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GOING WILD WITH NATIVES: California Natives In Favorite Colors - Yellow & Purple

By Susan Lewitt, for Let’s Talk Plants! June 2022.

California Natives in My Favorite Colors - Yellow and Purple

Many people turn away when they hear the words “California native plants.” They are unaware of the vast variety of species available to beautify their yards and how important they are in protecting biodiversity. There are hundreds of choices in cultivation for San Diego and here are some lovely ones, two in yellow and one in purple to entice you with their charm:

Great Valley Gumweed, photo by Keir Morse.

Great Valley Gumweed, Photo courtesy of Calscape.

Great Valley Gumweed, Grindelia camporum, occurs naturally in a widespread area including Baja, California, and all the way north past San Francisco, almost as far as Redding, California. Woodlands and chaparral are among the habitats in which it occurs.

The Great Valley Gumweed is hardy and very easy to grow with at most a once-a-month summer watering once established. It does well in full sun with low moisture and slow medium or fast soil drainage and can even tolerate some salt in the soil. This perennial herb will show off its flowers in spring, summer, and fall, but may be semi-deciduous during the summer. It resists deer and is used in butterfly gardens.

Some of the many companion plants that work with it are native grasses, Penstemon sp., Lupines, Lupinus sp., Poppies, Eschscholzia or Papaver sp., and various native cacti and succulents. Plants in this genus attract many insects including the Common Buckeye and Great Copper butterflies. Besides being a major attractor of pollinators, this plant was also used by Indigenous Native Californians for medicinal purposes. This plant is widely available in many nurseries. Some nurseries carry a low growing species of Grindelia, Grindelia stricta, that works great as a ground cover.

California Buttercup, photo by Keir Morse.

California Buttercup, photos above by Lee Gordon.

If you hold a buttercup under your chin, will you see a golden reflection on your skin?

California Buttercup, Ranunculus californicus, a versatile perennial herb, occurs in a wide range from Baja California all the way into Oregon, plus some Pacific Coast islands, but does not occur in the deserts. There are two different varieties, one (var. californicus) which is widespread, and another (var. cuneatus) which behaves like a ground cover, found mostly on the north-central coast.

The more prominent variety grows in the form of a fountain up to a little over two feet tall and about six feet wide. It is a quick grower and tolerates part shade to full sun with moderate to low moisture. The soil can be anywhere from slow to fast draining. Its shiny yellow flowers appear in the winter and spring. Afterwards this plant has a summer dormancy period. At this point, it should be cut to the ground. Once established this very easy to care for plant should not get summer watering.

California Buttercup flowers attract a diversity of insects including native bees making it perfect for a bee garden. Use this plant as a border along with native annuals and bulbs. Blue-eyed grass, Shooting Stars, Wooly Blue Curls and other low, to no summer water natives, work well as companions for this species. Buttercup may be found in many of the native plant nurseries.

Thickleaf Yerba Santa, photos here courtesy of Calscape.

Thickleaf Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon crassifolium, is a true California native occurring only in California from south of Bakersfield to the Mexican border. Coastal and inland hills, as well as mountains under 6,000 feet, are some habitats where it is found. It grows in slopes, washes, mesas, and in shrubland area bluffs. This plant is also found in pinion-juniper woodlands.

This shrub can be as tall as ten feet and as wide as six feet, but may be as small as three feet by three feet when mature. It comes in two varieties which are very much alike. It is a fast to moderate grower and may be evergreen or summer deciduous. It takes full sun, low moisture, and, once established, only a once-a-month summer watering is needed. It does well with Scrub Oaks, Manzanitas, Coyote Brush, Laurel Sumac, Chaparral Mallow, Bladderpod, Toyon, and Lemonadeberry. The pleasingly fragrant purple flowers come out in the spring attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, and other insects, allowing this plant to be a valuable addition to butterfly and bee gardens. In addition, it has been used as hedges. It is a very easy to grow native plant and is available in about ten nurseries.

It is always a good idea to call the nurseries to verify their stock, especially if you want just a few specific plants. If you want to go to the nurseries to experience what they have, and you are ready to buy plants, have alternate plants in mind, or ask the staff for recommendations.

These easy to grow California native plants will bring color to your garden in flower petals and on pollinator’s wings. Please make room for them in your heart and in your landscaping to support biodiversity.


Susan Lewitt is a member of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), participating in their Native Gardening Committee, and their Conservation Committee.


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