Stop and smell the... sour grass? San Francisco's mild climate provides a haven for both native and non-native flora and fauna. Maybe on your next walk to Stonestown you'll notice the birds above and the flowers below.
While walking towards the 28 and the M bus stops, some may wonder why the street the school resides on is named after a tree. As you walk towards the renowned gate shortcut that students use to easily access the freedom of Stonestown, you will see a crowd of them, with their long green fingers hanging down in cascading bunches and layering the dirt bed with colors from pink to gold.
According to Elizabeth Reiff of Aim High Environmental Home, there are more than 700 species of eucalyptus, the majority of them native to Australia. The Australians introduced them to California during the Gold Rush, and the species was then mass planted for timber. Today the tree is infamous in California for competing with native plants, leaving many native animals without resources and shelter.
The oil that is extracted from the tree is highly flammable. Ignited trees are known to explode! But when doled out in safe quantities, the oil is extremely popular among aroma therapists. Eucalpytus globulus can be inhaled to relieve deep bronchial infections or massaged to ease muscular aches, sluggish circulation, and arthritic complaints.
Forgot to get something for your Valentine this year? Why not a bright pink bouquet of California Currant flowers as a late apology? This shrub, with many hanging pink flower clusters, thrives in the shade of the monstrous eucalyptus trunks in Rolph-Nicol Playground, according to elective teacher Norman Nager. Since the California Currant survives without much sunlight, it is able to live next to one of the hugest non-native species on the campus, the eucalyptus tree.
Also, once the Ribes sanguineum glutinosum itself has been established in the ground, it does not need any of the summer waters and is able to live in shady and dry areas. There are many varieties of currants, but this one is native to north and central California. Hummingbirds love its snowy pink flowers and it smells great, too.
Tower of Jewels
Look no lower for these non-native beauties, for these tall purple stalks just keep growing up and up! You can find these flowers at the perimeter of the Rolph-Nicol playground, with their innocent pale violet flowers peaking out of the prickly core.
The Echium wildpretti is often mistaken for the native purple variety of lupinus flowers for their vibrant violet hues, according to biology teacher Dacotah Swett.
Have you ever wondered what those flourishing bouquets of small yellow flowers growing in mobs around the campus are? This common yellow flower has a very pungent smell, similar to wild onions. Their vascular fluids are also unusually acidic, so it is known amongst many schoolchildren as “sourgrass.” “My friend said it tasted really good, but I didn’t want to try it at first because it smelled like grass,” sophomore Vani Fatimah said. “It tastes like lemon.”
The species Oxalis stricta L. is the plant that grows in all areas of the campus and the bay and thrives as a non-native flower throughout the wet months. School gardener Don Thomas, says that it is his favorite plant because of its easy controllability. “I don’t have to do much with them; they look fine around the school and it dies out during the summer, so my job would be easy if the whole school was growing with them!” he said with a laugh.
Mysterious Deer and Possums
The city is home to many wild critters such as screeching cats, ratty raccoons and curious coyotes, and the school is no different.
Six years ago, Thomas experienced a real life deer-in-headlights moment. A wild “un-identified flying” deer was spotted running around the courtyard in a panic, desperately trying to run away from its surroundings. “It kept trying to jump up over the steps in the courtyard, and it fell,” Thomas said. “It then ran around the front lawn and it started running all around Sloat Boulevard.”
Deer are not the only peculiar animals that have been spotted on campus. Possums usually do not bother students during the daytime, because they are nocturnal creatures. Nonetheless, it’s pretty scary to see a pair of squinty eyes staring up at you from the inside of a garbage can in the morning, according to
Thomas. “They’re these little creatures with little paws,” he said, “but possums are cute compared to raccoons!”
All illustrations by Kimberly Li