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Ben Lomond Wallflower
Ben Lomond Wallflower

Mount Hermon June Beetle
Mount Hermon June Beetle

Silverleaf Manzanita
Silverleaf Manzanita

Band-winged Grasshopper
Band-winged Grasshopper

Ben Lomond Spineflower
Ben Lomond Spineflower

Ben Lomond buckwheat
Ben Lomond buckwheat
Zayante Sandhills Conservation Bank


The Santa Cruz Sandhills
The Santa Cruz Sandhills are a unique community of plants and animals found only on outcrops of Zayante sand soil in the central portion of Santa Cruz County, in central coastal California.

The Zayante soils are derived from sediment deposited over 15 million years ago when the region was under a vast sea. As evidence of their origins, the inland Sandhills contain a variety of marine fossils, including deep beds of sand dollars.

Due to their coarse texture, Zayante soils have low water and nutrient availability. As a result, they support two endemic communities which are very different from the moisture-loving coast redwood and mixed evergreen forests that dominate the region.

  • Sand chaparral is dominated by shrub species including manzanita.
  • Sand parkland is characterized by sparse stands of towering ponderosa pines with a dense and diverse understory of native wildflowers.

    The Sandhills communities contain a diverse assemblage of plants that are uniquely adapted to the sandy soil. These include:

  • Four plant species found only in the Santa Cruz sandhills
  • Undescribed species, subspecies, and ecotypes
  • Disjunct populations of plant species typically found on the coast or in the mountains.

    The Sandhills are also home to a variety of unique animal species, including:

  • Three animal species found nowhere else in the world
  • Undescribed species and subspecies of animals
  • Disjunct populations of animals typically found in hotter, drier areas further inland

    Due to their limited geographic range (Santa Cruz County) and narrow habitat specificity (Zayante Soils), the endemic communities and species of the Sandhills are naturally extraordinarily rare. Estimated to cover 6,000 acres originally, approximately 40% of Sandhills habitat has been lost, primarily due to sand quarrying and development. The remaining, fragmented habitat is threatened by future development, while fire exclusion, exotic species, and unlawful recreation degrade habitat even within Sandhills preserves.

    Conservation of the endemic species and communities of the Sandhills will require preservation of additional habitat, active management of protected habitat, and education and outreach to increase awareness and appreciation of the uniqueness, rarity, and fragility of the Santa Cruz Sandhills. These and other elements of a comprehensive conservation strategy for the Sandhills have be described in the recently published Sandhills Conservation and Management Plan. Successful implementation of the conservation plan will require cooperation among the numerous agencies, organizations, institutions, businesses, and concerned individuals working to conserve the Santa Cruz Sandhills.

    Santa Cruz Sandhills Distribution
    The Santa Cruz Sandhills are found only in Santa Cruz County, which is located on the coast of central California. Within Santa Cruz County, the Sandhills occur on outcrops of sand soil known as the Zayante Series in the central portion of the County near the towns of Scotts Valley, Felton, Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, and Bonny Doon.

    It is estimated that Sandhills originally covered more than 6,000 acres. However due to sand quarrying and development, fewer than 4,000 acres of Sandhills habitat remain today.

    Sandhills Geology
    The Santa Cruz Sandhills occur on Miocene marine sediments and sandstones of the Santa Margarita formation --a highly weathered arkosic (high feldspar content) sandstone.

    As evidence of their marine origins, the Sandhills feature many fossils of sand dollars, bivalves, and gastropods, as well as sharks teeth. Thick beds of fossil sand dollarsare found underneath the soil surface in Sandhills habitat between Ben Lomond and Scotts Valley. The presence of this layer is correlated with the occurrence of ridges which support sand parkland--a rare community within the Sandhills.

    Sandhills Soils
    Known as the Zayante Series, the soils derived from the weathering of the Santa Margarita formation contain greater than 90% sand particles, and thus drain very rapidly (upper left). The light grey soils are also poorly developed and have low organic matter. As a result, Zayante soils have low availability of nutrients and soil moisture, and are not conducive to plant growth. This is especially true during the summer drought when temperatures are high and soil moisture is scarce.

    So while Felton loam supports lush forests including Coast Redwood Forest, adjacent outcrops of Zayante soil support unique communities of plants and animals adapted to the Zayante soils and the hotter, drier conditions they create.

    For more information on the Santa Cruz Sandhills, download the Sandhills Conservation and Management Plan. This is a very large file containing over 350 pages and more than 7 megabytes.

    More Information:

    Sandhills - Habitat Loss
    Overview of Benefits







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