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    The Pebble Plains of California-A Botanical Hot Spot
    • March 24, 2020

    A pebble plain scattered with quartzite pebbles and short unique plants

    Big Bear Lake is a beautiful mountain lake in Southern California and a popular year-round resort destination. What many visitors to Big Bear Lake don’t realize is that this area is home to a relict Ice Age habitat type called pebble plains; the only place in the world where this ecosystem occurs. Pebble plains are flat open areas left over from when glaciers receded in the Pleistocene age and are named for the quartzite pebbles that are pushed to the surface of the clay soil by frost heaving. Pebble plains support a unique plant community comprised of 17 protected plant taxa and 4 rare butterflies. The plants that occupy the pebble plains are sometimes referred to as “belly plants” due to their miniature stature, but once you get close to them you can see that they are just as beautiful as their larger-sized counterparts.

    Pebble plains are extremely fragile and the endemic plants are very slow growing so any damage to the soil or plants can be devastating to the ecosystem. A large portion of pebble plain habitat was lost when Big Bear Lake was created in the late 1880s and early 1900s, with additional habitat lost to development around the lake in the subsequent decades. Besides development on private lands, one of the biggest threats to the remaining pebble plain habitat is high-impact recreational activities, especially off-road vehicles. Agencies and conservation organizations have made efforts to curtail off-road vehicle use through use of barriers, fencing, and signage but trespassing still occurs.

    March through June are great times to visit the pebble plains, see beautiful wildflowers, and experience this unique ecosystem that only California has to offer. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve has a self-guided interpretive trail and visitor center that allows hikers to experience the pebble plains. The reserve is currently closed due to COVID-19 concerns but keep an eye out for its reopening in the coming weeks.

    closeup of Castilleja cinerea (ash-gray paintbrush): a Federally Threatened plant species that inhabits pebble plain habitats

    Categories: Education and Awareness

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