Six on Saturday: Hollywood II

These ‘Six on Saturday’ are even more outdated than my ‘Six’ that were outdated for last Saturday. They were taken at the same time, but are presently a week later. I really want to post them anyway though. I do not get to Southern California often, although some of these species also happen to be native here. All of this vegetation is native to, and grows wild within the Hollywood Hills, and specifically at the Bronson Caves, where I got these pictures. I brought back a few exotic species from the region, but did not take pictures of them. I can get pictures of them at any time, and they are not distinctive to Hollywood.

1. Clarkia bottae, punchbowl godetia was featured in my garden column. Now that I see it in bloom, I sort of wonder if it is what I thought, back in school, was evening primrose.

2. Eriophyllum confertiflorum, golder yarrow is merely my guess for the identity of this bright yellow wildflower. The floral trusses are smaller and rounder than they should be.

3. Eriophyllum confertiflorum, golden yarrow sort of looks like this. Well, I sort of think it does. I really can not remember. This is a bit farther back from the same bloom above.

4. Opuntia phaeacantha or Opuntia littoralis, prickly pear is probably the same species as the big herd that I got a picture of for last week. This is a closeup, but of another herd.

5. Romneya coulteri, matilija poppy is also known as fried egg poppy because the floppy white flowers with big yellow centers look like fried eggs. These were at least six feet tall.

6. Salvia mellifera, black sage is one of my favorite wildflowers here because I recognize it and its alluringly pungent foliar aroma from almost everywhere that I have ever lived.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:


Punchbowl Godetia

Bloom is brief for wild godetia.

All forty-one species of Clarkia that are native to North America are native to California. Punchbowl godetia, Clarkia bottae, inhabits almost all counties of Southern California. It is absent only from Imperial County. It also inhabits Monterey and San Benito Counties. Its name may allude to its floral shape, or its bloom in Devil’s Punchbowl near Valyermo.

Punchbowl godetia is an ephemeral annual that blooms briefly for spring. Bloom is early in some regions but late in other regions. Also, its schedule is variably from year to year. Because it does not transplant easily, it is rarely available from nurseries. It grows better from seed, which is available online. Within favorable situations, it self sows after bloom.

Bloom is delicate and airy, on limber and lightly foliated stems less than three feet high. Individual flowers are barely an inch wide. Floral color is slightly purplish pink with white centers and tiny red spots. It is variable though, so might be a bit more purplish or lighter pink. Leaves are very narrow. New seedlings do not compete well with other vegetation.

California Lilac

Native California lilac lacks lilac fragrance.

Almost all California lilac that inhabit refined landscapes are cultivars of native species. Ceanothus thyrsiflorus is one of such native species that grows wild near here. It is a bit less adaptable to home gardens than cultivars are. However, it can be splendid within unrefined and wildland landscapes. New plants need irrigation only until they establish their root systems. Wild plants need none.

Wild California lilac can get taller and wider than fifteen feet. That is larger than cultivars, but with more open branch structure. Their evergreen foliage is somewhat glossy. Individual leaves are only about an inch and a half long, with prominent veins. Fluffy floral trusses that bloom in spring are about two or three inches long. Tiny individual flowers are sky blue or pale blue.

Like many chaparral species, California lilac does not respond favorably to pruning. It performs best where it can grow without disruption. Wild specimens perform well for only about ten years. They might then die suddenly. Some may survive for nearly fifteen years. They grow faster with occasional irrigation, but do not survive as long.

California Native Plants Grow Wild

Some natives are difficult to domesticate.

California native plants seem like they should be very appropriate for home gardens. In the wild, they require neither irrigation nor maintenance. They are quite satisfied with local climate and soil. Of course, gardening with natives is not so simple. Home gardens are very different from wild ecosystems.

Furthermore, wild ecosystems here are very different from wild ecosystems elsewhere. California is a very big place, with many different ecosystems. Some alpine species from the Sierra Nevada would be unhappy on the coast. Some coastal species from Del Norte County would be unhappy in the Mojave Desert. California native plants should be regionally appropriate.

Therefore, chaparral species are generally most appropriate for local chaparral climates. Many riparian species perform satisfactorily here as well, but expect more irrigation. However, appropriateness to a climate is not the same as appropriateness to a garden. Actually, many chaparral species are unappealing within home gardens. Some are difficult to domesticate.

A few species of California lilac are native here. Any of them are pleased to inhabit local home gardens. However, some grow quite large, and then die after only ten years or so. They may not last even that long with typical irrigation. Few respond favorably to pruning. They prefer to grow wild. Such big, awkward and temporary plants are undesirable within many compact and refined home gardens.

Combustibility might also be a concern for chaparral plants. Some chaparral ecosystems rely on fire for periodic renovation. In the wild, some such ecosystems may burn as frequently as every few decades. After burning, fuel begins to accumulate for the next fire. Even if not copious enough to be hazardous, such accumulation can be unkempt.

Only a few specialty nurseries provide wild California native plants. Most nurseries provide cultivars of such plants that are more adaptable to home gardens. ‘Carmel Creeper’ is a densely sprawling California lilac that gets only a few feet tall. It is commonly available. The original species can get more than fifteen feet tall, with open branch structure.

Douglas Iris

Douglas iris can interfere with grazing.

California poppy, sky lupine and many favorite coastal wildflowers are annuals. Douglas iris, Iris douglasiana, blooms with the best of them as a perennial. It is persistent enough to be a noxious weed within rangelands. Of course, that is only because it competes with forageable vegetation. Douglas iris is actually tame enough for cultivated home gardens.

