Tag Archives: Escholzia californica

california native plant week, the cartoon

Here’s a little cartoon I whipped up this morning on Xtranormal, the site that lets you create and distribute your own animations without needing to really know what you’re doing. (When it comes to CGI, that pretty much describes me…)

It’s pretty much California Native Plant Week meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets Hello Kitty. And it’s a test of how well voice synthesis can deal with some common (and less common) scientific names.

Pixar, my number is (619) 555-0213.

good book, cool trivia

I love a good book that surprises you.

When I was talking to a botanist a couple months ago and she recommended Oscar F. Clarke’s Flora of the Santa Ana River and Environs : with references to world botany, I was expecting the book to be a nicely assembled writeup of a watershed a couple of hours to the north. book coverAs such it’d be a good writeup of species I’m using to seeing in my area seen through the filter of someone working in the Los Angeles/Orange/Riverside County region of Southern California.

The volume, which the back cover says “represents a culmination of a lifetime of natural history study,” lives up to my expectation of being a useful guide for studying the plants of the area. But in addition it ends up being full of all sorts of interesting little details that breath life into what might otherwise be an inert textbook. It’s a rich book, not a dense one.

(Edit, July 13, 2010: In addition to Clarke, the book has three co-authors who should be named: Danielle Svehla, Greg Ballmer and Arlee Montalvo. Thanks to all of you for such a great book.)

For example, take some of the details in the writeup on our state flower, the California poppy. Last year I decided that I’d replace my plantings of the typical garden-orange strain with the lower-growing yellow strain that you find locally. The first season’s plants germinated and grew well. This year I was fully expecting the plants to return in profusion, coming up both from last season’s roots and the seeds that the plants dropped. Instead, most of this year’s crop were the big orange garden strain. What went wrong?

Clarke’s description of the species concludes with a sentence that helped answer my question: “Local native populations produce seeds that remain dormant until exposed to winter/spring conditions in combination with smoke or other unknown factors, while populations from central California and commercial cultivars produce non-dormant seeds.” While it didn’t explain what I need to do to get these plants to naturalize, it at least explained that I was battling against some unknown biological forces. I felt better in my failure.

The illustrations in many manuals can be pretty poor, but that’s not the case here. All throughout the book brims with illustrations. Here are some of them from the poppy description. You’ll find closeups of diagnostic plant features, usually with the graphic of a penny for size comparison’s sake. And often you’ll see shots of entire plants. Each writeup also has a little rectangle with a graphic of a human standing next to the plant being described. The idea is that the box will tell you a lot of details at a glances–stuff like size, growth habit, structure of the flower, number of petals, the position of the ovary, and whether the plant is an annual or lives longer. After having stared at the graphics for a couple weeks I still find it a tad confusing, but if you’re good at decoding images instead of reading about the details, this might be just the thing for you. Another minor grouse is that typeface is almost too small for aging eyes like mine. Of course a bigger type would probably result in a larger, less field-friendly manual. But those are minor quibbles.

Back to some plant trivia: About California sea lavender, Limonium californicum, shown here getting ready to bloom, Clarke observes that “The only native California member of this genus, [it] occurs primarily along the immediate coast. It is salt-tolerant (halophytic) and excretes salt on its broad, leathery leaves.” This detail is important to me as I decide which plants to target with the leftover water I’ve gathered from showering. Instead of tossing the soapy, shampoo-spiked water, I’ve been trying to figure which plants wouldn’t mind standing in the second-hand liquids. This species seemed happy enough with the water last year, and the writeup gives me extra confidence that I’m probably not doing it any harm.

(Edit, November 20, 2014: It was pointed out to me that the plant I purchased and depicted here as L. californicum is in reality the INVASIVE L. ramosissimum ssp. provinciale. Apparently even the reputable native nurseries get things wrong every now and then. I will be replacing this plant with something more responsible.)

Life in the Santa Ana River Basin these days is as much about invasive plants as it is native species. Accordingly the book has a number of exotics mixed into the 900 species it describes.

Telling grasses apart can be one of the more difficult things to do in the field. The detailed descriptions and photos help ease that chore. Here are the illustrations for panic veldgrass, Ehrharta erecta, a really bothersome weed in many gardens, mine included.

The weed descriptions, like those for the other plants, have little trivia bits woven through them. About panic veldtgrass you learn that “Livestock find it highly palatable, especially chickens and rabbits.” That sentence might not mean a lot to you, but it explained something I’ve been noticing.

Scooter, the cat, always shows a lot of interest when I’m in the garden, and is most helpful when I’m in the middle of pulling up weeds. And of all the weeds, this is the one that the cat really goes crazy over, often nudging, clawing, fighting you to get to munch on a few blades of the stuff.

Ah, yes, it all suddenly makes sense now: “livestock,” “highly palatable.” Eureka! So to Clarke’s list of chickens and rabbits we can add another species: cats.

