Capitol Park’s collection of native plants represents the natural flora that thrived in California before Europeans arrived and began to change the landscape.
California supports a tremendous range of ecosystems, from deserts to high mountains, foggy coasts to warm inland valleys, and includes the highest and lowest elevations in the continental United States. This diversity has produced a large number of native species in California, including plants and animals that live only here and nowhere else.
California’s native plants once formed the backbone of our natural communities. However, the biodiversity of these natural communities was reduced after the arrival of Spanish, Mexican, and Gold Rush-era settlers. They introduced new species that aggressively competed with and eliminated some of California’s native plants and animals. By the early 1900s, conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt began addressing the need for a more sustainable and balanced usage of natural resources. Native species and their rapid extinction became a topic of discussion within California as indigenous animals such as the grizzly bear and elk began to disappear.
Capitol Park’s Native Plants section is a product of America’s early conservationist movement. Governor Hiram Johnson enlisted the help of the California schoolchildren in 1914 to create a section of Capitol Park that would represent the state’s diverse natural environments. He appealed to youngsters living in each of the state’s 58 counties to identify and donate common trees and shrubs from their geographic region for Capitol Park. Today, this area of the park preserves several endangered native species that were once common in California.