Sutro Forest in May 2015 – Green Despite the Drought

Green trail in Sutro Forestcloud forest diagramWe’re into the second year of a drought, here in California. In Sutro Forest, you’d hardly know it. The forest is lush and green.

We took these pictures  a month ago. We meant to put them up then, but here they are, better late than never!

Sutro Forest is a de facto cloud forest. It doesn’t rely only on rain; in summer, the tall eucalyptus trees harvest the moisture from the fog. (Some of the trees are 200 feet tall.) They keep their understory well-watered, and the understory in turn helps to retard evaporation and keep it damp. Here’s a diagram of how it works.

On this visit, the actual trails were dry, but the vegetation was green. Even the grasses and the small plants that form the herbaceous layer, which indicates that there’s been enough surface moisture to keep them not just alive but thriving .

green understory in the forestThis picture shows lots of greenery. And even the grasses edging the trail in the picture below are green and growing, not drying out.

green grasses by trailMore small plants here.

herbaceous layer plantsWe even found skeleton leaves of eucalyptus – which is quite unusual. It suggests that they stayed wet long enough for the soft matter to rot out, and then dried, leaving the skeleton.

natural skeleton leaf eucalyptus

Sutro Forest is known for its tall trees and green understory, not for its flowers. In May, though, they’re there – together with red elderberries, and the plums on the wild prunus trees that bloomed earlier this year. (Be careful of the red elderberry – it’s also called the stinking elderberry because its leaves smell bad when bruised, and the berries are probably inedible to humans – though not to birds.) There are a few forget-me-nots here and there, some Robert geraniums, some nasturtiums.


There’s been work along the trails, and some things have changed. The triple arches formed of vines covering branches across the trail are gone.

triple arches 2The picture above is from 2013, the one below from 2015. Well, at least we had them for some years.

no more triple archThe bed of forget-me-nots on the road up to the Native Plant Garden on the summit is now a bed of plastic flags.

sutro forest forget-me-nots april 2011
The forget-me-nots of 2011 were mulched out of existence, and have now been replaced by the plastic flags of 2015. Presumably, some Native Plants have been planted there. We hope they take. They current brown chips are unlovely.

formerly forget me notsWe found an unexplained structure in the forest, perhaps intended as a barrier of some kind. Or maybe someone just got inspired to create art.

trail structureTHE FOREST AT EVENING

Despite the 1250 trees cut down in the last couple of years, and the destruction of understory that helps retain moisture and provide habitat,  the forest is still very beautiful. Here are a few pictures taken along the trails, with the evening sunlight streaming through the trees.

forest at evening 1forest at evening 2forest at evening 4MAJESTIC TREES

One of the challenges of trying to show this beauty in photographs (given that we’re not professional photographers, and are using a variety of point-and-shoot cameras), is the sheer size and majesty of the trees. We’re never completely successful.

tall eucalyptus treesforest at evening 3Here is a composite of the two pictures above. We hope it’ll give some sense of the scale of these trees, which can be as tall as a 20-story building. Or a stack of a dozen giraffes.

tall trees composite

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2 Responses to Sutro Forest in May 2015 – Green Despite the Drought

  1. Tony Holiday says:

    Excellent, intelligent, common sense post and great pix. Yes, lush and green except where “they” insisted on messing with Ma Nature and tried to dry it out.

  2. takebackthegreen says:

    Under what authority are the nativists allowed to destroy understory? To kill Eucalyptus saplings, thus guaranteeing the eventual decline of the cloud forest? Every action they take is a calculated effort to disrupt a thriving ecosystem, even beyond our lifetimes. That is antithetical to what a Parks and Recreation Dept. should have as its goals.

    The “gardens” of orange plastic flags are spreading. Talk about invasive! I’m tired of seeing ugly brown plots covered with the little markers of failure. They’ve sat barren for long enough. How much of our public space does the NAP get to destroy in pursuit of a gardening preference that is destructive and ugly when it succeeds and even worse when it (always) fails?

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