Native Plants of Southern California
Updated: Nov 14, 2018
Our Signature Plant program started in September 2000 at the encouragement of then Pacific Region Director Lisa Stephens of Arizona. Each Pacific Region Director selects a Director’s Special Project in which all the states in the region may participate for the two years of their term. Our Pacific Region is the most climatically diverse, covering the eight western states of Washington,Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii. If you take the first letter of each state in this order you have the name of the Pacific Region newsletter: WACONIAH. It is chock-full of garden club news and floral design and horticulture articles from around the region. An online subscription is free.
The NGC award-winning newsletter is edited by club members Robin and Greg Pokorski and they’d be happy to tell you how to sign up.
Our club enjoyed studying one specific plant so much we continued the program beyond the first two years. Since 2000 we have studied geraniums, roses, irises, tulips, orchids, ferns, azaleas, African violets, and spices last year, among others. Each year at the April or May board meeting, the Signature Plant for the following year is selected. Do you have a suggestion? Join us at the Board Meeting next year (all members are welcome) and make your suggestion known.
We’ll study Native Plants of Southern California this coming year. There’s plenty of information for us to learn this season – so let’s get to our 2018 – 2019 Signature Plant – Native Plants of Southern California….next month.
As we begin our study we need to be sure we know what we’re talking about. What’s the difference between native, indigenous and endemic species? Mother Nature Network describes the differences clearly.
A native species is one that is found in a certain ecosystem due to natural processes, such as natural distribution and evolution. No human intervention brought a native species to the area or influenced its spread to that area. Native species are also called indigenous species .
While a native species can be helped by new species introduced to an area — such as flowers native to North America gaining the help of European honeybees in the last several centuries — the native species itself developed of its own accord in the area and is particularly adapted to its habitat.
The key aspect of a species being native is that it occurs in an area without human influence.
An endemic species , however, is a native species found only in a particular area, large or small. A species can be endemic to an entire continent, or to only a relatively minuscule area. Often, endemic species are confined to a certain area because they are highly adapted to a particular niche. A certain type of plant that is found nowhere else, or a plant might be perfectly adapted to thrive in a very particular climate and soil type.
Because of this specialization and inability to move into new habitats, some endemic species are at particular risk of extinction when a new disease hits, when the quality of its habitat is threatened, or if an invasive species enters its region and becomes a competitor.
Wikipedia defines Native Plants as: plants indigenous to a given area in geologic time. This includes plants that have developed, occur naturally, or existed for many years in an area (trees, flowers, grasses, and other plants).
Eschscholzia californica, California poppy, is a "widespread and abundant weed along roadsides and disturbed ground in the Mediterranean climate region of central Chile" according to Introduction to the Plant Life of Southern California (p. 118)
Why We Care
Excerpts from California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Why We Care About Native Plants
California hosts approximately 6,500 species, subspecies, and varieties of plants that occur naturally in the state, and many of these are found nowhere else in the world. Some are adapted to unique habitats or harsh conditions, and some occur in such low numbers or have been so impacted by human influence that they are at risk of permanent extinction from the wild. California’s native plants should be conserved because of their beauty and intrinsic value, because they are essential components of ecosystems and natural processes, and because they provide us with valuable renewable materials and other benefits. CDFW administers programs to study, map, conserve and protect California’s native plants and natural communities.
Information on Rare, Threatened and Endangered Plants and Natural Communities
219 species, subspecies, and varieties of native plants are designated as rare, threatened, or endangered by state law , and over 2,000 more plant taxa are considered to be of conservation concern. Many of these species are the target of conservation and mapping efforts by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and CDFW has created survey protocols for rare, threatened, and endangered plant species and natural communities. CDFW also works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to administer federal Section 6 grants for plant research, and partners with botanic gardens for off-site conservation of plants. Species lists, status reports, and additional information on rare, threatened, and endangered plant species are available from the CDFW website.
Do I Need a Plant Permit?
