Achillea millefolium—yarrow. Similar to non-native species and hybrids, native California yarrow blooms in white and occasionally pink (a Channel Island native). It is far more vigorous than popular hybrids and may be invasive in any soil when not maintained and divided regularly. Summer irrigation and deadheading encourage a long bloom period and keeps this yarrow evergreen but will also promote excessive growth. Feather-like foliage varies from gray to bright green and hugs the ground while flower stems may reach up to 2 ft.
Aquilegia formosa—western columbine. Native to moist woodlands, this summer bloomer will not survive drought but must receive some summer water; heavy, amended soils are best. Plants are larger than better-known non-natives, usually 2-4 ft. in height and 2 ft. wide, an ample-sized hummingbird attraction with red and yellow flowers; bloom is heaviest in full sun. When not deadheaded, blossom heads feed many small birds and drop seeds that self-sow, promoting continued evergreen or semi-evergreen presence in the garden.
Arabis blepharophylla—California rockcress. A charming, low, evergreen plant native to rocky sites near the coast, rockcress can be planted in sun or light shade where there is coastal influence with some summer water; inland conditions are difficult—more shade and irrigation are needed. Low rosettes of small green foliage boast pinkish rose flowers on short stems that attract butterflies in spring. Plants are often short-lived but are deer resistant.
Armeria maritima—sea thrift. At home on sand dunes and sun-drenched, wind-blown coastal bluffs, foot-wide, grassy mounds with 6-in. leaves carry balls of purplish pink blossoms on short stems in spring and sporadically throughout the year. Good drainage is a must; occasional summer water maintains year-round bright appearance. Tufts may be divided and re-planted after several years when they die back in the center.
Asarum caudatum—wild ginger. Well-loved as a groundcover under redwoods and in fog-shrouded or shaded gardens, wild ginger has 4-7-in. wide, heart-shaped foliage that forms a fairly drought-tolerant, lush, glossy, deer-resistant carpet. When stressed from heat or lack of rain, plants rejuvenate easily with supplemental water. Brownish purple blossoms in late winter to spring rarely reach above foliage. Colonies form as underground stems spread, albeit slowly.
Asclepias speciosa—showy milkweed. Several native milkweeds feed monarchs and other butterflies and bees with nectar in summer sun before lying dormant underground in winter. Work horses rather than beauty queens, milkweeds are critical components of habitat gardens. Clusters of small, star-shaped pink and white flowers form loose balls that stand out from large, grayish green, arrow-shaped leaves on 3-4 ft. stems. Seeds with silky plumes are spread by wind; plants increase as underground rhizomes wander but spread is limited in dry conditions. Nectar feeds many pollinators; monarch larvae feed only on milkweed leaves, stems, and blossoms. Asclepias fascicularis (narrow-leaved milkweed), a monarch favorite with lavender and white flowers, spreads more freely.
Aster [syn. Symphyotrichum] chilensis—coast aster. This perky, evergreen perennial with lavender flowers and yellow central disks can spread rapaciously and take over neighboring plants; it is suitable only for informal gardens with space for wide colonies. Stems up to 3 ft. may stand erect or sprawl in sun or part shade. ‘Point Saint George,’ which spreads less aggressively as a 4-6-in. groundcover, is easier to maintain, may be mowed and walked on. It spreads quickly once established in sun or part shade in any soil, faster when irrigated. Birds, moths, butterflies, and bees are attracted from summer to autumn to the daisy-like blossoms.
Cynoglossum grande—western hound’s tongue. Similar to cottage-garden forget-me-nots, hound’s tongue has low clumps of deep green, tongue-shaped leaves and tiny blue flowers carried on expanding 1-2 ft. tall stems. After die-back in summer, spent foliage may be cleared; it sprouts again in moist soil in late winter/very early spring. Plants adapt easily to a woodland or semi-shaded site in average soil conditions and require no irrigation. If spent flower stalks are not removed, self-sowing occurs from dropped seeds.
Epilobium spp. [syn. Zauschneria]—California fuchsias. Named for similarity of blossoms to the Fuchsia genus, California fuchsia blooms in late summer into fall, a welcome sight in gardens and to hummingbirds, numerous butterflies, and other pollinators. Most bear orange-to-red flowers and grayish leaves, develop loose, arching stems 6 -24 in. high, and spread wide via rhizomes. Some varieties may remain evergreen but most die back in winter when they can be cut to the ground during dormancy, which promotes vigorous spring growth. Plants adapt to nearly any soil in sun or part shade but require good drainage and occasional summer water.
