Freshwater vernal pools along busy Highway 4 seem an unlikely home for an endangered plant. But here, a golden, daisy-like wildflower makes the most of its ephemeral display on spring days. JMLT protects and cares for this last-known stand of Contra Costa goldfields within its namesake county.
The shocking-yellow flowers grow thickly in meadows, creating sheaths of vibrant color that astound onlookers. Although this species used to grow throughout a large swath of coastal California and in some inland areas, development nearly brought it to extinction and the federal government classified the goldfields as endangered in 1997. Non-native grasses have also played a part in the plant’s near-demise, killing nearly all the other goldfields growing in Contra Costa County.
In 2002, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority awarded JMLT a conservation easement on a 30-acre preserve east of Hercules where the goldfields grow, enabling the trust to protect them. When JMLT took over the property, the number of plants had plummeted to nearly nothing. The trust used cattle grazing to beat back the deadly grasses and give the plants a chance to flourish — and it worked!
To prosper, the plant needs pools that form in the winter but dry out in the spring. Interestingly, the churn and divots from cattle hooves create little pools, collecting water with which the plant can thrive. The goldfields have burgeoned there since, bringing their numbers back into the thousands.
In addition to our stewardship of the seasonal wetlands comprising the Contra Costa Goldfields preserve, JMLT manages nearby vernal pools as well as a section of Rodeo Creek that traverses the area. Annual biological assessments track the number of flowers that now thrive on the property. Spring is best for viewing the gorgeous goldfields in bloom and JMLT leads wildflower hikes during that time of year.
The Goldfields are located adjacent to Highway 4 near the city of Rodeo. From Eastbound Highway 4: Take the Sycamore Ave exit, turn left onto Claeys Lane, go over the overpass, the Goldfields will be on the right just past the overpass. From Westbound Highway 4: Exit on Claeys Lane, the Contra Costa Goldfields property is on the left.