Most of Prairie Creek is covered with old-growth coast redwood, western hemlock, and Douglas-fir. Sitka spruce and red alder grow near the park’s 10 miles of sandy coastline. Tanoak, cascara, California bay, big leaf maple, vine maple, and California bay populate the edges of prairies.
Special types of growth within these species have special names. “Cathedral trees” are clusters or circles of redwoods that have sprouted from the base of the parent tree they have replaced. These circles are also called “fairy rings.” Cathedral trees or trees in fairy rings have exactly the same genes as the parent tree; they are clones. Mile 2.4 on the Drury Parkway features a “corkscrew tree”—the name given to a fairy ring of four redwoods that wind around each other, forming a single, sinuous trunk. “Octopus trees” are created when a tree, usually western hemlock, sprouts on a downed redwood log. While the hemlock reaches skyward, its roots grow down over the log like the arms of an octopus.
Coastal fog in the redwood forest creates a dense green thicket on the forest floor, including salal, sword fern, redwood sorrel, and huckleberry. In May and June, the predominant greens are dotted with the white and pink blossoms of western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale) and the pink-to-scarlet blossoms of Pacific rhododendron or rose-bay (Rhododendron macrophyllum).
In the fall, big leaf maples turn gold. Vine maples turn red. Red alders lose their leaves without changing color, altering the look of the forest by letting in more light.
Closest to the ocean, a plant community called coastal scrub buffers the redwood forest from salt spray. Its hardy species include cow parsnip, salal, wild cucumber, coltsfoot, yarrow, salmon berry, and thimbleberry.