Erigeron glaucus—seaside daisy. Closely related to asters, evergreen clumps of these pale purple daisies with yellow centers are common on coastal bluffs. Named cultivars such as ‘Sea Breeze,’ and ‘Wayne Roderick’ flaunt slightly larger blossoms than the species. Long bloom periods from winter through summer are extended by deadheading and irrigating. All require fast-draining soil and protection from hot sun. They may not succeed in hot microclimates.
Eriogonum spp.—buckwheats. Most buckwheats are subshrubs—evergreen perennials that develop woody stems from the base. They may be pruned to shape when young or replaced after several years when they become rangy. Numerous species with flat-headed or round blossoms attract birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators spring-fall. Selections may be mere inches to 3-4 ft. tall and wide with flowers in shades of yellow, pink, or red, closely crowded or sparsely branched. Most have grayish foliage; all require full sun and fast-draining soil. Little to no supplemental water is needed, though appearance is more attractive with occasional irrigation.
Eschscholzia californica—California poppy. Easily recognized and loved far beyond California, native poppies may be quite variable despite their signature orange appearance. Yellow blossoms are fairly common but garden forms, often hybridized, may be pink, red, or cream, sometimes with double blossoms. Sturdy orange taproots overwinter and promote continued presence of ferny, bluish foliage for many years; exploding seed pods may cause near invasiveness. Poppies are completely drought-resistant but summer water extends bloom.
Grindelia spp.—gum plants. Of the several evergreen gum plants bearing bright yellow, daisy-like flowers, the low-spreading, Grindelia stricta var. platyphylla, is preferred most often for home gardens. Flowers begin as round, green buds containing a small mass of gummy, white resin that gives them their common name; all attract bees and butterflies in sun to part shade. A specialized cultivar, ‘Mendocino,’ is favored. Low-spreading with 8-in. tall rambling stems, ‘Mendocino’ adapts to any soil but looks best where there is coastal influence with some summer water; it struggles in hot climates. Taller species 1-2 ft. tall or taller are more drought-tolerant. All benefit from being cut back after flowering; all are considered deer-resistant.
Heuchera spp.—alum roots, coral bells. Dozens of native heuchera species and hybrids attract hummingbirds and butterflies and require little to no summer water in part shade or shade in mild areas. When purchasing plants, it is important to note whether they thrive in cool-moist or warmer and drier climates. Most prefer protection from hot summer sun and occasional water. ‘Old La Rochette’ is a popular native with nearly continuous spring-summer production of small pink bells on foot-tall stalks. Clumps of hairy, bright green, lobed foliage create colonies over time in nearly any soil and are completely drought-tolerant in shade.
Iris douglasiana—Douglas iris. This coastal, evergreen species flowers in pale to deep purple in spring and reseeds readily, encouraged with occasional water. A wide palette of richer colors—butter yellow, bright white, red-violet, deep orange—characterize hybrids of this and other native species and are known as Pacific Coast irises. Grasslike clusters spread by rhizomes and are best divided and re-planted fall-midwinter in fast-draining soil in sun or light shade inland. Soggy conditions in hot summers are not tolerated.
Lepechinia fragrans—pitcher sage. A relative of the Salvia genus—the better-known sages—lepechinia is similar in many ways. Its most notable features are the nearly tubular, showy, two-lipped, purplish or magenta blossoms and a strong sage-like odor of arrow-shaped, felted, semi-evergreen, grayish green foliage. Foot-long spikes atop 4-5 ft. stalks are nearly covered with flowers summer and autumn and draw hummingbirds, moths, and butterflies. Stalks should be cut back to the woody base after flowering. Planted in sun or partial shade in nearly any soil with good drainage, lepechinia requires irrigation until established then is nearly completely drought-tolerant. More shrubby species, up to 8 ft. tall and half as wide, are also available.
Lessingia [syn. Corethrogyne] filaginifolia ‘Silver Carpet’ (silver carpet California aster). ‘Silver Carpet’ is the best performing plant in the genus, as long as it is given excellent drainage and little or no water once established. Its mat-like habit is suitable for planting in small areas or on a slope or hillside in rocky soil in full sun to part shade. In summer, lavender, daisy-like flowers with yellow centers stand above an evergreen, 1-6-in. high carpet of wooly, silvery foliage that vigorously creeps 4-8 ft. wide. Along with birds and bees, butterflies are attracted.
Lupinus spp.—lupines. Though only a few species are readily available in nurseries, over a hundred natives and hybrids with attractive palmately divided evergreen leaves and spikes of pea-like flowers beckon birds, butterflies, moths, and bees. Most lupines resent root disturbance and must be transplanted carefully; growing from seed is a favorable alternative; roots fix their own nitrogen. Lupinus albifrons, silver bush lupine, grows 3-5 ft. tall and wide with purple spring flowers. It takes full sun, good drainage, little to no water, and grows best in poor soil. A prostrate form, L. albifrons var. collinus, develops a foot-wide mat with foot-tall blue flowers.
