Doane Valley Nature Trail
Photo courtesy of Harry Schrader
Doane Valley Nature Trail
Palomar Mountain State Park
Welcome to the Doane Valley Nature Trail at Palomar Mountain
State Park. This easy 1-mile trail offers you an opportunity to relax
and enjoy one of California’s finest natural outdoor areas. This
guide will help you make the most of your walk, with information
about some of the plants and natural features you will see along the
trail. The Doane Valley Nature Trail is a great place to see the wide
variety of plants that grow in this region and to learn about their
characteristics, their habitats, and the many ways they have been
used by people over time.
Most of the trail is an easy walk. However, there are two stream
crossings and a few steep areas. Remember to be safe, and leave
any plants or animals you see for the next person to enjoy.
1 Stinging Nettle
Beware of the painful sting
of this plant growing along
the creek and in other moist
areas. The hairs along the
stems contain a chemical
similar to that of red ants.
If your skin brushes against
these hairs, you will be
injected with the chemical, which stings for a few minutes.
It’s not all bad though; Native Americans used the leaves as
a vegetable and the fibers for thread. Poison oak is another
plant to beware of, though there are only a few of these
plants along this trail. Remember: “leaves of three, beware
2 Wild Rose
This shrub-like plant is easy to identify by the small sharp
spines, alternating leaves, and, in spring and summer, simple,
flowers. The rose
will grow anywhere
there is enough
many uses for the
3 Doane Creek
This clear water from several springs flows through Doane
Pond, then joins French Creek to form Pauma Creek in Lower
Doane Valley. Eventually Pauma Creek flows into the San
Luis Rey River, which meets the sea in Oceanside.
This slender-stemmed shrub has clusters
of white flowers in early spring. The
edible blue-black berries mature in late
July or early August and are eaten by
wildlife. Native Americans used the
boiled inner green bark as an eyewash and
the wood for arrow shafts.
5 Life in a Log
What are those squiggly lines on the log? This log bears
the scars of a bark beetle infestation. Bark beetles, the size
of a grain of rice, bore under a tree’s bark to lay their eggs.
When the larvae hatch, they chew their way through the
living tissue of the tree. As they grow, their trails get wider
until they leave the tree as an adult. If a tree is unable to
produce enough sap to defend itself, it will succumb to
millions of these tiny insects.
A member of the rose family,
the thimbleberry is closely
related to the western
raspberry and the California
blackberry. The plant’s
mature fruit and very large
leaves are a source of food
7 White Fir
The trees ahead of you are called
white fir, possibly because of the light
color of their bark. This is the most
widespread of the western firs—the
seedlings will grow in almost any
kind of soil. The trees grow rapidly
for 50 - 100 years, then the growth
rate slows for the rest of their lifespan, which can be up to 350 years.
During the winter of 1992-93, Palomar Mountain received
approximately 80 inches of rain. The tremendous amount of
rainfall resulted in the landslide you see above. In the time
since, the plants are returning, and eventually the area will
look much as it did. This is a classic example of the cyclical
nature of life—as things die or are destroyed, they are soon
replaced by new forms of life.
9 Western Burning Bush
(Eunonymus occidentalis var. parishii)
In southern California this bush
with the large, smooth leaves is
found only in the high mountains.
The plant’s name is derived from
its red-orange seeds that dangle
from the branches.
In late spring, you may recognize
the columbine (Aquilega formosa
var. hypolasia) by its unique flower.
Each of the short petals ends in a
spur that contains nectar and turns
orange in early summer.
10 Berry Alley
Surrounding you on either side of the trail is
a variety of berry bushes. See if you can
find the delicate pink blossoms of mountain
currant. These will mature into a blueblack berry that is good fresh or dried.
Also, look for a prickly vine growing all
throughout the other plants. This is western
Low to the ground, you can find wild
strawberry. All these berries are much-loved
by wildlife and help provide the nutrition
they need to survive the winter.
11 Lichen and Moss
You will see several different plants growing on the boulder.
