Transvaal Daisy

Transvaal daisy is very popular within the floricultural industries.

After rose, carnation, chrysanthemum and tulip, the fifth most popular cut flower is the Transvaal daisy, which is also commonly known as the gerbera daisy, Gerbera hybrida.  The composite (daisy-like) flowers are typically about three to four and a half inches wide, in bright shades of yellow, orange, red, pink and white, with dark centers. They stand several inches high on bare stems, adequately above the lower, coarsely textured foliage. Transvaal daisies can bloom well for a month or more as potted houseplants in sunny spots, but rarely survive more than two months indoors. If planted in a sunny but not too harshly exposed spot in the garden as they begin to deteriorate, they can sometimes recover and continue to bloom as short lived perennials. They need good drainage but uniform moisture in organically rich soil.


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.

Black Locust

Black locust resembles white wisteria up a tree.

If only it were not such an invasive weed, black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, might be appreciate for remarkably fragrant and abundant white bloom that resembles that of wisteria. The pinnately compound leaves are about five to ten inches long with rounded leaflets that individually are about one half to three quarters of an inch wide and twice as long. Autumn color is soft yellow. Trees can grow fast to more than fifty feet tall. Furrowed and fissured gray bark makes middle aged trees seem older and more distinguished than they really are. The wood is excellent firewood. All parts are toxic so should be kept out of reach of horses.

Black locust is native to a big area between Pennsylvania, Georgia and Kansas. It was brought to California both to produce firewood quickly, and because it is so appealing in gardens. Modern cultivars and other specie with purplish pink or pinkish purple flowers lack fragrance, but  are not invasive.

Tree Houseleek

Tree houseleek can be dark bronze.

This must be one of the sillier horticultural names. Tree houseleek, Aeonium arboreum, is neither a tree nor related to leeks. The biggest cultivars can not stand much more than three feet tall. Above that, their succulent foliage gets too heavy for their fleshy stems and fine roots. They perform well as houseplants only within very sunny situations.

Formerly common tree houseleek, with simple green foliage, is not so common anymore. Almost all popular modern cultivars are variegated or bronzed, with wide foliar rosettes. Variegation ranges from bright lemony yellow to creamy white. Bronze ranges from light brown to very darkly purplish. Foliar rosettes are about four to eight inches wide.

Plumply conical trusses of tiny yellow or chartreuse flowers bloom for spring. They are neither numerous nor brightly colorful, but are weirdly interesting. Fresh spring foliage is most colorful and lush. It can fade and partially shed during arid summer weather. New plants propagate very easily from dragging stems or cuttings of pruning scraps.

Euonymus fortunei

Euonymus fortunei can be shrubby or vining.

Like ivy, Euonymus fortunei creeps along the ground while juvenile, then climbs as a clinging vine where it finds support, and finally produces shrubby adult growth that can bloom and produce seed when it reaches the top of the support. Most cultivars (cultivated varieties) are juvenile plants that make good small scale ground cover that will eventually climb and mature to adulthood if not contained. As vines, they work nicely on concrete walls, but should not be allowed to climb wooden walls or painted surfaces that they can damage with their clinging rootlets. Cultivars that are grown from cuttings of adult growth are strictly shrubby.

The finely serrated, paired leaves are about three quarters to two inches long and about a quarter to one inch wide. The most popular cultivars of Euonymus fortunei that are grown for their variegated or yellow foliage do not grow too aggressively or get too large. Those with green, unvariegated foliage can slowly but eventually climb more than three stories high. Docile variegated plants can sometimes revert to unvariegated and become more aggressive. (Reversion is mutation to a more genetically stable state.)

Pincushion Protea

Pincushion protea is most certainly distinctive.

Proteas seem to be as happy locally as they are within their native range in South Africa. The Mediterranean climates there and here must be similar. Like most species from such climates, they are quite undemanding. They enjoy sunny and warm exposure with good drainage. They dislike fertilizer and frequent irrigation. Occasional irrigation is tolerable.