Mimulus spp. (syn. Diplacus)—bush or sticky monkeyflowers. Because this 2-3 ft. flowering, semi-evergreen perennial develops a woody base it is considered a subshrub. Of the many native species, the named hybrids are showiest and most commonly available in nurseries. Native to coastal areas, monkeyflowers thrive in both partial shade and full sun, requiring little moisture but excellent winter drainage in nearly any soil. Deep green, sticky leaves fill thin stems that tend to flop as they elongate. To encourage density, prune once or twice annually in stages after bloom just above a pair of buds, never into bare wood. Tubular, lobed flowers nearly cover plants spring-summer in white, orange, yellow or red. Many showy hybrid cultivars are bi-colored. Often short-lived, plants may need to be replaced after a few years.
Monardella villosa—coyote mint. Minty fragrance from grayish green foliage gives this low spreading evergreen perennial its name. Technically a subshrub with a woody base, monardella slowly spreads its thin, loose stems about 1 ft. high and wide, topped with puffs of lavender-pink blossoms. Light shearing in fall or winter improves appearance, especially in hot microclimates where it may struggle unless planted in part shade. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the lavender-pink flowers in sunny sites; flowering varies in different microclimates, as early as spring or not until mid-to-late summer. Summer irrigation once or twice monthly maintains vigor; excellent drainage is required in nearly any soil.
Penstemon heterophyllus—foothill penstemon. Of the many varied native penstemons, some are too fussy for most garden situations and do not thrive in rich, moist soil. Foothill penstemon adapts fairly easily, flowers repeatedly when trimmed, attracts birds, bees, and butterflies in full sun. Plants survive best when given good drainage and little summer water. Stems reach 1-3 ft. tall from a somewhat sprawling, mounded, nearly mat-like, evergreen base and may be cut back in winter to renew, although leaving seed stalks will result in some self-sowing. Penstemon azureus has similar blue tubular flowers but a woodier base; P. centranthifolius, scarlet flowers; P. spectabilis, heavy blossoming in shades of lavender blue.
Phacelia californica—rock phacelia, scorpion weed. Named for the unfurling fiddleneck blossoms that resemble a scorpion’s tail, this one of many phacelias is a food source for bees and butterflies, particularly the mission blue butterfly. Evergreen, crinkled, silvery, fuzzy foliage with tiny hairs forms foot-wide, mat-like clumps that produce purplish pink flowers on stout stems 1-2 ft. tall in spring, sometimes into fall. Loved as a rock-garden plant in sun or part shade, California phacelia requires good drainage and looks best with occasional summer irrigation. Plants do best in coastal conditions and require shade inland. Usually short-lived, self-sowing ensures continued appearance in the garden.
Ranunculus californicus—California buttercup. This buttercup is one of the earliest blooming spring wildflowers throughout the state, sprouting from dormant roots with the onset of winter rains and lasting until mid-spring. The effect of inch-wide, deep yellow blossoms is outstanding in mass plantings in sun to part shade in nearly any soil in natural garden settings. Buttercups risk root rot when given summer water. Wiry stems hold sparse bright green foliage; seeds are edible but all other flower parts are toxic, although bees and butterflies are drawn to nectar. Renew plantings by removing old stems and allowing self-sowing. If plants are not available from nurseries, seed can be purchased for this easy-growing species.
Romneya coulteri—matilija poppy. It is no wonder some gardeners call this poppy the fried egg plant. Spectacular in bloom, its 6-10 in. wide, crinkly white petals open around a central tuft of bright yellow stamens. Complete drought tolerance is appealing in all but small gardens where it is difficult to accommodate the 6-12 ft. tall stems that expand in clumps on traveling underground stems. After a long summer bloom period, stems should be cut low to the ground for best appearance of new spring growth. New plants and divisions can be difficult to transplant and become established; they resent excess water. Plant in sun or partial shade in any well-drained soil. Flowers produce no nectar but bees are attracted to pollen. Deer stay away.
Rudbeckia californica—California coneflower. Moist meadows and seeps are natural homes of this mid-to-late-summer bloomer that expands vigorously to form colonies. Semi-deciduous, large-leaved foliage is a bit rougher-looking than on better known coneflower hybrids. Most leaves sprout near the base with a few occurring along the 3-5 ft. tall stems that often sprout in multiples. Bees and butterflies are drawn to the 2-3 in. wide, sunflower-like flowers with protruding central greenish brown centers. Yellow floral rays are re-flexed backwards. Deadheading or picking for cut flowers encourages repeat bloom, although birds are drawn to seeds from spent blossoms. Some afternoon shade lessens a bedraggled appearance.