The dark moss is a primitive plant that needs low light and
lots of moisture. In dry times it shrivels up, waiting for
enough moisture to come back to life.
Lichen (like-n), the light green plant, is actually a fungus
coexisting with algae. The fungus provides a home and
moisture for the algae while the algae provides the fungus
with food. Without each other they would not survive. The
acidic waste from lichen eats away at the rock, helping to
12 White Alder
The thick grove of tall
trees ahead of you is a
classic example of a
“Riparian” refers to the
area along a stream, river
or lake. Species like
alders require a lot of
water, therefore they can
only grow along the
banks of these
13 Plant Competition
Look around at the forest floor, and you will notice very few
plants growing beneath the trees. The tall trees above block
out most of the sunlight, which is necessary for photosynthesis. If one of these trees were to fall, the opening would
let in sunlight and allow other plants to grow. Eventually
new trees would sprout and compete with the other plants
for the limited sunlight.
14 Incense Cedar
You might easily mistake this
tree for a redwood. Like the
redwood, it has ruddy, deeply
furrowed bark and a heavily
buttressed trunk. But cedars
have scaly leaves that overlap
on the twigs, while redwoods
have short needle leaves. Nor
will this tree attain the size or
age of the redwood. It is exceptional when an incense cedar
lives even 500 years or grows
over 150 feet.
PLEASE STAY BEHIND THE FENCE TO
PROTECT THIS GIANT TREE’S ROOTS SO
IT CAN CONTINUE TO GROW.
15 On the Edge
Note the joining of mixed forest and meadow communities.
See how different the meadow is from the nearby forest.
The soil type and moisture are perfect for these meadow
grasses, which form tight mats that prevent most larger
plants from taking root.
16 California Black Oak
This tree is an oak of the
high mountains. The
leaves are deciduous,
before they fall in autumn.
The large acorns mature in
two years, and until the
early part of the second
year are completely
covered by spherical cups.
These acorns were favored
by Native Americans and
are eaten in great
quantities by band-tailed
17 Canyon Live Oak
Our most common evergreen
oak is represented by the trees
on the left side of the trail.
Notice the great variety in leaf
size, shape and color. These
differences are the result of the
age of the leaves, which stay on
the tree three to four years.
Most of the leaves have spiny
edges, though some are
smooth. Acorns are mature by
the end of the second season.
The canyon live oak varies
from a low, dense chaparral/brush species to a tall tree, with
15 to 20 feet of clear trunk. The wood is exceedingly
strong and was prized by the pioneers.
18 Ponderosa Pine
This tree is similar to the Jeffrey pine, but its cones are
prickly to the touch, whereas Jeffrey pine cones
are not. Another way to tell them apart is
by smelling the bark. The ponderosa
pine smells of resin and the jeffrey
pine like vanilla. The older
ponderosas, which may be from
350 - 500 years old, usually have
bark that is separated into shieldlike plates as seen in the pine on
the opposite side of the trail.
19 Fire Ecology
The tree that stands before
you is the remains of a
California black oak that was
burned in 1987 when fire
swept through areas of
Palomar Mountain. As a fire
burns through, it cleans the
forest floor, prepares the soil
for new growth, and provides
for the beginnings of a new
forest. The important role fire
plays in maintaining a healthy
ecosystem has been misunderstood for
decades. Now efforts are being made to
reintroduce fire as an essential part of a
20 Oak Mistletoe
Look up into the oak tree to see
the clumps of mistletoe.
Known for its traditional uses
during Christmas, this partially
parasitic plant steals some of its
nutrients from its host plant.
Birds love to eat the berries and
in turn help spread the mistletoe seeds to other trees.
21 Brake or Bracken Fern
(Pteridium aquilinum var. pubescens)
One of the most common
plants in the park, this fern
helps make the forest floor
green in the summer and adds
to the autumn color when it
turns yellow in the fall. In late
summer look for the
reproductive spores on the
underside edges of the ferns.
