California Native Plants

By: Richard Flowers, ACCNP Green Thumb Nursery- Ventura

October is the best time to plant California native plants. The reason for this way of thinking is explained. The climate in which we live in is considered to be Mediterranean.  Our weather and conditions are similar to these certain areas of the world, namely:  Chile, Peru, Southwest and Southern Australia, the cape portion of South Africa, and where the Mediterranean Sea is (Spain, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and so forth). Their climate like ours, have winters that are moist and cool and the summers are warm to hot and dry. Rainfall typically occurs late fall to early spring but it is often erratic and unpredictable at times. This type of climate is characterized by the reoccurrence of drought cycles that can last for many years. Other times you can have deluges of heavy rain for a period of time; this is a repetitive cycle. The summer dry season often extends from May-November. With all that said, it is best to plant California natives during the fall to take advantage of the cool, rainy season and have the plant get established before the long, hot, and dry summer.

Today I want to acquaint with you several noteworthy California native plants that are useful in many regards. The following plants are functional in creating a California endemic garden that provides wildlife, low maintenance, beauty, and provides a naturalistic setting to ones yard. Many are used as erosion control, privacy screens, trees, low borders, or fillers in your garden. Most of these plants have a rich history with native people in regards to invaluable uses (medicinally and/ or edible). Whether they
show their hallmarks and beliefs as being used in the past by native people or explorers, it truly adds another bit of fascinating information about the selected plants. These selections can also be used as landscaping subjects, pollen producers, bird, and butterfly magnets.

Blue Elderberry or Mexican Elderberry- Sambucus mexicana- This large shrub or small tree grows up to 20 feet high and has small white flower clusters.The fruit is a blue colored berry that look like grape clusters. Indians found this plant to be very versatile. A tea was made from the blossoms for fever and rashes. The wood from the Elderberry was used to make bows and musical instruments. The fruit is also used to make jams,
wine, and pies. The substance in the Elderberry is often used to help boost the immune system. For landscaping try using Blue Elderberry as a background tree.

Lemonade Berry- Rhus integrifolia- This evergreen shrubs grows 3 to10 feet tall and is very desirable as a garden plant being used as a screen or as a specimen. Lemonade Berry has flattened reddish berries covered with sticky bumps and short hairs. A cooling but bitter drink can be made from the fruits.

California Sage Brush- Artemesia californica – If you ever venture out in the coastal foothills and see a grayish plant, you are probably seeing this one. California Sage Brush is not a sage at all but settlers who first saw it thought it looked like one hence the common name stuck with it, but rather it is related to the daisy plants ( Feverfew, Marguerite Daisy, Mums). Settlers called this plant “Cowboy’s Cologne” because the leaves have a notable clean and aromatic fragrance.The Spanish Californians called this plant the remedy to all ills ( a tea for fever, as a wash for wounds, and as a repellent
for fleas, the smoke of burning it was used for removing skunk odor). You can also use a piece of Sagebrush and gently slap it around your body to help ward off misquotes.  California Sage Brush grows 3 to 4 foot high, prefers, full sun, and little or no water after established.

Mugwort– Artemisia douglasiana- California Mugwort is another native related to the Daisy Family. Mugwort belongs to streambanks (a riparian plant). It has the reputation of removing the ill effects of Poison Oak if you rub the juices form the leaves on the area as soon as possible. Best to harvest the leaves during the spring time. Mugwort is also used as a relaxant and pain reliving spasms. You can make a hot tea that helps drive
away the common cold. The tired old leaves of Mugwort can also be used as an insect repellent.  This perennial herb has erect stems that reach 3 to 6 feet high and comes up in colonies. Thrives in a shaded area or with some sun.

California Yarrow- Achillea millefolium- A perennial that grows 1-2 feet tall and has strong scented leaves that are fern-like in structure. When in bloom, it has numerous small flower daisy heads in flat clusters at the end of the stems. The blossoms of Yarrow attract butterflies. Spanish Californians used the leaves stepped in hot water for cuts and bruises. Many cultivated forms are available with different flower colors. A good
idea is to use it in dry rock garden.

California Wild Rose- Rosa californica- This native rose grows 3 to10 feet high. The individual roses are single flowers with a classic rose fragrance. You usually see them in bloom April to July. The red berry-like fruit are called hips and are high in vitamin C. You can use the rose hips to make jam or tea.

Catalina Cherry-Prunus ilicifolia lyonii- An evergreen shrub that grows from 8 to 30 feet tall. The purplish black fruit resembles a cherry. Catalina Cherry has feathery flowers that are small and white. Blossoms occur form March to May. The bark from cherries isused to make a cough suppressant. Great in the garden for a screen or tree.

Toyon- Heteromeles arbutifolia- Toyon could either be a large shrub or small tree from 6 to 25 feet tall depending on how you decide to prune it. Flowering occurs in June and July and the large clusters of red berries come on toward the end of the year being an excellent bird attractor. The berry resembles something like a small apple and is sweet and spicy or nutty. Some people mix the aged berries in with cereal. Try using Toyon in
the landscape as a patio tree.

Sage- Salvia apiana- White Sage grows 3 to 6 feet tall with erect branches and aromatic leaves that are a very light gray almost appearing white, hence the common name. It produces pale lavender flowers from April to June. The species name (apiana-apios) refers to bees and the honey made from the flowers is clear and superfine. Use in the garden with Rosemary and Lavender. Many people use White Sage for purification and incense .

Many other native sages are worth considering and most of them have antibacterial, insecticidal, fungicidal properties. One such sage can be used in Thanksgiving turkey stuffing for its antibacterial properties is called Purple Sage (Salvia leucophyla).  Another sage called Black Sage ( Salvia melifera) is used as a remedy for pain, when you soak your feet in the juices. 

Woolly Blue Curls- Trichostema lanatum- The 1 inch long flowers are clothed in a violet wool.This perennial grows 2 to 5 feet high. Early Californians made a liniment from the leaves for bruises.

Manzanita- Arctostaphylos- Plants in this family are related to the Azalea and Blue Berry. Some types of Manzanitas are ground covers, while other types are medium sized shrubs, and still others are trees. They all have attractive chocolate colored stems and picturesque branching. The flower is urn shaped and is white to pink tinged in color. The fruit resembles a small apple but more berrylike with a mealy pulp. Manzanita- in Spanish means Mansana- which means Apple. Manzanita bears small red apple like
fruit that tastes sour. Native people use Manzanita to make a tea and ripe fruit used to make a jelly. Many selections of Manzanita are available. Excellent to be used on slopes and banks.

Ceanothus – Commonly called California Lilac or Mountain Lilac, these diverse plants include selections that are ground covers, medium-sized shrubs, and tree-like forms. Most bear blue to purple-blue flowers. A local native variety, Big Pod Mountain Lilac grows really tall and is often used to make a soap with the flowers and or berries to cleansers one self.

I encourage you to drop by your favorite Green Thumb Nursery and seek out California natives because fall is the ideal time to plant these lovely garden treasures.

Please note:The above statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease or reaction they may or may not cause.

 

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