Salvia spathacea—hummingbird sage. This hummingbird magnet is aptly named for the many birds seeking nectar from whorls of rose-pink or magenta flowers on 2-3 ft. long stems mid-late-spring or later. Rhizomes creep along underground and give rise to 2-3 ft. stems that may stand upright or sprawl, creating a ground cover with 6-10 in. long textured, arrow-shaped leaves. Native to sparsely wooded areas, this salvia prefers rich soil and partial shade, although it thrives in nearly any soil and in full sun. Occasional waterings extend bloom and appearance of foliage. Stems may be pulled out or cut back after blossoms turn brown and unsightly.
Salvia spp.—sages. Some of the most popular and garden-worthy native sages are woody-based shrubs, but are often included among herbaceous perennials. The lowest growers—those 1-2 ft. high—are Salvia ‘Bees’ Bliss’ and S. leucophylla ‘Point Sal.’ Other evergreen favorites are cultivars of S. clevelandii, 3-5 ft. high and sprawling wider. All have whorled, fragrant flowers in shades of lavender blue in spring with nectar and seeds that attract birds, moths, butterflies, and other pollinators. These sun-loving sages are amenable to nearly any fast-draining dry soil, and look best with occasional summer water and annual pruning. S. sonomensis ‘Mrs. Beard,’ a hybrid of S. sonomensis and S. mellifera, is classified as a perennial but can be finicky. ‘Mrs. Beard’ resents accumulated moisture and crowding and is best only in small areas.
Sidalcea malviflora—checkerbloom. Many variations are found among this group of hollyhock-like bloomers. Depending on their wild origins, selections may be ground-hugging or up to 3 ft. tall with deep green or bright glossy leaves; spring- or summer-blooming, deciduous or evergreen; with pale, deep, or purplish pink flowers 1-in. wide or larger. Most bloom in spring, repeat if deadheaded, then go dormant during hot months in late summer and fall until winter rains begin. Check for characteristics when purchasing seed or nursery plants. All are fairly fast-growing in full sun or part shade, adapt to nearly any soil but bloom heaviest in rich loam, and prefer being mostly dry in summer. Butterflies, native bees, and other pollinators visit blossoms.
Solidago californica—California goldenrod. Loved for masses of yellow floral wands in late summer and fall, this allergy-free bloomer is heavily visited by numerous bees, butterflies, moths, and other pollinators. Because plants spread themselves via underground rhizomes, goldenrods should be sited where they will not become intrusive. They adapt to nearly any soil in sun or light shade. Provide some summer irrigation for best appearance, but be aware that extra irrigation promotes aggressiveness. Considered semi-evergreen, the 2-5 ft. leafy floral stalks can be cut back after flowering to remove unsightly spent foliage and unwanted fuzzy seeds.
Sphaeralcea ambigua—apricot mallow. A short, woody base that produces 1-3 ft. long, wispy flower stems behaves more like an evergreen perennial and is usually treated as such in gardens. Rounded, felty leaves are upstaged by apricot-orange, hibiscus-like flowers up to 2 in. wide on long wands in spring, often for months afterward when given periodic waterings. Flowers attract butterflies and other pollinators. Regular summer irrigation is needed after planting for this mallow to become well established. Hard pruning is needed after blossoming by cutting stems down to 1 ft. or less from the ground. Fast-draining, very loose or sandy soil in full sun is also needed; heavy soil, cool microclimates, and coastal influence should be avoided.
Vancouveria spp.—inside-out flowers. Named for the unusual reflexed petals, these low-growing, mostly deciduous perennials are appreciated mostly for slowly expanding clumps of ivy-like foliage. Useful in semi-shaded, low-water sites—commonly in rock gardens—the unique flowers appear in spring carried along wiry stems. Small blossoms are red, white, or yellow, depending on species, which vary from 6-in. tall tufts to more than 12 in. All are deer resistant.
Verbena lilacina ‘De La Mina’—lilac verbena. Heaviest bloom of lavender-blue, 1-in. flower clusters occurs in spring, less prolifically year-round with occasional water. Bright green, lacy foliage fills 3-ft. evergreen clumps that attract butterflies and other pollinators. Good drainage is needed in any soil, especially in clay; loam is preferred. Inland sites need part shade, sun closer to the coast. Shear after summer bloom to remove spent flowers and encourage dense growth.