The killing or possession of California rare, threatened or endangered plant species is prohibited by California law , however CDFW may issue permits authorizing the killing or possession of these species under certain circumstances , such as for scientific, educational or management purposes.
For more information on any of the topics above, please contact the Native Plant Program at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Prosopis glandulosa , honey mesquite, has been nominated as among 100 of the "World's Worst" invaders by The International Union for Conservation of Nature outside its native habitat range. It is said that it rapidly outcompetes understory plants resulting in complete loss of grass cover.
Native Vines, part 1
Excerpts from InstallItDirect.com
California Vines: 8 Drought Tolerant Native Vines for Southern California Gardens
A beautiful vine adds visual interest to an outdoor living space , but they actually have a list of benefits that is longer than most homeowners realize.
In addition to pretty flowers that serve as pollen sources for birds and bees, the vines’ sometimes dense mats provide shelter for nests and other wildlife .
Not to mention vines draw the eye upward while also covering up unsightly vertical spaces in our yards. Need to liven up a bare area or hide a fence? A vine can be a perfect solution with a little bit of care.
Since water-wise gardening is a priority for Southern California residents, five native vines to California are highlighted for consideration. There aren’t a lot of native vines to choose from, but the options we have can be good ones in the right applications. We’ll look at a few this month and next.
Western White Clematis ( Clematis ligusticifolia)
This pretty white flower appears in late summer and rests on a deciduous vine that prefers wet soil in a sunny spot for the first year or so until it becomes drought tolerant and almost self-sufficient. You don’t want to plant this in areas of high traffic as it can cause minor skin irritations and because of this, deer stay away from it. Expect it to grow up to 16′ and tolerate a number of soil conditions.
Fun fact : This plant was used as a substitute for pepper (which was quite expensive at the time) by pioneers of America’s Old West. And, Native Americans used it to treat migraines, eczema and other skin irritations as well as to ward off evil spirits.
California Dutchman’s Pipe or Pipe Vine
The 1″, purple-striped flower on this vine may be a little crazy looking but this plant provides important benefits to the ecosystem. It will grow like a carpet on the ground or climb up to a length of 20′ and does well in conditions absent of proper drainage and areas with flooding. The plant is native to Northern California but does grow in Southern California. It’s one of the many vines on display at the San Diego Zoo.
This unusual-looking vine is perfect for a butterfly garden. The red spotted caterpillar eats the vine’s leaves and uses the flowers as place to undergo metamorphosis. The plant has a toxin that when eaten prevents the caterpillars from also being eaten by predators.
The larvae of the California pipevine swallowtail (native to Northern California) relies on the California Pipe Vine as its only food source.
More vines – part 2
We continue our look at California native vines (begun last month).
California Honeysuckle ( Lonicera hispidula)
Another deciduous vine, pink honeysuckle can handle anything from full sun to shade. Pretty pink flowers grow at the end of stems that attract hummingbirds among others. The vine bears a small fruit that is edible but bitter and grows also up to 20′ tall. Homeowners also report that it’s deer resistant.
Fun fact: Since the stems are hollow, pink honeysuckle was used as smoking pipes by the Pomo people (an indigenous people of California).
Pacific False Bindweed ( Calystegia purpurata)
Pacific False Bindweed is also a species of Morning Glory with growing preferences the same as the California Morning Glory—full sun on the coast and afternoon sun inland. The flowers on this vine are much showier with glossy green leaves. It does extremely well on trellises, with its slender stems growing up to 10′ tall and wide.
Pink Flowered Currant (Ribes sanguineum glutinosum)
Pink Flowered Currant is a shrub that vines with showy pink, scented flowers in late winter. It likes shade and partial shade, growing to about 6′ tall and wide. The fruit is edible and once established, this currant is extremely drought tolerant and hearty in coastal areas.
How to Get Your Vine to Climb: Your new vine will need some guidance once planted because if the growing ends can’t find something to cling on to, they’ll stop growing completely. While some vines grow beautifully up lattices, others prefer thinner support such as twine. It’s not uncommon for homeowners to use twine or netting in addition to a trellis for climbing vines such as clematis. Depending on the type of vine, you may have to help it by trussing or tying it on to the support structure as it grows. Fishing line and twine work well for this. You’ll likely need to research the best time of year to prune your vine, too. Ask your local nursery for tips.
