for firewood.

Today, the native trees and shrubs have recovered, though they compete with exotics brought in by 19th century settlers and the military (Angel Island was an important part of the U.S. Army’s coastal defense installations and served as the Ellis Island of the West).

Most visitors to Angel Island marvel at its impressive views of the Golden Gate, San Francisco Skyline and Marin County, though turn around and you’ll see the island itself is a colorful treasure in the middle of it all.

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