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) with a 2-lobed stigma (pollen-receiving structure of the female flower)
    • 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 (Picking or removing any natural material from public land is illegal)

        • Tough, bitter vegetation is not typically browsed by mammals
        • Native people had several uses for coast silk tassel
          • 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 (US 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 structure of female flower part) 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

            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

            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 Barrett, S. 2009. Wind of change: new insights on the ecology and evolution of pollination and mating in wind-pollinated plants. Annals of Botany, 2009 Jun.; 103(9): 1515–1527. National Center for Biotechnology Information, United States National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

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

                    US Forest Service. Celebrating Flowers: Wind and Water Pollination. United States Department of Agriculture.