Native Plants – part 1
Excerpts from BloomIQ.com
For the next few months we’ll look at individual native plants and their use in our Southern California landscape.
Carefree Plants for Sunny Spots
Maybe you love the look of containers, window boxes, and hanging baskets but hate the drudgery of having to water daily or run the risk of drooping plants. Try these drought tolerant, heat resistant, sun worshipers. Whether you’re planting in a small space or tackling a larger area, there’s a California native plant just right for the spot. They ask so little and give so much in return, effortlessly adding color, fragrance, and interest to any garden spot.
Bright orange poppies are irresistible in a sunny garden border
The official state flower of California in sunny shades of yellow and orange pairs perfectly with white alyssum and chartreuse potato vine for a cheerful planter.
Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenthera)
Delicate, almost translucent petals sway in the garden by day and continue to shine after the sun sets. In rock gardens and borders, this plant is a must have, especially where it can be backlit at night to create a filtered glow through the petals.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias)
Wild lupines cover the landscape along the coast of California in waves of blue and white mirroring the shades of the ocean. Their tall flowering spires make them a great backdrop to any garden and are spectacular when casually planted in front of stone walls and fences.
Monkey Flower (Mimulus)
Monkey Flower is prized for its vivid colors and whimsical blooms resembling a monkey’s face. Use it in containers and hanging baskets to add an instant pop to porches and patios.
Don’t forget the fragrance! It appeals to our senses and adds another layer of enjoyment to our gardens – not just for us but for the birds, butterflies, and bees. With these California natives, hummingbirds, Monarch butterflies, and honey bees will not be strangers to your garden.
Hummingbird Mint (Agastche)
Flowering spires of tightly clustered smoky red-violet flowers can’t help but turn heads. Brush against this plant for a refreshing scent of licorice-mint. Great when planted with milkweed (another butterfly favorite), yarrow, sages, and grasses.
Native plants – part 2
We continue our study of individual native plants.
It you’re looking for an easy way to add little splashes of yellow color all season long, then “Little Lemon” Goldenrod is a sure winner. Plant in containers or borders where you can brush against the leaves and enjoy a hint of anise. Combine with ornamental grasses, lamb’s ears, or butterfly weed for a subtle mix of color and texture.
California Lilac (Ceanothus)
It’s often impossible to decide what is most enjoyable about ceanothus: the striking blue flower clusters in spring, the lush evergreen foliage or the tons of native bees — including cute bumblebees — who feed on it. Some cultivars of ceanothus have small, crinkly textured leaves — like the shrubs ‘Julia Phelps’ and ‘Dark Star’ — whereas others have large, glossy leaves, like the small tree ‘Ray Hartman’ and the ground cover ‘Yankee Point’. All have deep blue-purple to powder blue or white flowers that burst open in spring, welcoming all the early pollinators to the feast. Ceanothus requires excellent drainage and wants no summer water after it’s established.
Try using these lilacs in a formal garden as a hedge or informally as a standalone planting. Birds love to nest in the dense growth while bees and butterflies visit for the nectar. Variety “Dark Star” and “Yankee Point” are worth a look.
Lemonade Berry (Rhus Intergriflia)
Lemonade Berry is a native California evergreen shrub that graces canyons, bluffs, and dry slopes from Baja to Santa Barbara. Its small fragrant flowers bloom in tight clusters of pink and white in May, followed by down-covered fruit that adds soft contrast to other garden plants. The flavorful berries can be used to make a lemon-like drink, but try this with caution as other members of this genus are highly toxic.
Tree Mallow (Lavatera)
Tree Mallow is absolutely irresistible to hummingbirds and butterflies! It’s ideal in the background, layering blushing pinks and lavenders behind white iris or lemony roses. Try “Blushing Bride”, a beautiful white variety with a red eye.