Douglas iris bloom is mostly the color of faded blue denim. It can alternatively be slightly richer lavender blue or very pale bluish white. Purple with yellow centers is rare. Flowers stand only about a foot to a foot and a half tall. Their deep green foliage is about as high. Individual leaves are narrow and arching. New leaves displace deteriorating old leaves.

Wild Douglas iris colonies can be impressively expansive. They generally mingle nicely with other low vegetation and wildflowers. With occasional irrigation, they can get dense enough to exclude most other vegetation. However, such colonies are not evenly dense, so develop bare zones. They crave good sun exposure, but tolerate a slight bit of shade. Excessive fertilizer might inhibit bloom. Excessively frequent or generous irrigation might cause rot.

California Wild Rose

California wild rose hips remain long after bloom, as well as foliage, is gone.

Prickly thickets of California wild rose, Rosa californica, are not often much to look at, even while adorned with small and sparse pink roses in spring and summer. The fragrant flowers can actually range in color from white to rich pink, and may have more petals, but are not abundant enough to be very impressive at any one time. In autumn though, all the flowers that bloomed in the previous few months leave bright orange or red fruiting structures known as ‘hips’, that linger on the bare canes through winter.

The rose hips of California wild roses had historically been used to make herbal tea because they contain so much vitamin C and have a pleasant flavor. (California wild rose is a ‘tea’ rose but not a hybrid ‘T’ rose.) They can also be made into jelly or sauce. The only problem is that birds like them too, so often take them before anyone else has a chance to.


Cottonwood is now defoliated for winter.

The most common of a few species of cottonwood that are native to California seems as if it should not be. Populus deltoides is the Eastern cottonwood. This name implies that it should be native primarily to regions of the East. Yet, it naturally inhabits every American State except for Hawaii and Alaska. Since it is so familiar locally, it is simply cottonwood.

It grows wild in riparian ecosystems, and occasionally sneaks into adjacent landscapes. It is almost never an intentional acquisition. Cottonwood grows too aggressively and too large for refined home gardens. It works better as a grand shade tree for parks and urban waterway trails. As a riparian species, it requires either riparian ecosystems or irrigation.

Mature cottonwood trees may be almost a hundred feet tall, and rather broad if exposed. Their bark is handsomely furrowed. Yellow autumn color of the deciduous foliage can be surprisingly vibrant within arid climates, or if rain is later than frost. Vigorous trees can be susceptible to spontaneous limb failure, so may occasionally justify aggressive pruning. Roots might be voracious.

White Alder

White alder is mostly defoliated by now.

During the summer, the native white alder, Alnus rhombifolia, is a nice shade tree that looks bigger than it really is. By late winter, the bare deciduous canopy has an appealingly picturesque silhouette. This time of year is actually when white alder is typically less appealing, with dead foliage that provides no interesting fall color, but lingers until knocked down by rain or late frost. Yet, even now, it sometimes surprises with these funny looking floral structures that are interesting both in the early winter landscape, and with cut flowers.

In past decades, white alder was an ´expendable’ tree that was put into landscapes for quick gratification while slower but more desirable trees matured. By the time the desirable trees matured, the alders were removed to make more space for the desirables. This technique was practical because, like many fast growing trees, alders do not live very long, so start to deteriorate after about twenty five years anyway. However, alders often live longer than expected.

Mature alders are usually less than fifty feet tall where they are well exposed. They can get at least twice as tall where shaded by other trees or big buildings. Their plump trunks with mostly smooth silvery gray bark make them seem larger than they really are though. Too much water promotes buttressed roots which can displace pavement.

Valley Oak

‘Foggy Oak Morning’ by Karen Asherah

‘Foggy Oak Morning’ by Karen Asherah, is another example of the local scenery that I miss while not taking a bus or walking. I drove past this scene for years on my way to work outside of San Martin without ever bothering to take a look at it. This happy tree is a native valley oak, Quercus lobata, like those that had been common throughout the Santa Clara Valley until only about two centuries ago. It is not exactly the sort of shade tree that everyone wants in a compact suburban garden, but is grand enough for large spaces like parks.

Mature specimens may not seem to get as tall as oaks in the Appalachian Mountains, but are actually the largest oaks in North America, and live more than five centuries. The tallest trees are mostly less than seventy feet tall, but can get taller. Trunks of the oldest trees are commonly six feet wide or wider. The distinctively and uniformly furrowed bark is as classically ‘oakish’ as the rounded prominent lobes of the deciduous leaves, and the sculpturally irregular branch structure. Odd stem galls, commonly known as ‘oak apples’, are home to the larvae of tiny wasps that rely on valley oaks for everything they need. Incidentally, Paso Robles, or ‘El Paso de los Robles’ is named for the valley oaks in the area, which Spanish immigrants thought resembled the ‘robles’, the European oaks that inhabit Spain.

More information about ‘Foggy Oak Morning’ can be found at the website of Karen Asherah at

Holly Leaf Cherry

Holly leaf cherry fruit looks better than it is. The flavor is good; but there is very little pulp around the big seeds.

Since it is native to coastal chaparral between Monterey and the middle of the Baja California Peninsula, holly leaf cherry, Prunus ilicifolia, is right at home in local gardens of the central and south coasts. Although it can be a nice refined hedge if not shorn too frequently, it is better where it has space to grow wild into a mounding shrub, and can eventually grow into an undemanding informal screen as high and broad as fifteen feet. Width is easier to limit with selective pruning than with shearing. Besides, unshorn plants bloom with clusters of minute white flowers in spring, and produce interesting deep red or purplish red cherries in autumn. Unfortunately, the cherries have very big pits with only minimal sweet pulp. The small glossy leaves have somewhat bristly teeth almost like those of some hollies.