Coffeeberry

50826
Coffeeberry must be and ‘acquired’ taste. (Ick!)

Before the 49ers of the Gold Rush discovered that the seeds of the native coffeeberry, Rhamnus californica (or Frangula californica), make a nice uncaffeinated coffee substitute, the native American Indians were eating the fruit and using the leaves and bark herbally. The black berries supposedly make good jelly, but do not last long, and are too bitter while still red or greenish.

Before the birds get them, the quarter inch wide berries are somewhat colorful, but are not very abundant. The small clusters of tiny greenish yellow flower that bloom in spring are not much to look at either. The army green evergreen foliage is the main appeal. New stems are somewhat ruddy. Old stems and main trunks have smooth gray bark.

Large coffeeberry plants in the wild can get more than ten feet tall, with relatively open branch structure. Garden varieties stay smaller, with compact branch structure. ‘Eve Case’, which is probably the most popular variety, stays less than six feet tall, and is densely foliated. ‘Mound San Bruno’ is even more compact, with smaller leaves. ‘Seaview’ is a groundcover.

California Native Plants Exemplify Diversity

00729thumb
Redwoods are the grandest native trees.

California native plants are logical options for the gardens and landscapes of California. It is only natural. They are already happy with the climates and soils here. They do not need to adapt quite as much as plants from other regions and climates do. After all, they lived here long before anyone else was here to water and maintain them.

Unfortunately, it is not that easy. California is a very diverse place. There are more climates here than there are within many other states combined, over a much larger area. Plants that are native to the Mojave Desert would not be happy in a rainforest of the Siskiyou Mountains. Coastal plants would be no happier high in the Sierra Nevada.

Within reason, California native plants for landscapes and home gardens should be either locally native, or native to similar climates. Plants from very different climates within California are about as exotic as plants from other continents. Just like foreign exotic plants, they may require special accommodation, such as irrigation, to survive here.

All plants need irrigation when first installed. Irrigation can be slightly complicated for plants that are native to climates with long and dry summers. They certainly need irrigation until they disperse their roots. However, a bit too much can rot their roots. California native plants can be sensitive like that. After all, they do not expect to be moist through summer.

Then, once established, many California native plants do not want frequent irrigation. Many want none at all. Chaparral plants like oak, manzanita, toyon, ceanothus and coyote brush tend to rot with too much watering. Plants that are native to riparian or coastal regions, like redwood, bigleaf maple, willow, cottonwood, elderberry and ferns, tolerate more irrigation.

Most California native plants that are from chaparral or desert climates do not perform well within the confinement of pots or planters. They prefer to disperse roots very extensively and directly into the soil, just like they do in the wild. Once established, they do not transplant easily.

Buckeye

P00524-1
Buckeye starts to bloom like lilac, or upside down wisteria.

Ohio is the Buckeye State. The Ohio buckeye that is native there must be very special. Perhaps all other trees that are native to Ohio are just not very uninteresting. Whatever the situation, I sort of believe that the Ohio buckeye is more appealing in some regards than the California buckeye that is native here. However, the California buckeye might be more weirdly interesting.

The main reason that California buckeye is not popularly used in landscapes is that it is ‘twice deciduous’. That means exactly what it sounds like. Just like other deciduous trees, it defoliates in response to cooling autumn weather, and refoliates in response to warming spring weather. Unlike other deciduous trees, it repeats the process through the warmest weather of summer.

When summer weather gets too warm and arid, the foliage of California buckeye shrivels and sort of defoliates. Without rain to dislodge the shedding foliage, it can linger and look shabby for quite a while and maybe until it is replaced by secondary foliage that develops as the weather mellows. The secondary foliage does not last long before it is time to defoliate again for autumn!

California buckeye is not often planted into landscapes because it really does look like the living dead through summer. It provides no shade when shade is most desirable. Those that I work with are only here in the landscapes because they grew from self sown seed that sneaked in on its own. Some will be subordinated to more desirable adjacent trees, although there is no rush.

I happen to like California buckeye. Except for the rarely seen red horsechestnut, it is the only species of buckeye that I am familiar with. Bloom is neither colorful nor reliably profuse, but is delightfully fragrant in close proximity. Not many natives are fragrant.

