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A treasure emerges from the old Searsville beach

Camissoniopsis intermedia (photo by Diane Renshaw)

It might seem an unlikely place to find a native plant that is new to Jasper Ridge, but the former Searsville beach is where docent Diane Renshaw discovered a species of suncup that was previously unreported at Jasper Ridge or anywhere in San Mateo County.  Identified as Camissoniopsis intermedia (“intermediate suncup”) by Renshaw and docent John Rawlings, this member of the evening primrose family is found principally in coastal strand, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral of southern California, with limited reports as far north as Shasta County. Renshaw discovered it while searching for an entirely different natural history phenomenon, sand wasps digging a burrow. As reported by docent Jack Owicki, who has observed and filmed them at the site since 2015, sand wasps “look like yellow jackets on steroids” and exhibit mass mating and nesting behavior, typically in June.

The Searsville “beach” was created in the 1920s with sand trucked from Santa Cruz.  As the 1970s photo above illustrates, it became a significant recreation spot on the peninsula. Today, the barrenness of this still sandy site is probably conducive to establishment of Camissoniopsis. Paradoxically, a very invasive plant, stinkwort (Dittrichica graveolens), also establishes here, and volunteers and staff have been hand-pulling it for the past several years.  Perhaps the establishment of Camissoniopsis was further facilitated by soil disturbance associated with the sand wasps and/or stinkwort removal.