Field Trips

Kumeyaay Supermarket

Flat Top Buckwheat.  One of the many plants used by the Kumeyaay Indians.

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Kumeyaay Supermaket: Native American Plant Uses


A third through fifth grade program about native Kumeyaay Indians and the native plants they used.

Park Theme to be Interpreted:

The state of natural ecosystems at the time of, and prior to, contact with Europeans was much different than it is now and there is much to be learned from the ways that the native Kumeyaay Indians utilized the native plants of the Coastal Sage Scrub habitat compared with how we use them today.


At the completion of this program, students will be able to:

1.Describe two ways the Kumeyaay used the native plants found in the Coastal Sage Scrub community to help sustain their lives.

2.Understand that the park's community of plants is a remnant of the sensitive Southern California Mediterranean ecosystem and that much of this has been lost due to habitat fragmentation and urban development.

3.Identify at least three plants along the trail, and know the difference between native and non-native.

History/Social Science Content Standards Grades K-12

Grade 3:

3.2 Students describe the American Indian nations in their local region long ago and in the recent past.

1. Describe national identities, religious beliefs, customs, and various folklore traditions.

2. Discuss the ways in which physical geography, including climate, influenced how the local Indian nations adapted to their natural environment (e.g., how they obtained food, clothing, tools)

Grade 4:

4.2 Students describe the social, political, cultural, and economic life and interactions among people of California from the pre-Columbian societies to the Spanish mission and Mexican rancho periods.

1. Discuss the major nations of California Indians, including their geographic distribution, economic activities, legends, and religious beliefs; and describe how they depended on, adapted to, and modified the physical environment by cultivation of land and use of sea resources.

Grade 5:

5.1 Students describe the major pre-Columbian settlements, including the cliff dwellers and pueblo people of the desert Southwest, the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, the nomadic nations of the Great Plains, and the woodland peoples east of the Mississippi River.

1. Describe how geography and climate influenced the way various nations lived and adjusted to the natural environment, including locations of villages, the distinct structures that they built, and how they obtained food, clothing, tools, and utensils.

2. Describe their varied customs and folklore traditions. 

Meeting Locations and Times:

10:00 a.m. – Meet at Visitor Center

11:15 a.m. – Meet at the road leading down to the Bayside Trail. The ranger in charge will provide directions to the proper location. 


A brief stroll along the Bayside Trail will reveal many of the native plants that inhabit Point Loma. Similar plants are found from Santa Barbara, California, south to Ensenada, Baja California. The native plant community of this area is loosely termed coastal sage scrub. It contains vegetation that is composed of annuals that provide seasonal color and ground cover, and perennials that are classed as shrubs. Coastal sage scrub plants seldom reach over 12 feet in height.

The characteristics that allow these plants to survive in the Southern California region are directly associated with the rainfall which is generally about 10 inches per year. Much of our rain occurs between January and March. In many areas, this amount of rain would indicate a desert-like environment. However, coastal breezes and moisture temper the harsh reality of limited rainfall. This added moisture promotes abundant plant life creating what is commonly called a Mediterranean climate. Other Mediterranean climates are found around the Mediterranean Sea, Chile, South Africa and southwestern Australia.

A variety of adaptations exist that make plant life possible. One survival characteristic is the plant's abilities to store moisture during the prolonged hot, dry months from May through the end of September. Some plants have tough, leathery, wax-covered leaves that encapsulate water within the plant. Other plants have minute white hairs that reflect sunlight, keeping leaf temperature down. Some leaves are so reduced in size and shape that they appear as spines. Not all plants can conserve water well, and simply drop their leaves during the summer months. Many plants have extensive, deep root systems that can exceed 30 feet and help hold the soil in place. These roots also reduce runoff during spring rains. Although many plants appear to be inactive during the summer, growth is still taking place. The most conspicuous plants of this community are perennials that live for many years.

Long before European settlement of Southern California, Native Americans, calling themselves Kumeyaay, lived throughout the county. The Kumeyaay built permanent villages. They also traveled to gather foods that were not locally available. During some of these gathering trips, they visited relatives living in other villages.

The plants, animals, water, soils and rocks all became valuable resources to the Kumeyaay. Specific plants were used as soaps, dyes, beverages and fumigants, while others were used for ceremonies and social events. The Kumeyaay knew the importance of fires to control unwanted plants and to promote growth of desired plants. After a fire, for example, many animals took advantage of the increased vegetation and wandering into the manufactured hunting areas of the villages. Thus these animals provided an easy, accessible source of protein.

Today we find remnants of the daily lives of the Kumeyaay throughout San Diego County. Ceremonial sites may be identified by the presence of pictographs and occasionally petroglyphs. Grinding sites, which are more common, were tremendously important in food preparation. Acorns would be ground into mush at the same grinding sites year after year, thus deepening the grinding holes and making them conspicuous to us today. The baskets and pottery that the Kumeyaay fashioned provided not only useful implements but became a way of artistic expression.

The Kumeyaay Supermarket, as a ranger-led experience, will afford the class an opportunity to identify plants that provided the Kumeyaay with some of the necessities of life: food, housing, clothing and medicine. The plants identified along the Bayside Trail are black sage, California sagebrush, lemonadeberry, prickly pear cactus, oak, yucca, California buckwheat, and non-native eucalyptus.


Cabrillo Education


Anthropology, Botany, Conservation, Earth Science, Ecology, Environment, Wilderness
National/State Standards:
Grade 3: 3.2
Grade 4: 4.2
Grade 5: 5.1
Kumeyaay, native americans, Early California History, plants, plant uses, nature, coastal sage scrub, chaparral
Field Trips