Cleveland Sage (Salvia Clevelandii)
Cleveland Sage is a fragrant evergreen shrub with ashy green leaves and jewel tone amethyst blooms rising on 12 inch spikes. Varieties like intensely violet-blue “Winifred Gilman” or red and white “Saucy Red” are great for borders, mixed with shrubs or containers. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds won’t be able to thank you enough!
The gold rush may have brought a wave of prospectors to California, but it’s the silver foliage of these native plants that gardeners are flocking to. While most of us turn to colorful flowers to perk up a patio, deck, or yard, these foliage plants are a designers secret weapon for adding fullness and keeping containers, window boxes, and garden borders lush and full all season long.
The Maidenhair Fern is named for its aromatic oil used in shampoos.
Native plants – part 3
Excerpts from Houzz and Debbie Ballentine
We continue our study of individual native plants.
Lamb’s Ears (Stachys)
Lamb’s Ears spreads quickly in sunny locations to create silver carpet or calm border of velvety soft foliage. They’re also especially nice in containers, filling void spaces and quietly complementing colorful flowers. Their sweet name and soft leaves are inviting to young children and a great way to introduce them to gardening.
Silver Mound (Artemisia)
These cushions of soft, feathery silver-grey foliage are a consistent favorite in rock gardens and containers.
Silver gray foliage and canary yellow flowers keep the color going all summer long. Outstanding in containers when paired with ornamental grasses.
Golden yarrow planted in drifts effortlessly to create a West Coast natural look
Californians struggle with drought but are as enthralled with green lawns as the rest of us. Why not take a page out of their garden journal and try replacing your thirsty lawn with low-maintenance ground covers. They’re also great for those trouble spots where the grass refuses to grow. Kick off your shoes and treat your bare feet to a summer stroll.
Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)
Resembling miniature irises with bluish-purple flowers on grass-like leaves, this California native thrives in coastal communities, bluffs, meadows, and sloping grasslands. It is evergreen and resilient, tolerating high foot traffic effortlessly.
Western Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Formosa)
Even the gentlest of breezes causes the delicate, heart-shaped flowers to sway on fine stems. This versatile plant is equally at home in moist woods and dry meadows, modestly spreading to form a pink blanket when the flowers are blooming. Enjoys the company of Columbine and ferns.
Plant bleeding heart under trees where the grass won't grow
Native Americans wove the tall seeds stalks of Deergrass into baskets, using 300 stalks for each one.
Ferns and Shadier areas of your garden
Maybe you have a shady area of your garden and think that native plants wouldn’t do well there. Think again! Try some of these go-to plants for shady spots offering respite from the hot sun or a long day. Creating a cool retreat to unwind is easy with graceful ferns and interesting accent plants. As the summer heats up they turn up the color.
Layers and textures are the key – mix azaleas or hydrangea in the background for early spring color. Soften the look with Columbine , Bleeding Heart , or California ferns in silver grey or rosy cinnamon. Add structure with hosta or trillium. Mix in ground covers like of moss for beautiful color.
Coral Bells “Pinot Gris” (Heuchera)
First appearing in light shades of ginger and silver, this plant turns up the heat with smoky rose leaves accented with silver and a contrasting purple underside. It finishes with tiny white flower spires on slender stems. Foliage, texture and color make it perfect for walkways, paths, and containers. Pairs well with good friends and a glass of Pinot - Cheers!
A wonderful addition to any garden, their graceful, nodding flowers float above wispy foliage. While their many colors are stunning, the exquisite shapes of the flowers and sweet subtle fragrance rival for the attention. A great mid-height plant in informal woodland gardens when paired with ferns and hostas.
Several California native ferns layered with moss and hosta instantly create a soothing mood. Try Rosy Maidenhair Fern , which first emerges in a striking amber color, then matures into a soothing green. Western Sword Fern is also a great choice.
One of the most abundant ferns on the Pacific Coast, its tall leathery leaves provide seclusion and privacy.
