Botanical wonders of Alcatraz

One of the endless plant oddities and delights growing wild on the island of Alcatraz
One of the endless plant oddities and delights growing wild on the island of Alcatraz

Hear the name “Alcatraz” and one most often thinks of criminals swimming across the San Francisco Bay to potential freedom after a horrid extended stay in one of the country’s most notorious prisons. While obviously the prison has long been closed and the island is now a national park and tourist destination, what many still don’t realize is that the island is positively brimming with plants and gardens.

When the prison was still functioning, both prisoners and workers alike tended to gardens around the island. Some of these gardens have been restored, while others have been allowed to become wild again. Yet, rather than try and restore the island back to what it had been pre-settler, the Park Service is allowing these plants to do what they want to do – creeping over crumbling walls, populating rugged hillsides, and in general fixing a toehold on an island of tough conditions and no source of fresh water. At this point, the plants are as much a part of the cultural history of the island as the buildings themselves and the waves of people and animals that have inhabited it.

To find out more about how you can go on a docent-led tour of the gardens and wild spaces of Alcatraz, click here.

Vacant Lands 1

Prairieform's Vacant Lands Installation in San Francisco's Presidio
A photo of Vacant Lands 1 in San Francisco’s Presidio

Here are the photos from the first Vacant Lands installation, installed in San Francisco’s Presidio as part of the Architecture as Pedestal Exhibition. Thank you to everyone who came by, asked questions, looked, explored, observed. We came up with the idea for the project in 2014, so it’s been a long road from conception to installation, and thus the support and interest were greatly appreciated. Naturally we already have our eyes and mind on the next installation, what it will look like, where it will be, and how you will be able to explore it. Stay tuned. For more info, you may click HERE.

Prairieform's Vacant Lands installation in San Francisco's Presidio

Prairieform's Vacant Lands Installation in San Francisco's Presidio

Vacant Lands installation in SF

The site for the first Vacant Lands installation by Prairieform in San Francisco's Presidio.

We are spectacularly thrilled to announce that we will be doing our first Vacant Lands installation right here in San Francisco. The installation will be featured as part of the Architecture as Pedestal exhibition, which will be held on October 29 and 30 in the Presidio. To see a video of the site with the glorious fog rolling in, you may visit our Instagram page HERE.

Have you seen this plant?

Mystery weed found within the Prairieform Vacant Lands study area in Berkeley, CA

If so, and if you have any ideas as to its proper identity, growth habits, needs, hankerings, please tweet to @prairieform or email us at kamp@prairieform.com.

Wantonly Weedy Wednesday

Acacia melanoxylon, or black acacia, found growing between curb and concrete on Adeline Street in Berkeley, California, completely irrigation-free and mid-drought
An Acacia melanoxylon / black acacia seedling found growing in the crack between a curb and a concrete slab in Berkeley, CA

While hated by many for its invasiveness, it’s difficult not to marvel for just a moment at the multi-toned, variegated, and delicate beauty of an Acacia melanoxylon / black acacia seedling. You might marvel even more if you knew that this particular seedling shown above was found growing between the curb and a concrete slab of an unirrigated median on busy, traffic-soaked Adeline Street in south Berkeley (otherwise known as Quadrant B of the Vacant Lands Broakland Study Area). This is true tenacity.

How this seedling made its way to this particular spot is anyone’s guess, but an 1858 seed catalog might hold the key. It was brought from Australia to England in 1819 and was one of the first Australian plants offered for sale in California. William Walker was the first Californian to make it commercially available in his 1858 Golden Gate Nursery catalog. And now the tree can be found growing not only in California, but also in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and the continental US – a vast range in large part due to the plant’s knack for self-sowing with abandon and being able to grow and thrive within the toughest of conditions – from drought, to smog, to everything in between. Far from being a mere survivor, the tree is actually prized for its wood, both as durable lumber and as the raw material for something more decorative – say a chair, or, perhaps, a chaise.

Final tidbit of Acacia melanoxylon trivia: it goes by many more accessible, some might say sassier, names: Sally wattle, lightwood, hickory, mudgerabah, Tasmanian blackwood, black wattle, or blackwood acacia.

John Kamp