To celebrate the gorgeous weather this weekend, friends and I went hiking in the hills of Oakland at the Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve. For those who don’t know it, this is one of the smaller parks in East Bay Regional Park system, consisting of approximately 240 acres (compare that with Redwood Regional Park’s more than 1800 acres)… but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in distinctive character.
As you may have guessed from its name – Botanic Preserve – the park hosts a unique native plant community found nowhere else in the East Bay.
The main hiking trail through Huckleberry is called the Self-Guided Nature Path, which is a well-marked 1.7 mile loop through a variety of terrain displaying the various stages of plant succession that contribute to California’s landscape. The trails are narrow single-track and because of the fragile nature of the preserve, dogs, bicycles, and horses are all prohibited, which makes for a very peaceful hike. Remember to pick up the Self-Guided Nature Path pamphlet at the trailhead if you want to read about the various plants and stages of ecological development at each numbered marker.
The earliest stages of plant succession have their roots (pun intended) in the rocky nutritionally poor soil found in portions of this park. These areas were laid down as part of the ocean floor millions of years ago, comprised of bands of shale interspersed with the skeletal remains of early marine creatures. Eventually uplifted and exposed due to erosion, the soil has a gravelly texture, poor water holding capacity, and low nutrient values. Sounds bleak, right? Not really. The fractured bedrock below the service holds water for deeper roots while the top layers provide excellent drainage, which happens to be the perfect environment for our shrubby chaparral species such as manzanita, including the rare and endangered Alameda Manzanita.
Additional moisture is obtained from winter rains and summer fog (as the park is located due east of the Golden Gate), and the north facing slopes are shaded from late afternoon sun. These cool moist conditions contribute to the evolutionary process of succession, where “plant species thrive for a time, but are gradually replaced by other species. In this way, the manzanitas eventually surrender and succumb to other species such as huckleberry, silktassel, and chinquapin. All this time, leaf and branch litter is deposited in greater quantities, soil development becomes richer and deeper, and each succeeding species’ leaf canopy continues to develop upward, eventually shading over and killing the previous species. Over a long period of time, this successional development will inevitably progress toward oak/bay forest [see picture below, right side]” (Huckleberry Self-Guided Nature Path brochure)
Another unique feature of this park is its year-round display of plants in bloom. Right now you can see the pink flowering currants (pictured above), among others.
And the small side trail to markers 8-9-10 offers a lovely lookout on Mt. Diablo (pictured above). Did you know there was an effort underway to rename it Mt. Reagan? I am happy to report, however, that the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors recently decided against it (article here). Despite the fact that a Christian zealot thought it profane to refer to it as “the devil,” a large number of supporters, including residents and community organizations, voiced their opinions to keep the name intact. Thank God. 😉