So yes, this is a book with lots of information about plants of the Santa Ana region. But it ended up telling me as much about what’s going on in my garden. Very cool.

blue and orange (gbbd)

The color combination of blue and orange reminds me of noisy kiddie toys, of hard molded plastic waiting room chairs, of harshly lit 1970s fast-food restaurants trying unsuccessfully to look modern and friendly, or of jerseys for some high school football team. With two colors screaming at each other from opposite sides of a color wheel, it’s not a combination that brings me a lot of joy or peace.

But spring is here, and part of the far back yard has been blooming away. Its main colors are–you guessed it–blue and orange, mainly hot orange California poppies and sky blue flowers of nemophilia, baby blue eyes.

As much as I generally don’t love these colors together, it’s hard for me not to like this little zone of perky chaos.

Even the blue flowers against the brick hardscape reinforces the blue and orange (or blue and orange-red) colors.

But in a garden you hardly every have two strong flower colors alone. The varieties of leaf green serve as peacemakers, separating the warring colors and injecting their own shades into the garden color palette. Other secondary leaf or flower colors help the enrich the palette and keep the peace.

From some angles a softer blue-gray provides a background to the hot orange flowers. Here the foliage is the now-common chalk fingers, Senecio mandraliscae. It’s still a blue and orange theme, but the blue is less emphatic and the orange is permitted to dominate.

Little pockets of cool-colored plants provide areas of visual rest. Here’s baby blue eyes and chalk fingers with a dark purple-black aeonium. Pretend I cut back the dying narcissus foliage…

Some viewpoints let the cool colors predominate, with just a few punctuation marks of poppy orange. New into this photo are whitish-violet flowered black sage (Salvia mellifera), magenta freeway daisy (Osteospermum), with a softer orange-red desert mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) in the upper left corner.

I’ll have to rethink what the combination of blue and orange means to me, at least in the garden. These flowers may be gone in a couple of months. Maybe this a combination that I should embrace and associate with “spring.”

Spring is bringing lots of other colors combinations and other flowers to gardens around the world. Check them out at May Dreams Gardens, where Carol is hosting yet another Garden Boggers Bloom Day. Thank you, Carol!

some bloom day blooms from seed

Today’s Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day post features five plants I’ve raised from seed. I’d consider most of these in the “pretty easy” to “really easy” categories, both to germinate and to grow.

Three of these came up from seed that I sowed directly in the ground last October. I basically made little furrows a quarter to half an inch deep, sprinkled in some seed, and watered them in. I provided some supplemental watering the give them a head start, and then let the occasional rains take care of getting the plants established. Now that the rains are probably over for the year, I give them occasional sprinklings to keep them greener and flowering longer.


This first flower is Clarkia williamsonii, which is an annual native to inland Central California and Orange County. The Seedhunt listing described the flowers as being “gaudy.” A flower that’s gaudy? Sold!



The next images are of another clarkia, Clarkia rubicunda ssp. blasdalei, native to coastal Central California and El Dorado County. The first is a freshly opened flower, the second a flower that’s on it’s second day.

Until this morning I’d never noticed with these that the fresh flowers have the stamens all bundled up, and that they don’t extend until the flower is older, after the anthers bearing the pollen are starting to dry up. You can see the stamens as the white four-pronged appendage in the center of the second flower. It’s a clever way to prevent self-pollination and keep the gene pool diverse.


Another easy annual is baby blue eyes, Nemezia menziesii. What you see here is pretty scrappy and well could be the last flower of the season. Although this is an easy plant, I’ve decided that it’s better suited to a garden spot that might get more than bi-weekly supplemental water.


I’ve been showing lots of California poppies this spring. This will probably be the last of the garden pictures of the common orange form. The flowers this time of year are starting to get smaller as the plant’s water supplies dwindle. Also, here near the coast, the plants start to mildew heavily, leaving them crippled. (You can see some of that as the whitish background foliage.)



Better suited to coastal areas is this yellow coastal form of the species, Escholzia californica maritima. The strain I’ve got starts to flower later in the year than the typical orange form, but the plants show much better resistance to powdery mildew and will continue flowering later into the year.

Unlike the first three plants I showed, the poppies are perennial, so the same plants will continue to come back one year to the next. But one nice thing with all these species is that they’ll come back from seed as well.

Check out all the other Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day photos by checking out the listing at May Dreams Gardens.

trying to do the right thing

People often try to do the right thing, but along the way things somethings can go astray.


Saturday I was hiking one of our local urban canyons, San Clemente Canyon, with some other plant people. Like the rest of our local canyons, the plants you find there are a mix of native and introduced species. It’s not pristine, by any means, particularly when you consider that there’s a freeway a couple hundred feet behind where this photo was taken. But many of the really big plants are original to the canyon. You can get a good impression of what it was like two centuries ago, and hopefully that’ll motivate people to preserve what’s left.


