The rolling pastures peppered with shrubs and rock outcroppings along the 405 between Sand Canyon and University are a stark contrast to the usual freeway scenery. This not-so-hidden spot is Quail Hill, a 733-acre area of permanently protected open space that is part of the City of Irvine Open Space Preserve.
Like much of the historic Irvine Ranch, cattle grazed Quail Hill for decades in the twentieth century. Grazing likely transformed the original plant community from one composed of native perennial flowers, grasses, and shrubs to one dominated by annual grasses and other invasive plants. After the cattle left the hills, the invasive artichoke thistle(Cynara cardunculus) has thrived, blanketing the hills around the Quail Hill Loop trail. Originally from Spain, this plant is a wild ancestor of the globe artichoke found in the supermarket.