Add subtle color and subdued texture with Barnes Male Fern . Its slightly ruffled edges and deep green frond color complement the airy foliage of other woodland plants.
Goldenrod has been linked to hay fever but unjustly so. It just happens to bloom around the same time as the real culprit - Ragweed.
Southern California native plants – part 4
This wraps up our study of Native Plants of Southern California. I’ve sure enjoyed learning more about the wonderful array of native plants available for our gardens.
Excerpts from Houzz and Debbie Ballentine
From the stunning blue of California lilacs in spring to the joyful, daisy-like blooms of California sunflowers from spring to fall, and the spritely charms of pink chaparral currants in winter, the plants below have been selected for their wildlife value, minimal maintenance, gardening ease and availability in nurseries. Depending on the species, they are appropriate in moderate inland areas of Southern California desert or coastal regions. Each has its own wildlife niche, whether it’s birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, native bees or the plethora of pollinators. This selection of California native plants will add beauty and seasonal interest to low-water gardens.
Big Berry Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca) Native below 4,500 feet to rocky slopes, chaparral and woodland from the northeast San Francisco Bay to much of Southern California
With the largest berries of any manzanita, big berry manzanita has a sculptural aesthetic, alluring urn-shaped winter flowers and evergreen foliage. Big berry manzanita will reliably grow to 10 feet tall and wide, sometimes reaching 12 feet tall and wide.
Big berry manzanita provides cover for all kinds of wildlife, draws hummingbirds and pollinators to its winter nectar, and brings birds and mammals who eat its spring berries. Established big berry manzanita prefers little or no summer irrigation and requires well-drained soil.
Annual Phacelias (Phacelia spp) Native to various regions of California, particularly Southern California; some species are native to other states
Breathtaking bell-shaped blue flowers in summer sun and both nectar and pollen for the pollinators — what more could you want from a drought-tolerant annual? Phacelias are magnets for butterflies, native bees, honeybees and other pollinators and are perfect for rock gardens, dry mixed beds and mass plantings. All phacelias are delightful and enchanting in low-water gardens. Select the species that is native to your region for greatest success.
Caution: The hairs on the stems and leaves may produce dermatitis in those who are sensitive. Wear long sleeves and gloves when working near phacelias.
California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
Native to dry slopes and in washes and canyons below 8,000 feet, from the San Francisco Bay Area to Southern California, Baja California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah and Arizona
These quotes from some in the nursery trade exemplify native buckwheat’s popularity among California gardeners: “candy for pollinators,” “the most popular nectar source for butterflies” and “when in doubt, use buckwheat.” This species of buckwheat is no slacker. California buckwheat attracts native bees, honeybees, butterflies and unusual bugs, including beneficial predatory insects. The bountiful seeds of California buckwheat are relished by birds. From the large clusters of dependable dainty white flowers in the summer to deep cinnamon-brown seed heads in fall, California buckwheat creates a sense of place in the California sun.
Additional native plant fun facts, tips and tricks you can use throughout the year as filler.
Don’t shy away from native perennials if you’re outside their hardiness zone, just treat them as you would any other annuals.For a moveable garden or a smaller space, plant California plants in containers to create the same West Coast looks.If you want to take things to another level, plant ground covers in containers or hanging baskets and let them be the focal point.For formal gardens cut your grasses down to 3 inches in the winter, this will help to keep them neat. In informal settings you can let your grasses be themselves. Planted in mass or as a single planting you can have as much or as little drama as you like.
Several of our California native plant beauties also make great cut flowers, including:
Most people do a large area like a front yard. If you have to do it slower then start with one or more water zones at a time. This is because California natives need MUCH LESS water than non-native plants. You'll want to plant in a dry, well-drained area away from your other summer irrigation. You will need to provide supplemental irrigation to the natives until they are mature (2-3 years). But even the supplemental irrigation is often less than what non-natives receive. For example, many drought tolerant natives do well following this rule of thumb: water once a week the first summer, then once every 2 weeks the second summer, once every 3 weeks the third summer, then once a month or not at all after that.