do i dare plant this?


Do any of you know how this plant would do in a garden setting? It’s thick-leaved yerba santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium) one of our local native species in the phacelia family.


I’ve seen it around in the wild areas of town for a while, and I’ve always liked its odd, stemmy growth habit, with a tuft of serrated gray-green leaves on the ends of straight, floppy or contorted branches. Here’s how it looks in one setting at Torrey Pines State Preserve. You can see all the ways the branches grow, including this big circular loop-de-loop.


Right now yerba santas all around town are in full bloom, bearing these delicate lavender-colored tubular blooms at the ends of their stems. I’m in love.

In most locations I’ve seen the plant growing four to six feet tall, and mounding six to eight feet in width. What I’ve heard some of the native plant people say about how it grows in the wilds–that it spreads widely via underground runners to develop big colonies–is the part that scares me. I think I’d like the effect of its cool stems growing up and through some low groundcovers, but I don’t want it to be the total monster, either.

It’s a plant that makes a statement, but I don’t want the statement to be that I was gullible enough to plant a totally rank plant into the garden!

11 thoughts on “do i dare plant this?”

  1. How funny. I also have a plant in the yard known as yerba santa. But, it’s Piper auritum. I guess that’s one vote for the use of latin names.

  2. Try it in a container. I have had some success with similar spreaders by making sure there is a dry margin of ground around it. It works here in the dez. You guys may get rain too frequently there.

  3. Jenny, I agree that the latin names com in handy for cases like this. Even within the California genus that this plant comes from there are several other species that are called “yerba santa”–all varieties of things called “sacred herbs” in Spanish.

    Bill, the container idea is a good one. I have a big can that I cut the bottom out of. That should be protection enough in case this plant crawls too far. The plant will survive from rain, so I wouldn’t be able to control it with watering. Anyway, I’m encouraged. I called my local nursery that’s a distributor for a wholesaler who propagates this. I hope they can get it for me. I’m not sure I want to try it from seed. (This is another of those really tricky species to germinate.)

  4. I’m with Bill. If you must have it, use a container. I’m not even sure I’d cut the bottom out. I find I spend 90% of my garden time on the 10% of the plants that are vigorous. Right now, I’m pulling poppies…

  5. You know I often welcome anything that grows with enthusiasm, provided there’s room enough for it to play. Those lovely flowers certainly make any extra effort for its care worthwhile. Do they have a fragrance?

    Fascinating foliage, too.

  6. I have had this plant growing here for two years. It’s the most aggressive, invasive plant I have ever seen. Gone under the sidewalk in several places, spread in all directions, up to forty feet.

    1. Yikes! I DID plant one a couple of years ago. I think the gophers took it out before it had a chance to get established. Maybe a good thing?

  7. I planted this wonderful plant in the back of my hill garden and it took a couple years to establish. This year it is sending up some lovely branches in new growth. So far it has not been invasive and I am not too worried about it. I LOVE this plant spirit and its wonderful soft leaves, wonderful smell – kinda like marshmallow. I was curious to see if others had it in their garden and was happy to see your post.

  8. We live in the Los Padres National Forest and bought a home with a side yard that has lots of pavers. The Thick Leaved Yerba-Santa plant was about 80 feet up our back slope. Within 3 years, it had traveled down the slope and it had invaded our paved side yard, lifting pavers and just overall making a mess of our beautiful yard. How do you kill this plant? As it travels, it lays runners 20, 30, in excess of 50 ft. underground and pushes up, overruns and strangles anything in it’s way. How do you kill this plant????

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