Visit the park to see different plant species depending on the time of year.
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Hover over each image to see what each plant looks like in bloom.
1. Black Sage
Black Sage is an evergreen shrub that produces white to light blue flowers from March to July. Growing anywhere from three to six feet in height, they are known for their aroma which is distinctly California chaparral and coastal sage scrub. It is one of the keystone sage species in the region and a critical food source for birds and insects. Examples of this sage can be found at the southwest end of the Yawkey Trail.
2. California Live Oak
California Live Oak is an evergreen tree that characterizes the Mt. Helix Park Landscape. Iconic photos of the cross and views from the top often include these majestic natives.
3. California Polypody
California Polypody is a slow growing native fern that reaches between one and two feet in height, and three feet in width. This slow-growing plant favors the norther facing slopes and spreads via rhizome. Unlike a commercial fern, this plant can survive with little water, but likes the cooler temperatures and shady areas. These beautiful plants, with their ruffled leaves, can be found growing in and around the boulders on the northern side of the Yawkey Trail - especially during the cool and rainy months.
4. California Sagebrush
California Sagebrush is an extremely drought tolerant, fast growing shrub that is a staple of the California coastal scrub landscape. It produces cream white or yellow flowers from spring to fall and grows between 1 and 8 feet in height and 4 feet in width. It can be found growing all along the Yawkey Trail and gives off a strong scent during the warm summer months.
5. Caterpillar Scorpionweed
Caterpillar Scorpionweed is an annual plant that grows up to two feet in height producing light purple flowers that unfurl in long tubes that resemble caterpillars. During its growth season, between March and May, this plant can be found throughout the Park.
6. Coastal Agave
Coastal Agave is a slow-growing evergreen, succulent plant that can grow between 6 and 12 feet tall and as much as 3 feet in width. Its large oblong leaves have “teeth” along the edges and should be planted and pruned with caution. The plant produces a six to eight foot panicle from which its large red and yellow blooms occur once at the end of its life. The Park has planted several Agave Shawii along the trail from the north eastern stairs that come up from the road, to the head of the Yawkey Trail and then at various intervals all along throughout the Park.
7. Desert Mallow
Desert Mallow is a flowering shrub with evergreen foliage. Producing a soft coral-orange flower and light dusty green leaves, it blooms late spring to fall but has the potential to bloom all year long. Samples of this plant can be found at the entrance to the Park Office and in the rock-wall planter located between the parking lot and the amphitheater.
Photo by: Gary Junker
Photo by: Ed Piffard
Figwort, or Bee plant, is a flowering plant with evergreen foliage that produces brownish red flowers from long shoots that grow from its leafy base in the late winter and spring. It can be found along the north east end of the Yawkey Trail and grows between two and three feet in height.
9. Greenbark California Lilac
Greenbark California Lilac is an evergreen shrub that grows up to 13 feet with light blue, fragrant flowers that cover the bush between March to May. The Ceanothus is one of the most spectacular, fragrant California native plants occurring at the Park and larger populations can be seen throughout East County. While Ceanothus are drought tolerant and can live for as long as 30 years, the Park lost all but one of its mature specimens due to prolonged, severe drought, but is home to a number of newly planted varieties. Witness the blooms of the surviving mature Ceanothus just over the northern edge of the amphitheater stage in the spring.
Ladyfingers are named for its long finger-like cylindrical leaves. It is an evergreen succulent that grows up to 8 inches tall and a foot wide. It produces pink to white flowers from several branching flower clusters in the spring and summer. Several of these dudleya can be found below the staircase that leads up from the road on the Park’s north east side. Others can be found at the south west entrance to the Yawkey Trail.
11. Laurel Sumac
Laurel Sumac, also known as “Taco Plant,” is an evergreen shrub that can grow up to 20 feet in height and 20 feet in width. It produces small 5-petaled white flowers that occur in clusters from late spring to early summer. Very drought tolerant, this shrub is another keystone plant of the coastal shrub ecosystem. Specimens of this plant can be found throughout the Park with several easily visible from the road to the cross.