Pincushion protea, Leucospermum cordifolium, is the most popular protea here. Bloom can begin between late winter and early spring, and lasts for weeks. Many are presently blooming. Most are orange. Some are yellow or red. They are excellent cut flowers, both fresh and dried. Each rounded and four inch wide bloom contains many narrow flowers.

Pincushion protea develops stiff branches, but potentially wobbly roots. Sprawling stems that lean onto the ground improve stability. Pruning should remove undesirable stems at their origins, without leaving stubs. Shearing ruins form and texture, and inhibits bloom. Mature specimens can be about five feet tall and somewhat wider. Stiff evergreen leaves are about three inches long and half as wide.

Hair Grass

This is one of the more complaisant of ornamental grasses.

A rather sloppy style of the 1970s combined with a weird color of the 1980s might explain the resemblance of hair grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, to real hair. The lime otter-pop green color of the foliage, which looks so fresh in the garden, is actually quite dated for hair. So is the pleasantly soft texture. The sparse, fuzzy cloud of purplish pink bloom that hovers just above the foliage in autumn is extraordinary, although only slightly more contemporary for hair color. Happy hair grass plants that get plenty of water in sunny spots can get more than two and a half feet tall. Yet, the perennial foliage is so soft that it tends to fill in space between other sturdier plants instead of overwhelming them.

Pride of Madeira

Pride of Madeira blooms through spring.

This is most certainly something to be proud of. Pride of Madeira, Echium candicans (or fastuosum), can bloom perfectly blue. Varieties that bloom white or lighter lavender blue are rare locally. Feral specimens might exhibit such floral color variation though. Bloom occurs only annually, but can last through spring. Butterflies and bees are very fond of it.

Pride of Madeira occasionally self sows, but is not too aggressively invasive. It performs exceptionally well within coastal climates. Feral specimens on inaccessible coastal cliffs are only briefly scruffy after bloom. Deadheading within home gardens is tidier and limits seed dispersion. Moderate watering enhances foliar color. Excessive watering rots roots.

Small new specimens of pride of Madeira grow fast, but perform for only about five years. They generally get about six feet tall and eight feet wide. Cool or foggy coastal weather promotes taller and more vigorous growth. Warm exposure might promote more compact growth. The narrow and grayish leaves are rather raspy. ‘Star of Madeira’ is a variegated and compact cultivar.


Nigella is more typically blue, but can alternatively bloom white, pink or lavender.

Those who crave blue for the garden probably know nigella, or ‘love-in-a-mist’, Nigella damascena. It blooms in May and June, typically with various shades of pastel blue, or can alternatively bloom pink, lavender or white. The lacy flowers are surrounded by lacier bracts, and suspended on thin stems among delicate pinnately lobed foliage, with very narrow (‘thread-like’) lobes. The plump brown seed capsules that appear over summer after bloom are commonly used as dried flowers. The plants can be half a foot to a foot and a half tall. Although annual, nigella self sows easily, so can grow in the same location for many years if allowed to.

Kaffir Lily

Kaffir lily brightens a shady situation.

Kaffir lily, Clivia miniata, and lily of the Nile seem to be similar but are very different. Both develop densely evergreen mounds of arched strap shaped leaves. Both bloom with many funnel shaped flowers in spherical umbels on upright stems. Even their thick and rubbery rhizomes and roots are similar. However, they are related neither to each other nor to lilies.

Kaffir lily bloom is rich orange, fiery orangish red or yellow. This is opposite of the pastel blue or white floral color range of lily of the Nile. While lily of the Nile requires abundant sunlight, Kaffir lily tolerates significant shade. Kaffir lily leaves and bloom are more stout and less pliable than those of lily of the Nile. Kaffir lily foliage is generally darker green.

Individual leaves of Kaffir lily can be three inches wide and about a foot and a half long. Mounding growth of old colonies can get more than two feet high. Bloom hovers barely above the foliage. A few round and bright red berries can develop after bloom. Individual seeds within each berry may be genetically variable. All parts of Kaffir lily, particularly the rhizomes, are toxic.