Fiddlenecks (very young
ferns) taste similar to walnuts
and were eaten by Native
22 Creek Dogwood
Two types of dogwood
grow in the park. Here you
see the creek dogwood and
further upstream you may
see mountain dogwood
(Cornus nuttallii). Both
have beautiful large white
flowers in the spring and
bright red leaves and
berries, adding to the
beauty of fall when their
leaves change color.
23 Palmer Ceanothus
Also known as California lilac or buckbrush,
it is the park’s most common shrub. In
spring this shrub is covered with white
blossoms, which can be rubbed together
to make a soapy lather. Growing over
this lilac is a vine called virgin’s
bower (Clematis ligusticifolia).
This vine is also abundant in the
park and uses nearby hardy
plants for support.
24 Wild Strawberry
This plant is easily
identified by its similarity
to the much larger
domestic strawberry. It is
a member of the rose
family and is found in
open woods and hillsides
in sandy, moist ground.
Wildlife enjoy the small,
25 More Than Meets The Eye
Take a moment to stop and tune in to all your
senses. Often we focus on our sense of sight
and miss out on other enjoyable aspects of
nature. Listen for the birds or the rustling
water of Rattlesnake Creek. Take a
deep breath of fresh mountain
air, and you may get a
scent of the cedars
there’s more to
nature than meets
26 Arroyo Willow (or White Willow)
Bordering the meadow is the most common willow in San
Diego County. Notice how the slightest breeze causes the
foliage to flash. This is
caused by the dark yellowgreen upper leaf surface
alternating with the silvery
Look for little red
swellings on the leaves.
These are called galls, inside
of which insect larvae are
27 Deer Grass
This grass is readily
identified by its size and its
long whip-like blades. It is
found along streams, at edges
of meadows, and in damp
areas on hillsides from low
elevations to about 7,000
feet. Flowering in summer or
fall, it is not palatable to
domestic livestock. Native
Americans of southern
California used deer grass to make the foundations of
their coiled baskets.
28 Wild Buckwheat
(Eriogonum fasciculatum var. polifolium)
A relative of the grain used
to make buckwheat
pancakes, the seeds of this
plant were eaten by Native
Americans during hard
times. Flowers and seeds
continue to be a food source
for wildlife. An eyewash
was also made from the
29 Oak Galls
Many different types of insects are the cause of a variety of galls.
You may have already seen some on the willows. Oaks too
support many kinds of galls. See if you can find some fuzzy dots
on the underside of the leaves or a swelling on a twig. These are
two more examples of these interesting insect incubators.
Coffeeberry, also known as pigeon-berry, is a member of the
buckthorn family. This plant
grows in sandy or rocky areas
along hillsides and is a good source
of food for birds, particularly the
band-tailed pigeon. In Spanish,
“paloma” is pigeon and “mar” is
sea. Put the words together and you get Palomar. Many
years ago, there were so many band-tailed pigeons that the
mountain was given their name.
Turn right and walk through the campground to return to
the Doane Pond parking lot.
The habitats that are traversed by the Doane Valley Nature
Trail are home to a wide variety of plants and animals. The
few dozen plants and features called out in this booklet are
only a small percentage of the diverse resources that can be
found in the park. If you would like to learn more, check at
the entrance station to see if there are any guided nature
walks or campfire programs scheduled. We hope you
enjoyed your walk and will return soon to Palomar Mountain State Park.
The mission of the California Department of Parks and
Recreation is to provide for the health, inspiration and
education of the people of California by helping to
preserve the state’s extraordinary biological diversity,
protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources,
and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor
CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS
Palomar Mountain State Park
P.O. Box 175
Palomar Mountain, CA 92060
(760) 742-3462 or (760) 765-0755
California State Parks does not discriminate
against individuals with disabilities. Prior to
arrival, visitors with disabilities who need assistance or who would like to receive this publication
in an alternate format should contact the park at
(760) 742-3462 or 765-0755.
© 1995 California State Parks (Rev. 8/2004)