Money plant, Lunaria annua, which some may know as ‘honesty’, is honestly not a wildflower here. It is neither native nor naturalized. Yet, it seems to grow wild on roadsides, in drainage ditches, and around the perimeters of some of the landscapes. It certainly produces enough seed to naturalize. It just would not have done so in this climate without a bit of intervention.
Many years ago, someone who maintained the landscapes here started sowing seed for money plant. I do not know if he was the first to sow the seed, or if he collected it from plants that someone else grew. He collected seed annually to disperse randomly by simply tossing it out wherever he though it might happily grow into more money plant.
Since money plant wants a bit more water than it gets from annual rainfall here, it was happiest where it is most often seen now, in roadside drainage ditches and on the perimeters of irrigated landscapes. It somehow competes effectively with other seemingly more aggressive vegetation. In the more favorable situations, it self sows, but can not perpetuate indefinitely.
The horticulturist who dispersed the seed for so many years retired a few years ago. Consequently, there has been a bit less money plant annually since then. It certainly tries to naturalize, but was rather scarce last year.
We could not allow it to go extinct just yet. We collected some of the seed from the plants that bloomed last year. I dispersed a few where I thought they would be happy without being obtrusive in the landscapes. I gave most of the seed to a neighbor who happens to enjoy tossing random seed into random (but hopefully suitable) spots where wildflowers would be nice.
It is such a delightful tradition that is worth continuing.
The seed is not really bad. At least I do not think that it is. It is merely misunderstood. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is simply unidentified. I really do not know what it is. I do not say that very often, especially about seed that I bother to collect to sow elsewhere. I believe that it is of American bellflower, Campanula americana. If not, it is very closely related.
It appeared in part of one of the landscapes at work. Because it looked like some sort of campanula, we left it to see what it would do. It got quite tall, but never started to look like something we did not want to take a chance on. We were rewarded for taking the risk when it bloomed with these elegant spikes of small sky blue flowers. That was a little more than a year or so ago.
No one bothered to deadhead it immediately after bloom. It was only a few plants on the back edge of rather relaxed landscape, so was easy to ignore. By the time the dried floral stalks were noticed and removed, the seed had already been tossed. Consequently, there were many more of them through this last season, both in the same area, and in adjacent parts of the landscape.
In fact, there were too many to ignore when their floral spikes had finished blooming. I deadheaded them myself so that I could collect the dried floral carcasses in a small bucket. Some seed had already been tossed for next year. Nonetheless, there is enough dust-like seed in the bottom of the bucket to share with other landscapes. I intend to sow it just prior to winter storms.
So, this unidentified seed should be an asset to the landscapes.
Pampas grass, blue gum eucalyptus, giant reed, broom and Acacia dealbata are some of the best examples of the worst naturalized exotic species. They were imported for a variety of reasons or by accident, and now proliferate aggressively in the wild. With few of the pathogens they contend with in their respective native homelands, they have unfair advantages over locally native flora.
Such naturalization is a serious problem for native fauna as well. Monarch butterflies that swarm to the bloom of blue gum eucalyptus are amazing to observe, but are being distracted from native flora that rely on them for pollination. Both native and exotic rodents proliferate unnaturally within the protection of thickets of naturalized English ivy, and consume too many seed from other plants.
Fortunately, there is a difference between naturalization and sustainability. Many exotic yuccas can survive quite nicely in chaparral regions without irrigation or other intervention, but are unable to disperse seed and truly naturalize without the particular species of moth that are their exclusive pollinators in their respective native homelands. Cultivars of pampas grass are ‘supposedly’ sterile.
Some plants that seem to naturalize do not proliferate or migrate enough to become aggressively invasive or truly naturalized. That is why daffodil can be planted on roadsides to bloom annually, and hopefully multiply somewhat, but does not spread far from where initially planted. In fact, it is unfortunately less likely to naturalize, and more likely to slowly diminish through several years here.
Many plants that proliferate within the cultivation of our home gardens and landscapes will not migrate far from where they they get regular watering. Even after fancier and more colorful varieties revert to their most basic feral forms, they are delightful weeds that are more often left to bloom wherever they appear. Those that appear where they are not wanted are easy enough to eradicate.
These include sweet alyssum, forget-me-not, four-o’-clock, campion, cosmos and nasturtium.
Those outside California sometimes envy our ideal climates and soils. More of a variety of plants can be grown here than in most other places in America. There are not many plants that can be grown elsewhere that will not grow here. However, phlox, Phlox paniculata, is an example of a plant that can do well here, but for some reason or another, is much more popular everywhere else.
Phlox is native to much of the eastern half of North America, and has naturalized in other areas where it escaped cultivation in home gardens. Locally, it needs to be watered regularly to bloom on time in late summer. It is quite happy out in the open but might prefer a bit of partial shade in the afternoon here where summers are warm and dry. Powdery mildew can sometimes be a problem.
Bloom can be various hues of pink, purplish pink, red or white. The inch wide flowers are neatly arranged on conical terminal panicles about four to six inches wide. Blooming stems stand almost three feet tall and spread almost as wide. The somewhat narrow leaves are about four inches long. Phlox is mostly grown from seed, and can be propagated by division of perennial basal growth.
Of course, to the plants who do it, naturalizing is an advantage. To the rest of us, it is often a problem. The advantage to the plants who do it is that they move into new territory, make themselves at home, and probably do quite well with the new place. The disadvantage to everyone else is that naturalizing plants may not play well with others, and consequently interfere with the ecosystem.
Most of the naturalizing plants whom we are aware of are aggressively invasive exotic (non-native) specie, such as Acacia dealbata, pampas grass, blue gum, broom and reed. They move in and compete with or exclude native vegetation. Some might interfere with native fauna as well. (All those monarch butterflies who swarm blue gum are ignoring specie who rely on them for pollination.)
Locally native plants can not naturalize because they are naturally there already. Therefore, all plants who naturalize are exotic. However, not all naturalized exotic specie are aggressively invasive. Some who can not survive without irrigation in the local chaparral climate may never get farther than being a weed in landscaped areas. Some bulbs may not spread from where they are planted.
Rose campion, sweet alyssum, cosmos, forget-me-not, four-o’-clock and nasturtium can replace themselves faster than they die out, but only where they get enough water. Some of the seedlings are likely to appear in situations where they are not wanted. Some might grow into situations where they might be desirable. There is no shame in allowing the desirable ones to continue growing.
Many of the most extensively bred garden varieties eventually revert to something more similar to their ancestors. For example, most of the fancier modern varieties of nasturtium, after a few generations, will bloom with more of the basic yellow and orange than they did when they were new. Eventually, almost all flowers will be yellow or orange. Such seedlings are known as ‘feral’, because they are more similar to the wild ancestry of nasturtium, than to the genetically unstable modern variety that was originally sown.