12. Lemonade Berry
Lemonade Berry is an evergreen shrub that grows to roughly 8 feet in height. Producing clusters of pink flowers from February to April it is named for its berries which have been used to make lemonade-like tea. Samples can be found growing in a hedge along the rock wall across from the Park office as well as growing individually throughout the Park.
13. Miner's Lettuce
Miner's Lettuce is a shade-loving annual herb that grows to a maximum of 16 inches. Producing delicate pink to white flowers from February to May or June, the leaves appear as circular and generally grow in clusters. Named for its use by miners during the California Gold Rush, the plant was eaten cooked or raw to prevent scurvy and is similar in composition to spinach.
14. Munz's Sage
Munz's Sage can be evergreen or it can go deciduous depending on the drought conditions. This small sage variety produces a blue flower from June through August and typically grows no bigger than three feet in height. Look for a sample of this plant in the picnic area. Or you may spot a young plant as seeds have been spread for the Munz’s Sage along Park slopes.
15. Prickly-Pear Cactus
Prickly-Pear Cactus is a paddle-shaped cactus that bears red fruit and yellow & red flowers. It can be found covering the slopes below the main road to the Park exit. It is one of the Park’s most grateful plants requiring no maintenance or additional watering and providing food and a protective habitat for wildlife.
16. San Diego Sunflower
The San Diego Sunflower is a flowering shrub with evergreen foliage that produces an abundance of yellow-orange flowers. Typically growing between three and three-and-a-half feet tall, this hardy plant can produce blooms all year long. Showcased at the entrance to the Park office, San Diego Sunflower bushes also occur all along the southwest end of the Yawkey Trail.
17. Snake Cholla
Snak Cholla grows in coastal sage scrub or chaparral and is a sprawling cactus that can reach up to 3 meters both in height and width. Producing yellow flowers and greenish-yellow fruit, it is known for its reverse barbs which come off easily when brushed earning it the name “Jumping Cholla.” Several of these species have been planted in the Park near the front gate and along the slopes to the south west.
18. Spiny Redberry
Spiny Redberry is an evergreen shrub typically reaching 3 feet in height and as much as 6 feet in width. Its small, deep green leaves are dotted with bright red berries which appear after the blooms fall between April and May. Characterized by large thorns, Spiny Redberry dot the northeast end of the Yawkey Trail. Known by local entomologists as one of two host plants for the endangered Hermes Copper butterfly, Mt. Helix Park is fortunate to have many healthy specimens.
Sugar Bush is an evergreen shrub that grows to roughly 12 feet in height producing large white flower clusters from March to May. A relative of the Lemonade Berry, it produces reddish berries used to make a lemonade-like drink. While Lemonade Berry outnumber Sugar Bush in the Park, several can be found dotting the northern hillside along the Yawkey Trail.
Photo by: Gary Junker
Toyon (sometimes called Christmas Berry) vary in height, anywhere from a shrub to a small tree ranging between 6 and 20 feet tall. Its contrasting deep-green leaves coupled with clusters of bright red berries are striking. Samples of this evergreen can be found on the right side of the road leading into the Park, just after the staircase and before the Park office.
21. Wild Cucumber
Wild Cucumber is a stress deciduous, perennial vine with a tuberous root and large spiny fruit. Appearing after the first rains of the season, it produces clusters of tiny white flowers. Large underground roots allow this variety to survive long, dry summers. Wild Cucumber is often mistaken for a weed by Park visitors and volunteers as they can cover an entire tree or bush, but their presence is a vital part of the Park’s ecosystem and the vines are short-lived and die back after blooming.
22. Wild San Diego Sweatpea
Wild San Diego Sweetpea is a perennial plant that produces delicate pink and purple flowers from spring into summer. Low lying vines, these plants typically do not get above a couple of feet and can be found growing on the steep carved out slopes along the road near the entrance to the Park.