By Clayton Tschudy.
In coastal San Diego, we are blessed with several shrubs from the daisy family (Asteraceae) that bloom late in the calendar year without irrigation. These late bloomers make their big moves after most other shrubs are done, and are critical nectar plants for late season butterflies and native bees. Or, are they early bloomers, since October through December is often the beginning of our rainy season? Either way, they are guaranteed excellent pollination because they have so little floral competition in the otherwise summer-dormant natural landscape. And, these perennial shrubs can really be showstoppers in the drought-tolerant garden with virtually no care. This makes them workhorses for the difficult slope, or the back forty where you can’t afford to irrigate, but also sophisticated front garden specimens given the right treatment.
Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis)
Well known for its many mounding and ground cover selections, which are often less drought tolerant, the upright form makes an excellent seasonal specimen with striking bloom character. This species is dioecious, with male and female flowers found on separate plants. The male selections, like ‘Pigeon Point’, are not showy in bloom. Female forms turn into a plethora of giant, white fluff balls in late summer to early fall. It is utterly unique and captivating when in seed, particularly if you have room to mass several at the back of your garden. Upright coyote brush needs a hard prune in January to keep a neat/rounded form.
Chaparral Broom (Baccharis sarothroides)
This close relative to coyote brush is nearly leafless, and survives via its photosynthetic stems. It is adapted to a variety of soil conditions and is one of the few plant species that can be found naturally both on the coast and in our local deserts. Chaparral broom shares the bloom potential of its canine cousin, but also has a cleaner, nearly succulent appearance. Try this for an extraordinary effect: cut it down to the ground in late winter, and witness a lush regrowth of chartreuse, vertical stems in the spring. When massed, this effect can be jaw-dropping.
Menzie’s Goldenbush (Isocoma menziesii)
It’s everywhere. You know it even if you think you don’t, because you’ve seen it on every hillside, and growing from cracks in the sidewalk. We often don’t treasure the tireless survivors, but this one deserves your attention for its effortless bloom in every possible garden condition. About the size of our native sages and with a similar form, the flowers look like masses of tall yarrow from a distance. Cut it hard after it seeds to maintain good form. And that’s it.
Palmer’s Goldenbush (Ericameria palmeri)
This beauty is a large, loosely woody shrub up to eight feet tall, similar in form to coyote brush, and needs the same hard winter cut to keep it round. Or, you can train it up to stay large with good form. It is fairly nondescript for most of the year, but then in fall suddenly erupts into canary yellow blossoms from head to foot! Really, why aren’t all of you already growing this? Palmer’s goldenbush is one of those crazy-beautiful, easy natives that nobody has heard of, but they are legion. Go get one!
Clayton Tschudy is a local botanist and owner of CJT Ecologics. He frequently leads educational hikes and gives presentations on native flora and habitat gardening.