P00524-2
The fragrance is sort of buttery and faintly sugary.

Sticky Monkey Flower

00520
‘Sticky monkey flower’ sounds too silly.

What a silly name this is! Sticky monkey flower, Diplacus aurantiacus (or Mimulus aurantiacus), is native to a broad range of ecosystems of California and the Northern Coast of Baja California. It is famously happy in situations that are too rocky or sandy for most other species. The resinous foliage really can be rather sticky during warm weather. The relevance to a monkey is a mystery.

Sticky monkey flower is more popular among hummingbirds and insects than anyone else. Those who welcome hummingbirds and insects into their garden happen to like it too. Honestly though, it might a bit too casual for refined landscapes. It works better in or on the outskirts of rustic gardens. If not already growing wild, cultivars and the straight species are available in some nurseries.

Bloom begins late in winter or early in spring, and might continue through summer, but is rarely impressively prolific. The bisymmetrical and tubular flowers are about three quarters of an inch long. Almost all are pastel orange, sort of like circus peanuts. Gold and yellow are uncommon. Supposedly, there are rare cultivars that bloom in red or white. Mature plants get more than three feet tall.

Pacific Coast Iris

00429
Bigger and bolder Pacific Coast iris.

Various species of iris that are native to exposed coastal hillsides are uncommon in nurseries. Even nurseries that specialize in native species grow only a few. Iris douglasiana was probably the most popular of these years ago. Its slender flowers are various shades of steely blue, like faded denim. Nowadays, most Pacific Coast iris are hybrids of various native and a few exotic species.

The color range of these modern hybrids is impressive. Many bloom with rich shades of blue, purple, burgundy, rusty red, orange, gold, yellow or rosy pink. Softer and pastel shades include coral pink, lavender, creamy white and bright white. There is even sky blue that is almost comparable to the color of well faded denim. Flowers are more substantial than those of their ancestors though.

Bloom is sometimes significantly early, or as late as May. Otherwise, it should happen about now. Each floral stalk supports about two or three flowers that bloom in succession. Floral stalks tend to lean outward from the center of mature plants, and curve to hold their bloom upright. Bloom typically stands less than two feet high. Their slender and arching dark green leaves stay even lower.

Out Of Step

P00328K-1
Watch your step . . . while there is one to watch!

This is . . . odd. It is like something of the Winchester House. It seems that these steps in the picture above should go down to a lower deck, but there is no indication that there had ever been such a deck down there. The steps are well maintained and swept mostly clean of forest debris, so whatever happened to whatever should be down there must have happened recently.

Actually, these steps are for what is above rather than what is not below. The picture below shows that there is a deck associated with these steps, but that it is a considerable distance away, and that the only way to get there is by the cable that extends to it from the upper right corner of the picture, over Zayante Creek. The deck is rather sloped to facilitate arrival.

The cable that extends in the same direction from the middle of the top of the picture is somehow associated with the collective infrastructure, but I do not know how or why. Heck, I do not know how or why anyone would put such a deck so far away while there is plenty of space right here for a luxuriously spacious deck! Apparently, this whole setup is part of a short ‘zip line’ tour.

I don’t get it. It must be fun. It looks terrifying to me. I think that if I were to try something like this, I would rather be terrified someplace with more appropriate scenery, like between the skyscrapers of downtown San Jose! Now that would be RAD . . . and terrifying! In this particular location, I would not want to speed past all this interesting flora without slowing down or stopping to appreciate it.

The lower right quadrant of the lower picture shows young alders. Above and beyond, to the upper right, there are young redwoods with some Douglas firs mixed in. Just to the left of them, at the upper center, is an exemplary bigleaf maple. Most of the vegetation to the left is bay laurels, with some tanoaks, and perhaps madrones mixed in. The undergrowth the lower left is filberts.

I am certainly in no hurry to try this ‘zip line’ tour, and if I do, I seriously doubt that I will be noticing the surrounding flora; not just because of the speed, but because of the terror!

P00328K-2
Oh, . . . so that is where these steps lead to!

California Is A Big Place

50311thumb
There are all kinds of natives.

