Coast Silk Tassel

Coast Silk Tassel © DSchiel

Wavyleaf Silk Tassel
Garrya elliptica

Description (Jepson,

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Silk Tassel Family (Garryaceae)
  • Evergreen shrub or small tree
  • Leaves
    • Opposite (2 leaves at each junction with stem) and simple (not divided into leaflets)
    • Margin wavy and often rolled under
    • Leathery
    • Dark green upper surface; gray lower surface with soft, felt-like hairs
    • Up to 3 in. long
  • Flowers
    • Dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants)
      • Male flowers are gray-green catkins (long hanging clusters of small, petalless, unisexual  flowers), 3-8 in. long
      • Female flowers are stouter silver-gray catkins, 2-3.5 in. long
    • Ovary inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a berry (a usually multi-seeded fruit with a fleshy ovary wall) in tight clusters
    • Initially hairy, green, and fleshy, becoming smooth, purplish, and brittle
  • Height to 26 ft.


  • Native to California
    • Grows in coastal sage, chaparral, and mixed evergreen coastal forests
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, grows along the coast of southern Oregon
  • Grows at elevations to 2,625 ft.
Female Flowers © AFengler
Male Flowers © AFengler

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Tough, bitter vegetation is not typically browsed by mammals
  • Native people
    • Tea made from leaves was used to treat colds, stomachaches, and as a laxative
    • Wood was hardened with fire and used by Yuroks to pry mussels off rocks (San Jose State University)

Name Derivation

  • Garrya (GARR-ee-a) – named for Nicholas Garry (c. 1782-1856), deputy governor of the Hudson Bay Company, in honor of the aid he provided to David Douglas in his 1826 exploration of the Pacific Northwest
  • elliptica (el-IP-ti-ka) – elliptical, referring to the leaves
  • Silk tassel – refers to the catkins


  • Coast silk tassel, oaks, and grasses are examples of plants at Edgewood that are wind pollinated
    • About 12% of flowering plants and most conifers are wind pollinated (U.S. Forest Service)
    • These plants do not waste energy on flower features that attract animal pollinators; instead, their flowers generally have these characteristics
      • Small, petalless, and unscented, with muted colors
      • No nectar
      • Stamen (male flower part) and stigma (pollen-receiving part of the pistil/female structure) are exposed to air currents
      • Male flowers produce a great deal of pollen, which is very small, dry, and easily airborne, as all allergy sufferers know!
  • Associated with the fungus-like microorganism Phytophthora ramorum, which causes Sudden Oak Death (SOD)
    • At Edgewood, the two species known to be highly susceptible to SOD are coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia var. agrifolia) and Pacific madrone saplings (Arbutus menziesii)
    • For a complete list of known hosts and host associates see USDA Risk Analysis for Phytophthora ramorum, pp. 6-9

ID Tips

  • May be confused with several evergreen trees/shrubs at Edgewood
  • Check out this short video (Jepson 2020) for more ID tips
Underside of Leaf of Coast Live Oak (L), Leather Oak (LM), Holly-leaved Cherry (RM), Coast Silk Tassel (R) © DSchiel
Coast Live OakLeather OakHolly-leaved CherryCoast Silk Tassel
   Shapeovateoblong to ellipticwidely ovate to roundelliptic
   Marginoften wavy and curled

some spines
wavy and curled

many spines
wavy, but not curled

many spines
often wavy and curled

no spines
   Upper Surfacematte to shiny dark green

no hairs
matte to shiny dark green

hairs when new
very shiny bright green

no hairs
matte to shiny green

no hairs
   Lower Surfacelighter green

possible hairy tufts at vein junctions
matte green

densely hairy
very shiny bright green

no hairs

densely matted hairs
Flowersmale catkins and small, solitary females

on same plant
male catkins and small, solitary females

on same plant
bisexual flowers

in clusters
male and female catkins

on separate plants
Fruitsacornsacornsdrupesclustered berries
Midge Galls (Asphondylia garryae)
© DHimes

At Edgewood

  • Found in chaparral and woodlands
    • Several silk tassels, including a large male, can be found trailside along the Franciscan trail, from posts 12-15
    • Look for a female plant on the uphill side of the upper Sylvan trail, near post 16
    • See iNaturalist for observations of this plant
  • Catkins form in late summer; male catkins elongate and shed pollen December – April

See General References

Specific References

Friedman, J. and S. Barrett. 2009, Jun. Wind of change: new insights on the ecology and evolution of pollination and mating in wind-pollinated plants. Annals of Botany 103: 1515–1527. National Institutes of Health, United States National Library of Medicine, Center for Biotechnology Information.

Jepson Herbarium. 2020, Jan 15. Garrya elliptica (silk tassels) [Video]. The Jepson Videos: Visual Guide to the Plants of California. The Regents of the University of California. YouTube.

San Jose State University. Garrya elliptica. Botany Garden. Department of Biological Sciences.

U.S. Forest Service. Wind and water pollination. Forest Service. United States Department of Agriculture.