Ceanothus season is here in force. One of the local stars is a species with the unfortunate common name of “warty-stem ceanothus.” Neither is its Latin name of Ceanothus verrucosus especially glamorous. But hopefully you can see how cool a plant it is in these photos.
If my weekday desk had a window I’d look out on a the head of a little canyon that’s a mixture of introduced eucalyptus and a partially restored snippet of coastal sage scrub habitat. A couple hundred yards away in the re-wilded area are several of these ceanothus that have been glowing white for the last month with their clouds of flowers.
Last November these ceanothus were stemmy but gracefully-branched shrubs. Adapted to survival for many months without water its leaves are tiny and sparse. Still you could easily walk past them.
If you stopped to look at the plant, you’d easily see these interesting “warts” that give the plant its name. The warts are actually leaf-bases (stipules) that remain on the branches long after the leaves are gone.
By January the formerly sparse looking plants were responding to the rains with swelling flower buds.
And a month later the plants were going at it big time…
California could be the evolutionary epicenter of the genus ceanothus. Of the approximately 52 ceanothus species in the US, 46 are found here. Of those 46 about 38 occur only here.
That’s a lot of competition for precious space and water in a nursery, but several native California specialists in southern California offer this plant. You can see that this could be a choice addition to a dry garden where you want an airy, graceful shrub that’s 7-8 feet tall and about 10 feet across. As I struggle with ceanothus from outside my immediate area, I keep thinking I should use more selections that are better suited to what I have to offer them.
I love this plant, warts and all. But people in the end seem to buy the name and the image as much as they buy the plant. Just rebrand the plant with a friendlier (but more trite) horticultural name like “Cloud Blossom Lilac” and just stand back as everyone snaps it up.