With so many exotic species to enjoy in our gardens, it is easy to miss what might be growing wild just beyond. Silk tassel, Garrya elliptica, is endemic to coastal slopes within thirty miles of the ocean, between San Luis Obispo and Newport in Oregon. Yet, it seems to be more popular abroad than it is here at home. It is more adaptable to refined landscapes than most other natives are.
Silk tassel is more tolerant to supplemental irrigation than most other species from the same region are. It actually prefers to be irrigated at least occasionally through summer, particularly in drier and warmer climates. However, as a native, it is resilient to lapses of irrigation too. If necessary for form or confinement, awkward and obtrusive stems can be selectively pruned out after bloom.
Long and elegantly pendulous catkins of tiny pale grayish white flowers bloom late in winter or early in spring. After bloom, dried catkins linger prettily into summer. Garden varieties are male, with longer blooms. ‘James Roof’ can produce catkins nearly a foot long. Female plants in the wild bloom with shorter catkins. Glossy evergreen leaves are two to three inches long with wavy margins.
Native plants should be the most sensible options for local landscapes and home gardens. It seems natural that they would be the most sustainable, since they survive in the wild without watering, soil amendment or fertilizer. Once established in landscapes, they should be satisfied with the moisture they get from annual rainfall. Plants that are not native are considerably more demanding.
However, even native plants are not perfect. Some of the same qualities that help them survive in the wild are not so desirable around the home. To make matters worse, adapting to unnatural landscapes and home gardens can be as difficult for native plants as it would be for many of the common exotic (non-native) plants to adapt to the natural climate and endemic soils without help.
Natives obviously do not need much water. They certainly do not get much in the wild. They are resistant to drought because they disperse their roots so efficiently. The problem with this technique is that it does not work while plants are confined to cans (nursery pots). Once planted, new plants might take a bit of time to disperse their roots enough to survive without supplemental watering.
This might not seem like much of a problem for those who do not mind watering new native plants while they get established. New native plants still use less water than established exotic plants. The difficulty is that too much water can rot roots before they disperse! So, new native plants need to be watered regularly, but also need to not be overwatered! Monitoring them can be a hassle.
It might seem that larger new plants would be more resilient than smaller plants would be, but it is quite the opposite. Smaller plants (such as #1 or 1 gallon) disperse roots more efficiently, so get established sooner than larger plants (such as 5 gallon). Roots contained within small volumes of media (potting soil) are damaged less when planted than roots in larger volumes are. Roots of native plants, although efficient at dispersion, are innately sensitive.
Botanists took a while to contrive an identity for toyon, which is also known as Christmas berry and California holly. It was classified as a species of Crataegus, two different specie of Photinia and two other specie of Heteromeles before it was finally identified as Heteromeles arbutifolia. Meanwhile, the town named after it changed its name only once from Hollywoodland to Hollywood.
Toyon is native to the coastal chaparral regions of California and Baja California, as well as British Columbia, so it can be quite happy with minimal watering or none at all in home gardens. Too much water is likely to rot roots. Fire blight unfortunately seems to be more of a problem in refined landscapes than it is in the wild. Toyon can be pruned up as a small tree, but must not be shorn.
Where it competes with other trees, toyon can get more than twenty feet tall. Those that are well exposed are typically less than twelve feet tall, with nicely well rounded canopies. The evergreen leaves are somewhat serrate and narrow. Fluffy trusses of small white flowers bloom early in summer. Big hanging clusters of bright berries ripen in autumn and linger until birds eat them in winter.
Is it really supposed to be the bane of fleas? If so, why? I learned it as Santa Barbara daisy. Is it native there, or was a particular variety of it named for Santa Barbara? Is it a weed? Is it native? Is it a native of somewhere else in California that merely naturalized here? There are so many questions about this simple little flower that is growing wild under a cyclone fence at the backside of a motorcourt at work.
Whether it really is native or not, or whether it is a straight species or a selected variety of one, fleabane happens to do well in drought tolerant landscapes composed of native plants. It naturally spreads out to form shallow but wide mounds. If it gets cut back in its off season, it comes right back. Although it dies after only a few years, lower stems typically form roots and grow into new plants before the original one dies, essentially replacing itself before anyone notices.
If it is a weed, it is polite about it. Stray plants that appear where they are not wanted are easy to get rid of, and do not regenerate too aggressively to be managed. Those that happen to appear in out of the way situation can be left to bloom without much concern of profuse seed dispersion. Weed or not, it is preferred to other nastier weeds that it might prevent from growing simply by occupying the space.
In the west, the incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, was made into cedar chests or paneling for cedar closets as a substitute for the more traditional Eastern redcedar (which is incidentally a big juniper). The wood is supposedly aromatic enough to repel moths from woolens and furs. The evergreen foliage is very aromatic as well, so is sometimes used for garlands at Christmas time.
Old trees in the wild can eventually get nearly two hundred feet tall, with somewhat narrowly conical canopies. Yet, hundred year old trees that were planted in urban gardens during the Victorian period are not half as tall yet. Some are quite narrow. The rusty brown bark is deeply and coarsely furrowed. Branches can sag downward and curve back upward, which looks rather disfigured. Flattened sprays of scale-like leaves resemble those of arborvitae. Incense cedar is native to the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains.