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The Softer Side of the Rock

Articles: The Softer Side of the Rock

Cape tulip (Homeria breyniana). Original artwork by Mary L Harden

[sidebar]It is a botanical illustrator’s dream to draw plants directly from their habitat, to understand the diversity in a large group of plants, and to observe them over time.

Mary L Harden[/sidebar]

Five hundred years ago, the landscape of Alcatraz encompassed just a few sparse grasses, bare sandstone, and a thick layer of guano. Most of the plants seen on the island today were brought for landscaping purposes, erosion control, or formal gardens. Over the past few years, plant surveys have revealed more than 140 kinds of plants that have survived despite long periods of neglect; many have actually naturalized on the island. That so many plants have survived is astounding; the full marine exposure of this island in the middle of San Francisco Bay would be challenging enough, even with regular care and irrigation.

One of the adaptations to an island environment that plants express is a diminished height and overall size, as well as a reduction in leaf size. Leaf margins of many plants are red or bronzy. Inflorescences on Alcatraz pla...

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