Finding San Francisco's Flora

An Academy plant expert is bringing together striking photography and decades of information to create one comprehensive guide to all the plants of San Francisco County.

In 1948, an Academy botanist named John Thomas Howell started documenting all of San Francisco County's vascular plants. The resulting catalog, published in 1958, has been the definitive guide to the area's more than one thousand plants for over 40 years.

Allium dichlamydeum of the onion family
Allium dichlamydeum, shown here on Bernal Heights, is in the onion family. It typically emerges in early summer. Photo: Tom Daniel

The book, which is a few years yet from publication, will be far more than the 1958 list of species and will include identification keys, color photos, flowering times, and other information such as historical and current distributions.

Such information not only satisfies the curious outdoors enthusiast and naturalist but is invaluable to restoration projects, which need to know which plants will reestablish healthy, native ecosystems.

Itherial Spear (Triteleia laxa) , lily family
Itherial Spear (Triteleia laxa), growing on Bernal Hill, is a member of the lily family that grows perennially from bulbs. It is typically found in grassland habitat and comes out in late spring. Photo: Tom Daniel


Bernal Hill covered with wild flowers; inset photo, Tom Daniel
Bernal Hill covered with diverse wild flowers. Inset: Tom Daniel studies the family of shrimp plants (Acanthaceae) that range from California to as far as Madagascar. Photo: Tom Daniel; Inset photo: Dong Lin.

Now another Academy botanist, Tom Daniel, is updating this valuable resource to show what plants are abundant in the county today, which are hanging by a thread, and even those that are long gone.

Daniel will include many areas that Howell and his colleagues were unable to access such as Alcatraz and Treasure islands. In addition to all the plants that have colored the landscape since 1958, the book will include specimens from Howell's time and earlier to document every plant ever found in the county to date.

Left:  Piperia elegans, orchid family Center:  Polygonum amphibium  Right:  Clarkia franciscana, rare San Francisco native

Left: Piperia elegans is a terrestrial orchid that flowers in late summer after most flowers have withered away. It is still found in various parts of the City.
Polygonum amphibium is found only in fresh water wetland habitat. Fresh and salt water wetlands of San Francisco are some of the most endangered habitat in San Francisco due to development.
Right: Clarkia franciscana is one of the rare natives in San Francisco known to occur in only one part of the City. It is now under protected status as an endangered plant.
Photos: Tom Daniel

Yellow Yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum)
Yellow Yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum) is shown here on Mt. Davidson surrounded by huckleberry. This is a remnant of coastal scrub vegetation, formerly more common in San Francisco.Photo: Tom Daniel