During that walk everyone paused at a big clearing in the trees. It was a broad area that had been cleared of the invasive species and replanted with California plants. The project was financed by the city authority that maintains the sewer lines that run through the park. The maintenance roads eat into the native habitat, and for ever acre of road, the agency did an offset of five acres where they tried to mitigate the damage done by the bulldozed access routes. It’s a pretty reasonable way to deal with something a big city needs to operate–sewers–and at the same time improve the integrity of the semi-wild spaces.

After oohing and awing at the improvements, several of us noticed the poppies. California poppies, yes they were, but big, tall orange ones and not the petite yellow-to-gold ones that you typically find in the local environment.


A trip yesterday to Tecolote Canyon, another of the local urban canyons, revealed exactly the same thing in a restoration in progress there.

Technically, under current botanical systems, both versions of the poppy are considered the same species. But a quick look at them yells you that they’re as distinct from one another as cousins in a family, and they have genetics that evolved to making them appropriate for their different environments.

Take a look at their leaves, to start. The one on the left, below, is from the classic “California poppy” that people know (Escholzia californica). The one on the right is from the version found around here (at once classified as Escholzia californica maritima). The one on the left has less leaf surface, and to me looks like it’s evolved to deal with more drought.



Growing the two versions side-by side in the garden also reveals another difference. The regular California poppy develops powdery mildew this cool and humid time of year, whereas the local version seems to be close to unaffected.

So when you combine the plant size, flower size, flower color and the plants’ resistance to powdery mildew, you can see that the plants are quite different, and that the coastal version is probably better suited for living here. (In gardens the typical orange form is pretty rugged and no slouch, but its disease issues give it a disadvantage to being as spectacular as it might be in a drier region like the Antelpe Valley, the location of the California Poppy Preserve.)

Recon Native Plants, a San Diego wholesale native plant nursery that specializes in habitat restoration, takes extra pride in knowing exactly where their plants come from. Their site advertizes:

For example, an Artemisia californica from the Sierra Nevada and an Artemisia californica from coastal San Diego County are the same species, however they have evolved and adapted with different genetics for different environments. With the source identified, RECON Native Plants can tell our clients within 5 miles, the origin of each plant and the client can select the location most appropriate to their project.

It’s a good illustration of the difference between planting a garden and going the extra distance to effect a successful habitat restoration project. Many gardeners would prefer the splashier Antelope Valley version of the state flower, but that’s not the form that makes most sense for our local flora. Somewhere along the planning, implementation or sourcing of these two habitat restoration projects, something went a little astray. It’s a small detail, but it’s one that many people consider important as we try to keep our open spaces as wild as we can.

EDIT, April 7: Check out another post on two different poppy forms over at DryStoneGarden.

live, from california…

A plant’s name can often help give you a sense of place as to where the plant originated. I’ve been noticing recently that a lot of plants in the garden have species names that are either “californica” or “californicus.” I guess you can’t get much more California than that.


First is our ever-popular state flower, the California poppy, Escholzia californica. Most of you are familiar with this form, the bright orange one that comes in California wildflower mixes. I planted some seed a decade ago, and these come back every year, some where they did the previous year, some a few feet away. But for me they’re not the wandering world traveler that they are for some people. (They’ve naturalized in parts of Chile and are on the pest (but not invasive) species list for Tennessee.)



This year I’m also growing from seed the form of the species that you actually find in this part of the state, Escholzia californica maritima. The flowers are about a third of the size of the orange version, and are gold shading to a yellow-orange. My pampered plants are taking their time flowering, so these are images of plants in the winds, on the bluffs overlooking the ocean south of Del Mar. Once these start blooming, I’ll probably cut back the orange ones so the two strains don’t hybridize.


And here’s the classic orange poppy in the garden growing in the middle of a prostrate form of California sagebrush, Artemisia californica ‘Canyon Gray.’ While most of the forms of sagebrush are, well, brushy and upright, this selection from the Channel Islands off the coast of Ventura grows near the ground and sprawls a bit. The plant can get a little leggy in the middle, so a well-placed volunteer poppy seedling can be the best way to conceal that fact.


I wrote last year about this wild ranunculus, Ranunculus californicus, or California buttercup. It disappears not long after flowering, but it’s a nice presence during early spring.


The coast sunflower, Encelia californica, continues the yellow-to-orange theme. My plants were planted only recently and aren’t blooming yet. This is a stand of it at Torrey Pines Preserve this past Monday, doing just fine with natural rainfall. (It won’t be quite so ornamental once the moisture gives out, however.)


The last one I’ll share today has got to be one of the more spectacular Californians, the bush anenome, Carpenteria californica. The flowers began to open just this week. This species hails from the Sierra foothills where it can become quite the large shrub. My plant has tripled in size in one year, though it’s still not more than three feet tall. It can triple in size again, and then I’m getting the pruning shears. Pretty flowers, though, no?