Natural La Jolla: Jurassic connections, ancient plants and World Turtle Day


It was a busy May for me, but I still made time as much as I could to walk and enjoy the weather and sunny days — many mornings though we had a lot of gray and chill in the early hours.

I found a couple beautiful sago palms (Cycas revoluta) along Coast Boulevard. Sago palms are not palms at all, but part of an ancient group of plants called cycads. Cycads take a long time to mature (about 15 years) and male plants produce large upright yellow cones, while female plants produce fluffy yellow flowers. These prehistoric plants were likely food for dinosaurs during the Jurassic period. A popular ornamental plant, cycads may live up to 100 years.

Another link to the Jurassic is our state marine reptile — the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). Two specially designated days in May help bring attention to this species at risk; May 15 is Endangered Species Day and May 23 is World Turtle Day. Leatherback turtles roam our California waters to the north in late summer and will now be making their migration across the Pacific from their nesting beaches in Indonesia.

The oldest of the sea turtle species, these giant leatherbacks eat jellyfish and other soft-bodied invertebrates. Apparently the jellies here (mainly Pacific sea nettles — Chrysaora fuscescens) make the leatherback’s trek worthwhile!

— Kelly Stewart is a marine biologist with The Ocean Foundation, working with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla. Her column about the floral and fauna of La Jolla appears second Thursdays in La Jolla Light. She may be reached at