Capitol Park’s collection of native plants represent the natural flora that thrived in California before Europeans arrived and began to change the landscape.
California supports a tremendous range of ecosystems, from desert 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, plants and animals that grow 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, a conservation movement, epitomized by President Theodore Roosevelt, began addressing the need for a more sustainable and balanced usage of the state’s and nation’s natural resources. Native species and their extinction over a relatively short period of time 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 states’ schoolchildren in 1914 to create a section of Capitol Park that would represent some of California’s diverse natural environment. 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 native species that were once common in California’s natural world, but are scarce today.