Houseplant From Old Village Threatens Young Redwoods

Jul 25, 2018

A houseplant is threatening young redwoods and other vegetation in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  

On a dirt road that leads to San Vicente Creek, Ian Rowbotham stops in a clearing of dry weeds surrounded by lush green trees.

This area of the San Vicente Redwoods is the site of a former village called Bella Vista.  

“Bella Vista was a small kind of ancillary town to Davenport where it was part of the quarry operation,” says Rowbotham, Stewardship Manager with the Semprevirens Fund, which now owns the property near Davenport.

The remote village in the Santa Cruz Mountains was home to quarry workers starting back around 1920.  They mined limestone for the former cement plant in Davenport. 

Bella Vista was a company town owned by the plant.  Men lived in hotels.  Families in little houses.  Most were immigrants from Greece.

Local historian Alverda Orlando says following a landslide, the company deemed the area unsafe.  So it moved everyone out. 

Today the house plants are one of the few signs the village ever stood here.

“So you do still have remnants of some of the species that people planted there in their front yards and in their homes to make them feel comfortable. There are rose bushes that were from the front gardens of homes around here,” says Rowbotham.

But the rose bushes aren’t the problem.  The houseplant wreaking havoc is called Clematis vitalba also known as Old Man’s Beard, a name its gets from the white flowers it blooms.

It’s a climbing shrub native to Europe.  It forms dense green mats on the ground with some vines working their way up 40 feet into redwood trees.  

Rowbotham believes it was brought here by someone who lived in Bella Vista.  Further down the road along San Vincente Creek the plant has taken over.

“So that almost that entire bank over there is all Clematis growing over so you can see a couple of native species popping up through it,” says Rowbotham.

On this day in late June, crews from the California Conservation Corps rip out the plant.  They’re stacking it in enormous piles on tarps where it will dry out. This part of the Sempervirens Fund’s plan to rid the area of Old Man’s Beard. 

Even though it's thrived here for decades, Rowbotham says it's destroying the native habitat, threatening the watershed and the next generation of redwood trees.  The plant covers the samplings and keeps them from growing.

“So as older trees get large, maybe during a large storm event, or from some sort of flooding event in here if those tip over there really aren't going to be any young redwoods to take their place when Clematis completely grows over an area,” say Rowbotham.

Once ripped out, crews will go through and strategically use herbicide to keep the plant from coming back. 

Chuck Kosek is with Go Native, the habitat restoration company working on the project.  He says the plant may linger for a few more years, but they will eventually be able to rid area of Old Man’s Beard.

“Nice thing about this project, because this is this is an isolated and contained infestation area. And so we can kind of say at some point that we've gotten everything in here,” says Kosek.

If it does work, this can become a model for other areas plagued by Old Man’s Beard.  That includes the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument down stream from here. 

It’s believed the plant also climbed its way down there from the former village of Bella Vista.