Natives are generally defined as plants that have evolved in a particular region or ecosystem and have not been introduced by human intervention. Endemic plants are those that occur both naturally and uniquely in a defined area and nowhere else.
A wide diversity of plant species native to California grow in coniferous forests, chaparral communities, grasslands, marshes, sandy dunes, and riparian corridors from cool coastal sites to hot inland valleys and mountainous terrain. For success growing natives, it’s best to provide a garden location similar to a species natural habitat: similar temperature range, sun exposure, garden soil, and available moisture.
Many, but not all, California natives are water thrifty, a valuable characteristic in our Mediterranean climate, but it is a fallacy that all are drought tolerant. In the garden, many species thrive only with supplemental irrigation. It is equally misleading to suppose that all natives are care-free since many require regular pruning, insect management, and replanting typical of non-native plants in any cultivated garden. Seasonal garden activities may be reversed from maintaining non-native plants since many California natives experience summer dormancy.
With a careful selection of California natives, it’s possible to create a casual cottage garden, a naturalistic setting, or a stylized formal landscape. While garden design may initially drive plant selection, perhaps the most important reason for planting California flora is providing a habitat for native fauna. Not only will native plants create a pleasing home landscape, but they appeal to birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, pollinators, and many other forms of wildlife as they provide food, shelter, and nesting sites.
Sonoma County Master Gardener information on natives includes:
- Why Plant Natives?
- Care of Native Plants (pdf)
- Flowering Native Shrubs
- Growing Native Plants (pdf)
- Native Groundcovers
- Native Grasses
- Native Perennials
- Native Shrubs for Foliage
- Native Trees
- Natives for a Hedge Row
- Natives for the Garden
- Planting Under Oaks
- Tips & Tricks for Natives
Other native plant resources:
- California Native Plant Link Exchanges
- California Native Plant Society
- CalFlora searchable wild California plant database
- Calscape Garden Planner
- Bay Area native plants to support butterflies & moth's lifecycles (prepared by Douglas Tallamy)
Recommended reading on native plants:
- Bornstein, Fross, O’Brien, California Native Plants for the Garden, 2005.
- Keator, Glenn, Complete Garden Guide to the Native Perennials of California, 1990.
- Keator, Glenn, Complete Garden Guide to the Native Shrubs of California, 1994.
- Lowry, Judith Larner, Gardening with a Wild Heart, 1999.
- Smith, M. Nevin, Native Treasures, 2006.
- Tallamy, Douglas W., Bringing Nature Home, 2020