Favorite So. California Native Plants

Favorite So. California Native Plants

We had a garden club meeting in my town (Redlands CA) and were lucky to have as our speaker Bart O’Brien from the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG) in Claremont. He presented a wonderful talk about California native plants. More importantly, he shared his favorites for our area. These feature good survival rates in our hot inland (we have hot summers and winters down in the 20s – so almost desert). They also offer color year-round, and will definitely reduce your water bill. See the Garden-Garden project in Santa Monica, which showed a 2/3 reduction in water usage when using native landscaping.

Audience members asked for a list — so here are the common and botanical names, along with a few attributes. Oh, and it’s a great time to plant natives.

For those in the area, RSABG’s annual plant sale is Saturday, Nov 3rd, along with music, food, beer and free admission to their amazing arboretum.  O’Brien has authored or co-authored several very popular books on California natives.

For fall color

Aster chilensis ‘Pt. St. George’ – yes, a native aster. Lavender daisy-type flowers summer through fall

St. Catherine’s flowers make great flower designs year-round

St. Catherine’s Lace buckwheat (Erigonium giganteum)– nice grey foliage, the large white flowers that turn to a rust are great in flower designs year-round. All buckwheats are major butterfly attractor.

California fuchsia (Zauschneria spp.) – many varieties available with orange to deep red colors of leaves and flowers, hummingbird attractor

Dancing Tassels Currant (Ribes malvaceum ‘Dancing Tassels’) – good on north slopes where roots are in the shade & tops in sun, long dangling white to pink flowers that bloom Oct-Mar

Roger’s Red wild grape (Vitis ‘Roger’s Red) – vine turns red in the fall, birds love the grapes

Agave ‘Blue Flame’ – friendly curved edges, yellow flowers fall-winter

Toyon or Christmas Holly (Herteromeles arbutfolia) –bright red berries feed many birds in December, can hedge, white flowers in summer (substitute for pittosporum)

Toyon – one of our favorite native plants

For winter color

Manzanitas (Archostaphylos edmundsii) – a small version of the many red-barked varieties, white to pink flowers in Jan

Manzanita’s red bark

Mahonia ‘Golden Abundance’  – a gorgeous yellow flowered variety (fall-winter), tolerates shade in winter, sun in summer, so good on north sides

Canyon Prince grass (Leymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’) – for nice grey color. Another low-growing grey choice is Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’(sage)

For Spring Color

Linanthus ‘Stardust’ or ‘Confetti’ – low-lying filler plant for sunny areas, multi-colored flowers

California lilacs or Ceanothus – The Lakeside or San Diego (Ceanothus cyaneus) is hardy, fast- growing and large. Smaller ‘Concha’ and ‘Julia Phelps’ grow well, gorgeous blue blooms

Ceanothus blooms

California native rosesRosa ‘Schoener’s Nutkana’ doesn’t spread rampantly like others, no thorns, 5-inch flowers

Coral bells (Heuchera ‘Genevieve’) – nice, low-growing cover for under trees, delicate pink blooms

Bush Anemone  (Carpenteria California) – 2-3 inch white flowers, sun or shade

Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) – large gorgeous white flower (the ‘fried egg’ flower) but warning – will travel far and wide

Matilija Poppy with ‘fried egg’ flower

Penstemon ‘Margarita BOP’ – large showy version with deep blue flowers, but only lives several years

Bush lupine, grape soda lupine (Lupinus excubitus) – the ‘grape soda’ variety has purple flower, grey foliage, or lupinus payrei for large variety. Important butterfly plant.

Nolina parryi for a yucca look but with softer leaves. Other smaller versions of nolinas are available.

A carpet of dudleya under trees at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Dudleya ‘Frank Reinelt’ – silver leafed succulent, sun to part-shade. Don’t water in summer

For Summer Color

Native wildflowers such as Clarkia, Triteleia laxa ‘Queen Fabiola’

Cleveland Sage  (Salvia Clevelandii)– Sages are important hummingbird and bee plants, with numerous varieties. Consider ‘Winifred Gilman’ for vibrant purple blooms.

Sphinx Moth on Cleveland Sage

Paseo Rancho lilac verbena (Verbena lilacina ‘Paseo Rancho’) – makes tidy mounds with purple fragrant flowers, blooms year-round if watered, butterflies love it

Morning Cloud Chitalpa (XChitalpa tashkentensis) – a desert tree with white showy flowers

Desert Willow, Regal (Chilopsis linearis ‘Regal’) – tri-colored, pink-purplish flowers that keep blooming if watered. Loses leaves November-April. Also consider ‘Burgundy Lace’ and ‘Warren Jones’ varieties.

Nurseries in the Inland Empire area that have good selections of native plants (or can order):

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. Monika Moore says:

    Upland Nursery 1518 N. Tustin Street, Orange, Ca. 92867 (714) 538-4500
    Green Thumb International 23782 Bridger Road Lake Forest, Ca. 92630 (949) 837-0214
    Brita’s Old Town Garden 225 Main Street, Seal Beach, Ca. 90740 (562) 430-5019
    For mail order I love anniesannuals.com 740 Market Ave Richmond, Ca. Rogers Gardens in Newport Beach buys a lot of distinctive plants from them. They have a lot of butterfly plants.
    Have Fun,
    Monika Moore

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