The Santa Cruz Sandhills

The Santa Cruz Sandhills are a unique community of plants and animals found only on outcrops of Zayante sand soil in the central portion of Santa Cruz County, in central coastal California.

The Zayante soils are derived from sediment deposited over 15 million years ago when the region was under a vast sea. As evidence of their origins, the inland Sandhills contain a variety of marine fossils, including deep beds of sand dollars.

Due to their coarse texture, Zayante soils have low water and nutrient availability. As a result, they support two endemic communities which are very different from the moisture-loving coast redwood and mixed evergreen forests that dominate the region.

The Sandhills communities contain a diverse assemblage of plants that are uniquely adapted to the sandy soil. These include:

The Sandhills are also home to a variety of unique animal species, including:

Due to their limited geographic range (Santa Cruz County) and narrow habitat specificity (Zayante Soils), the endemic communities and species of the Sandhills are naturally extraordinarily rare. Estimated to cover 6,000 acres originally, approximately 40% of Sandhills habitat has been lost, primarily due to sand quarrying and development.  The remaining, fragmented habitat is threatened by future development, while fire exclusion, exotic species, and unlawful recreation degrade habitat even within Sandhills preserves.

Conservation of the endemic species and communities of the Sandhills will require preservation of additional habitat, active management of protected habitat, and education and outreach to increase awareness and appreciation of the uniqueness, rarity, and fragility of the Santa Cruz Sandhills. These and other elements of a comprehensive conservation strategy for the Sandhills have be described in the recently published Sandhills Conservation and Management Plan. Successful implementation of the conservation plan will require cooperation among the numerous agencies, organizations, institutions, businesses, and concerned individuals working to conserve the Santa Cruz Sandhills.

For more information the Santa Cruz Sandhills, visit the pages in the "Sandhills" menu. Start with the "Distribution" page, and click "Continue" at the bottom of each page to proceed through a sequence of pages which describe and illustrate the natural history and conservation of this unique community. For more detailed information about the Sandhills, download the Sandhills Conservation and Management Plan or contact S.A.N.D.

Santa Cruz Sandhill
Sand dollar fossil from the Sandhill
Sandhills wildflowers
Sand quarries in the Sandhills
Santa Cruz kangaroo rat
Sandhills Alliance for Natural Diversity (S.A.N.D.)
PO Box 2363 Boulder Creek, CA 95006 ● e-mail:
Web design, text, and images by Jodi M. McGraw © 2005. All rights reserved. Not for use without permission.