California is a big place, with more environmental diversity than any other state and most other countries. It includes rainy and cool forests of Del Norte County, and dry and hot deserts of Imperial County. The snowy mountains of Placer County and the mild coastal plains of Los Angeles County are here too. There are hundreds of miles of sandy beaches and big fertile valleys.

Consequently, plants that are native to California are just as diverse. Many that are very well adapted to the environments that they naturally live in are not so well adapted to other environments that may be only a few miles away. They really do not want to go to some of the more divergent climates in other regions.

Coastal redwood that is so happy within its natural range on the foggy western slopes of the coast ranges to the north are not so happy on the drier eastern slopes of the same ranges. It probably would not survive for long in the Mojave Desert. California fan palm from the hot and arid region of Palm Springs languishes on the damp and cool western edge of San Francisco.

Most of the popular California native plants are popular because they do not need much water, if they need any at all. However, some are as unhappy with local climate conditions as exotic plants from other continents are. For example, few plants tolerate drought as well as Joshua tree does. Yet, Joshua tree is likely to grow fast and then rot because winters are too damp for them locally.

Of all the excellent plants that are native to California, the most excellent for local gardens are either the few plants that are native to the local region, or the many others that are native to similar regions. They do not need cold Sierra Nevada Winters, hot Death Valley summers, Mojave Desert aridity or San Francisco fog. They are right at home here.

Even natives need some help adapting to a new garden. Confining their roots to cans while they grow in nurseries is very unnatural for them. Once planted, they will need to be watered while their roots disperse enough to survive on rainfall, or with minimal watering.

Silk Tassel

00226
Pendulous blooms hang like delicate icicles.

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.

California Sycamore

00212
California sycamore is a stately native.

California sycamore, Platanus racemosa, is a riparian species that wants to be a chaparral species. It seems to passively mingle with valley oaks and coast live oaks in chaparral regions. Yet, it stays close to rivers, creeks, arroyos, or low spots where water drains from winter rain. California sycamore does not follow waterways far up into forests though, as if it dislikes the deeper shade.

In urban situations, California sycamore is best for large scale landscapes, such as parks or medians of broad boulevards. It is complaisant enough for smaller landscapes, and tends to disperse roots too deeply to damage pavement. However, it grows so fast and so very big. Mature trees get to a hundred feet tall. Massive trunks are picturesquely irregular, with mottled tan and gray bark.

All the deciduous foliage generated by such large trees is generous with shade for summer, but stingy with color for autumn. Defoliation starts early and continues late, so is messy for a long time. Foliar tomentum (fuzz) is irritating to the skin, and much worse if inhaled. Anthracnose often deprives trees of their first phase of foliage in early spring. Although harmless, it makes another mess.

Wild Strawberry?

P00125K
Wild strawberries are worth salvaging.

Under a bank of carpet roses that I am none too keen on, this grubby ground cover competes with more aggressive weeds. To me, it looks like common mock strawberry, Potentilla indica. I never gave it much though. It seemed to me that whoever had installed cheap and common carpet roses on that bank would have employed a comparably cheap and common ground cover.

The ground cover was more prolific in open spots that were too narrow for more of the roses, and from there, seemed to have migrated under the roses as a second layer of ground cover. It would not have been installed underneath intentionally. It did not occur to me that it may have grown from seed like so many other weeds there, or migrated in from the surrounding forest.

The white flowers did catch my attention though. I was not aware of a mock strawberry that bloomed with white flowers. I really was not concerned enough about it to investigate. This part of the landscape will be getting renovated soon anyway. The roses will be relocated to where they can not extend their thorny canes into an adjacent walkway. Agapanthus will replace them.

Now that I am seeing more of these odd strawberries, I am wondering if this low ground cover that I formerly had no regard for is actually the native wild strawberry, Fragaria californica. Not only should mock strawberry bloom with yellow flowers, but it should also produce more spherical berries. Now I will need to identify it before I either dispose of it, or merely relocate it.

I prefer to not salvage exotic species that exhibit potential to naturalize from landscaped areas into surrounding forests. If this ground cover is wild strawberry, it migrated from surrounding forests into a particular casually landscaped area.