Get to know the different types of native plants that support a healthy river ecosystem. Want to know which plants help steelhead? You’ll learn that! Want to know which plants are pollinator favorites? You’ll learn that too! Many of these plants can also be found elsewhere in Santa Cruz County – maybe you will recognize plants that also live in your neighborhood.

Activity Overview

Read about some common native plant species found along the San Lorenzo River. Then test your knowledge to see if you can identify which plants benefit the river ecosystem and how.


As the San Lorenzo River exits the Santa Cruz Mountains and flows through the City of Santa Cruz towards the Monterey Bay, it is contained within a levee system. Levees prevent flooding in downtown Santa Cruz and surrounding neighborhoods when it rains. Since the levees were constructed in 1958-59, the City of Santa Cruz, the Coastal Watershed Council and many other partners have been increasing the number and diversity of native plants within the levee channel to support healthy river habitat.

Each native plant species serves some kind of important function that supports a thriving river ecosystem. For example, some plants are important food sources for birds, insects and other wildlife. Other plants help keep the river clean by filtering water or preventing streambank erosion.

Materials Needed:

  • The River Ecosystem PDF: This is viewable online, on a device like your mobile phone or you can print it out.
  • Pen or pencil (optional if you want to complete the quiz at the end!)


  1. View or download the PDF.
  2. Read about some common native plant species found along the San Lorenzo River and how they benefit river habitat.
  3. Test your knowledge! Take the short quiz at the end to see if you can match plants with different ecosystem benefits.
  4. (Optional) Next time you visit the San Lorenzo River, see if you can find these plant species!
  5. (Optional) At home, be on the lookout – you might see these same plants around your yard or in your neighborhood. You can also ask yourself similar questions about any plant you see to discover what kind of ecosystem benefits it provides for your neighborhood or yard. Does it provide shade or shelter for wildlife? Does it provide food for pollinators?

Additional Resources:

These are just a few of the native plant species that exist along the lower San Lorenzo River. Want to learn more about native plants? Check out these different native plant profiles!

Thank you to New Leaf Community Markets and artist Gill Seaman for your support in creating these activities for CWC’s Watershed Rangers Activity Book.

To all of the Watershed Rangers students, teachers and program partners, although we will not be able to see you in classrooms, field trips and after school programs right now, we hope to provide you and your loved ones with online resources and activities during this time. We know that parents, teacher and lifelong learners are seeking ways to stay engaged and active, and we’re going to be working to bring activities to you through the Coastal Watershed Council blog. Please share these resources and activities with friends, neighbors and parents groups and stay tuned for more.

Additional resources:

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