By Pat Pawlowski.
And just in case your nose doesn’t know, it’s about to get educated.
Some California native plants will cause your nose to go into raptures of delight. And a good way to sample plant fragrances is to take a hike! The San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the Audubon Society all offer hikes where you can tag along, sniffing all the way. You could also visit a native plant nursery.
Here are a few plants, large and small, you might be interested in. Many have finished blooming by now, but it is the leaves that have unique and exciting fragrances, so you can go out and take sniffs right away. Of course, scent may be affected by time of day, temperature, closeness to your nose, etc. But it’s always fun to look at plants, and if you start now, you will have plenty of time to decide which specimens you will want to add to your garden in the fall, such as:
Wooley Blue Curls (Trichostema lanatum): Ooh…deliciously minty
Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea): Nicely sagey and the hummers will thank you
Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii): Epitome of sageyness
Sage (Salvia spp.): The Wild West
Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa.): Strong mint fragrance and attractive to bees and butterflies
Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii): Lusciously minty
Catalina Perfume (Ribes viburnifolium): To experience fragrance, crush leaves (how mean!)
California Everlasting (Gnaphalium californicum): Sticky leaves smell like maple syrup; it’s a butterfly host
California sagebrush (Artemisia californica): Yippee-ki-yo!
Mexican Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) – Nice, nutty scent; attracts birds and beneficials
In addition, here are a few wild cards with fragrance that is, shall we say, “interesting.” Check ‘em out:
Bladderpod (Cleome isomeris): Leaves do not smell like bladders, but rather like…well, it’s hard to say
Quailbush (Atriplex lentiformis ssp. breweri): Like cats’ #1 (according to the Las Pilitas Nursery website)
Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina): Like my Uncle Pete’s cigar
There are so many other fragrant natives that I guess you should consult additional sources. Of course, there is the web (spiders optional), and also a book called Complete Garden Guide to the Native Shrubs of California by Glenn Keator. His descriptions of fragrant plants are interestingly worded. Also, the whole book is full of design information and includes a list of native shrub flowers that are beautifully scented.
Finally, remember that flowers, like beauty, are transitory, but the leaves of some natives can make your nose rejoice (or scrunch up) the whole year round.
Member Pat Pawlowski is a writer, lecturer, and garden consultant whose nose knows just what it likes.
Photo: Coyote Mint brightens gardens and attracts pollinators.