Favorite Plants for Attracting Birds/Butterflies (California/Southwest)

Favorite Plants for Attracting Birds/Butterflies (California/Southwest)

In a follow-up to my post (Favorite Plants for Attracting Birds/Butterflies (Midwest/East)  here are some favorites from two of our homes, both landscaped with natives and other wildlife-attracting plants. (See Our Conversion to Low Water Landscaping). I also asked two friends in Arizona, for their favorites:Our Southern California Favorites (most would work in Western states)

Ceanothus (wild lilac) – Our favorite two are Dark Star Ceanothus and Ray Hartman, but all are great in attracting bees and butterflies. Dark Star – a deep dark green with luscious blue blooms (this year blooming February though April). They don’t need much water, if any, in the summer. Of three we planted three years ago, one is 2 feet high, the others are 4-5 feet high. Ray Hartman’s grow taller – see photo! There are many lower growing ceanothus.

Tom in front of our Ray Hartman Ceanothus (2 yrs after planting)

Ray Hartman blooms








Manzanitas– aside from the dark red bark and bright leaves, birds savor their berries in the fall, and bees love the blooms the last couple months

Big Berry Manzanita (I think…)

Toyon– ah, toyon (also called Christmas Holly). The birds prefer these red berries over pyracantha (firethorn)- they look similar but the native toyon has more habitat value.  Each year we sit on the bench and witness their steady disappearance in December through January (the robins stripped the pyracantha of its berries last week). The blooms in the spring attract lots of bees.

Pride of Madeira is our favorite non-native (some will cringe because if they’re happy, they procreate and spread rapidly &  can be invasive) but we have had so many critters attracted to their blooms. Bees, bumblebees, sphinx moths, all types of butterflies. See photo below.

I want to keep this short but other favorites would be any buckwheat (vital food for butterfly), fremontia (flannel bush) – big bumblebee attractor, and any native sage or hybrid (salvias) – Cleveland, Alpine, white and black sage grow well and rapidly for us and bloom at different times. Plants providing mid-summer color include fuschias, Nevin’s Barberry and other mahonias which provide bright berries of various colors.

Sphinx moth on Pride of Madeira


Toyon berries








Favorites for desert or high desert 

Brad and Denise Traver have landscaped several homes in Arizona and New Mexico. Their favorites:

  • Penstemons and salvias  Says Denise: “They never seem to need water and are tolerant of our horrible soil and attract butterflies, hummers and bees like crazy! And they handle our extreme temperatures, both heat and cold in Rimrock.” Below are some favorites of theirs, with High Country Gardens descriptions (legends show which attract hummers, bees and butterflies).

Texas Red Sage (Salvia)

Palmer’s Penstemon (Pink Wild Snapdragon)

Firecracker Penstemon

  • Desert willow   Denise’s input: “Gorgeous trees that have flowers for many months throughout the year. Don’t need much water but bloom, bloom, bloom! Different varieties have different colors of flowers in lavender, purple, white and pinkish. Can be a large shrub or trimmed to make a lovely tree. Can’t be beat!”


Desert Willow in bloom


To find ones that do well in your area:

High Country Gardens (Four Corners area), Las Pilitas native descriptions and Tree of Live Nursery catalog.

About Linda Richards

My goal is to educate about the science of nature in layperson speak, through my writing, science and education background. I grew up in the Chicago area, loved living in Minneapolis before gravitating to the West, which is now home.


  1. Linda! Where can you buy the mountain lilacs around our area?

    • Good question! Louie’s Nursery in Riverside has a good selection of native lilacs (ceanothus) and other natives, and Mockingbird Nursery in Riverside has really inexpensive ones – $3 – but has limited hours (Mon-Fri, call first). A little farther out, the nurseries dedicated to natives with many varieties of ceanothus are Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont (their garden is a great place to see old growth natives), Las Pilitas in Rainbow (on the way to San Diego) and Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano. Lastly, you might want to call other local nurseries & ask if they carry ceanothus as more are offering natives.

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