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California Native Plant Society

Santa Clara Valley Chapter

Coyote Ridge - Treasure of the Santa Clara Valley

Coyote Ridge Overview

Spring wildflowers at Coyote Ridge
(Photo: Ken Himes)

Imagine a place of sweeping vistas, singing grasses, wildflowers, eagles, falcons, coyotes, but few people.  All this within view of one of the largest metropolitan areas in America. All  this two miles from an interstate highway.  The hills on the eastern side of the Santa Clara Valley, known collectively as the Diablo Range, are in places made up of a rock known as serpentinite, or more commonly, just serpentine. Coyote Ridge is a block of serpentine fifteen miles long and two miles wide just east of  US 101.  In the spring it is a mass of wildflowers, right down to the highway.  Kestrels can be seen along the highway, hovering as they look for prey. Red-legged frogs can be seen in ponds, and pronghorns can be seen in the hills beyond.

At other times of the year the brown hills may go unnoticed. But if you look up, you will see outcroppings of the curious serpentine rock, so named because unweathered pieces can be green and scaly like a snake. And nestled in among these outcroppings, the rare and endangered plants. Perched on the rock may be a horned lark, or a California quail. And somewhere within the dried foliage, the larvae of the rare  Bay checkerspot butterfly listed federally listed as a threatened species.

A key link in the open space belt around Santa Clara Valley

The ridge is contiguous with public and undeveloped lands to the east in the Diablo Range. It is part of a corridor of connectivity through which wildlife can pass from the coastal ranges of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Central Valley. A map is available here.

Tiburon Indian Paintbrush
(Castilleja affinis neglecta)
(Photo: John Game)

A conservation goal of the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of CNPS

Since the early 1990's, CNPS-Santa Clara Valley has conducted vegetation surveys, monitored rare plant populations, led field trips, produced videos, brochures and articles, held public meetings, and advocated conservation policies before public bodies. Protection of this treasure has been adopted by the City of San Jose, the Valley Transportation Authority, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, the Silicon Valley Land Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy.

A treasure house of rare plant species

This area contains at least fifteen plants identified by the California Native Plant Society as rare or endangered.  Four of these are on a federal listing of endangered plants: they are the Santa Clara Valley dudleya, the coyote ceanothus, the Tiburon Indian paintbrush, and the Metcalf Canyon jewelflower. The complete list of special status plants on Coyote Ridge is here.

A butterfly on the edge

Bay Checkerspot butterfly
(Photo: Stuart Weiss)

The last healthy populations of the Bay checkerspot butterfly are found along Coyote Ridge. The caterpillars feed only on California plantain and the adults sip nectar from wildflower species that thrive in the serpentine soils of the ridge. The preservation of this Coyote Ridge population is critical to the survival of this rare and beautiful butterfly.

A natural science laboratory

Scientists from University of California Berkeley, Davis, Stanford University, San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, and elsewhere are studying the effect of soils, temperature, pollinators, and human environmental factors such as air pollution on the ecosystems. A list of research reports is here.

A part of our heritage

The ridge remains much as it was before the development of the valley, a piece of our past frozen in time.

Learn more

Organizations supporting Coyote Ridge Conservation

Special Status Plants of Coyote Ridge

This area contains at least fifteen plants identified by the California Native Plant Society as rare or endangered. Five of these are on a federal listing of endangered plants:  the Santa Clara Valley dudleya, the coyote ceanothus, the Tiburon Indian paintbrush, the Mt. Hamilton thistle, and the Metcalf Canyon jewelflower.


Legal Status



big-scale balsamroot
Balsamorhiza macrolepis
ssp. macrolepis

CNPS List 1B.2

Tehama to Santa Clara Counties

oak woodlands

Tiburon Indian paintbrush
Catilleja affinis
ssp. neglecta

Federal: Endangered
State: Endangered CNPS List 1B.2

Coyote Ridge & Marin & Napa Counties

serpentine grasslands

coyote ceanothus
Ceanothus ferrisiae

Federal: Endangered
CNPS List 1B.1

Santa Clara County

serpentine grasslands

Mt. Hamilton thistle
Cirsium fontinale
var. campylon

Federal: Endangered
CNPS List 1B.2

Alameda to Santa Clara to Stanislaus County

serpentine seeps and ravines in valley and foothill grassland

Santa Clara Valley Dudleya
Dudleya setchellii

Federal: Endangered CNPS List 1B.1

Santa Clara County

serpentine grassland

Franciscan wallflower
Erysimum francsicanum

CNPS List 4.2

Marin to
Santa Clara County

valley and foothill grassland, serpentine or granitic

fragrant fritillary
Fritillaria liliacea

CNPS List 1B.2

Marin to Solano to Monterey County

heavy soils, open hills and fields

Loma Prieta hoita
Hoita strobilina

CNPS List 1B.1

Contra Costa to Santa Clarato Santa Cruz County

chaparral, woodland
and riparian areas

smooth lessingia
Lessingia micradenia var. glabrata

CNPS List 1B.2

Santa Clara County

serpentine grasslands

serpentine linanthus
Leptosiphon ambiguus

CNPS List 4.2

Contra Costa to
San Joaquin to
San Benito to
Santa Cruz Counties

mostly serpentine grasslands, coastal scrub and foothill woodland

large-flowered linanthus
Leptosiphon grandiflorus

CNPS List 4.2

Sonoma to
San Luis Obispo to
Kern Counties

open grassy flats

Hall's bush mallow
Malacothamnus hallii

CNPS List 1B.2

Alameda to
Santa Clara to
Merced County

serpentine chaparral

woodland monolopia
Monolopia gracilens

CNPS List 1B.2

Contra Costa to Monterey County

serpentine grassland

Metcalf canyon jewelflower
Streptanthus albidus
ssp. albidus

Federal: Endangered CNPS List 1B.1

Coyote Ridge

serpentine grassland

most beautiful jewelflower
Streptanthus albidus
ssp. peramoenas

CNPS List 1B.2

Alameda to San Luis Obispo Counties

valley and foothill grassland,
often serpentine

Botanical Research on Coyote Ridge

  • Erlich, Paul R., and I. Hanski, 2004, On the Wings of Checkerspots, A Model System for Population Biology, Oxford University Press
  • Evens, Julie, and S. San, 2004, Vegetation Associations of a Serpentine Area: Coyote Ridge, Santa Clara County, California. California Native Plant Society
  • Green, Allison R., 2004, Effects of Exotic Species and Soil Type on a Rare Annual Jewelflower (Streptanthus albidus var. peramoenus) in the Serpentine Grasslands of Santa Clara County, CA, .MA Thesis, San Jose State University, 2004
  • Hooper, D. I. and P. I, Vitousek, 1998, "Effect of plant composition and diversity on nutrient cycling" in Ecological Monographs 68:121-149
  • Hillman, Jannell 2006, Mount Hamilton Thistle (Cirsium fontinale var campylon) 2006, MA Thesis, San Jose State University
  • Safford, Hugh D, J.H. Viers and S. P Harrison 2005, "Serpentine endemism in the California Flora" in Madrono 52(4):222-257
  • Weiss, Stuart B. 1999, "Cars, cows, and checkerspot butterflies: nitrogen disposition and grassland management for a threatened species" in Conservation Biology 13:1476-1486
  • Whittall, Justen B. 2010 "The Metcalf Canyon Jewelflower (Streptanthus albidus var albidus) -Still a mystery" research ongoing, Santa Clara University


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