By Diane Ako
A trip to Santa Cruz, for me, wouldn't be complete without a visit to the University of California at Santa Cruz where I spent my first year after high school. It is a gorgeous campus set on more than 2,000 acres overlooking Monterey Bay.
We spun around the campus briefly, looked at my former college (Merrill), and spent most of the time at the arboretum, a research and teaching facility committed to plant conservation that serves both the campus and the public.
"Its rich and diverse collection, containing representatives of more than 300 plant families, provides beginning students with a broad survey of the plant kingdom. Facilities for growing plants offer students and research faculty opportunities to experiment with living plants," says the website.
"The Arboretum maintains collections of rare and threatened plants of unusual scientific interest. Particular specialties are world conifers, primitive angiosperms, and bulb-forming plant families. Large assemblages of plants from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and California natives are displayed on the grounds. Many of the species in these collections are not otherwise available for study in American botanical gardens and arboreta."
We were lucky enough to get a tour with a knowledgeable and friendly volunteer named Mike, who gave us a quick look at the estimated 55 acre arboretum that included a little history lesson on the founding of the town and the school itself.
While he generously pointed out interesting plants like the cut leaf dryandra, banksia serrate, and eucalyptus casia, I must admit the most interesting section to our family was the Hummingbird Trail. This specially bred garden has a huge bush of hummingbird food.
Hummingbirds like the flowers of the ruby cluster grevillea, and this shrub is so big, it's enough to stave off the naturally-territorial birds' tendency to chase off other birds who might compete for food. In the quarter hour we stood there watching, listening, and getting educated by Mike on hummingbird behavior, we saw about 50 of the tiny birds.
Three types of hummingbirds frequent this area: Anna's, Allen's, and Rufous. They're so small and quick that it was impossible for me to get a photo for you, but maybe that just means you should come up here yourself to see it. It is a very special experience!
Hummingbirds like red, and by chance, Olivia was wearing bright pink. Perhaps it was the reason why she was able to get up close to one; Mike explained that the bird might have been flying up to see if this brightly colored shirt was a flower to eat. It was one of her trip highlights!
Other little woodland critters we saw included rabbits and quail, making this a very fun and memorable experience for our family.
If you go:
Wear walking shoes. For more information go to http://arboretum.ucsc.edu.