The perennials and grasses change with the seasons here in the foothills, covering the open sunny areas between the oaks and and the shady areas under the pines. I have watched and learned their habits and characteristics slowly over the first ten years here. This is a list of every one I have seen and identified.
Native Perennials die down in winter, disappear into the mulch and return in the spring. Love that!
Golden yarrow, Eriophyllum confertiflorum var. confertiflorum
This shrubby perennial is 1 foot high and has golden flat topped flowers very much like its common variety, yarrow. The buds are small, oval, and greenish-white, and turn to 30 or so tiny yellow daisy like flowers atop the tall green to grey-green stems. Cut this back in summer as it’s messy and squashed looking then.
Hall’s Mule’s Ears, Wyethia elata
These are wonderful sunny flowers to encourage in the garden. They grow, distinctively, in patches 6 to 8 feet wide, spreading with underground roots, and die if watered. The leaves are furry and grey and the flowers look like small sunflowers.
California Dandelion, or Grand Mountain Dandelion, Agoseris grandiflora, is a perennial herb that is native to California and is also found outside of California, but is confined to western North America. It has a classic puffy white seed head a bit larger than the size of a golf ball which develops in early June. You can tell which variety this is by the long, almost 2 inch long developing seed head. The leaves are thin, sword shaped with jagged edges.
Pearly Everlasting, Gnaphalium californicum, is an attractive bushy perennial whose flowers appear first as pearl white beads on 18 inch tall stalks, and open into tiny straw flowers, hence the name. In the garden, dead head them as the flowers fade. Let some go to seed for new plants and for the birds. Both in the cudweed family, Fragrant Everlasting, Pseudognaphalium beneolens, also pictured above is the bright green variety of cudweed.
Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium Tall, creamy-white tightly packed flower heads in flat-topped clusters. The leaves are ferny and deep green. These multiply readily and appear in unexpected places from reseeding. Seeds are easily collected and sown in places where you’d like more.
In Greek mythology it is said to have been used by Achilles to heal his warriors during the battle of Troy – hence the name “Achillea”. In Anglo-Saxon times it was used as a charm to ward off evil and illness.
Elegant Madia, Madia elegans The most attractive form of tarweed is fragrant, and sticky to the touch. It fools you because when go go out to see it later where you spotted it in the morning, it has disappeared! The 1 inch wide, yellow flowers close right up after noon or 1pm. It has a scent that people recognize sometime as sagebrush.
Heermann’s tarweed , Holocarpha heermannii, is the second type of ‘tarweed’ on the property. Instead of the flowers closing up, like the Madia, it stays golden, but with much smaller flowers. It resembles a field of gold baby’s breath, light and airy and the fragrance is that same spicy, soapy scent. Also, very sticky when you walk through it and once the cat walked inside with a large branch of it stuck to her side. A smell can bring on a flood of memories, and this is true for anyone who has grown up in an area with ‘tarweed.’
Silver Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons You are lucky if you have this in your garden. The lush and lovely 3 foot tall and wide evergreen is topped with long spikes of blue to periwinkle blue flowers, tipped with white. The perennial foliage is silvery grey-green with a feathery texture. This Lupine can be grown from seed easily.
Arroyo Lupine, Lupinus succulentus, is an annual herb that is native to California, similar to the Silver Bush Lupine in size, however its foliage is deep green, dies back to the ground in fall and the spread of the fan shaped leaves is larger. The flower, a 4-5 inch blue flowered spike is nearly identical to the Silver Bush Lupine.
Live-Forever, Dudleya cymosa, is named for the first head of the botany department at Stanford University, Professor William Russell Dudley. This species of Dudleya has yellow-red flowers and is found in the mountains of California from 500 to 8000 feet in elevation. They prefer good drainage and are good in rocky areas, rock gardens and walls. Hummingbirds love them! They’re considered a perennial instead of a shrub, but dudleyas are hardy to 0 F. degrees.
Gamble Weed or Snakeroot, Sanicula crassicaulis, is a perennial herb in the parsley family that is native to California and is also found elsewhere in North America and beyond. Yellow flowered on tall stems, 18 inches high; it has attractive jaggedy lobed leaves before the stalks grow up and you think it might be something wonderful, but it turns out to be a weedy looking adult. Too bad!
Sticky Cinquefoil, Potentilla glandulosa, resembles wild strawberry in leaf shape and before the tall stems rise up. It is native to western North America from southwestern Canada to the southwestern United States. Tiny yellow five petaled flowers top each stem. Lovable and well behaved in the garden.
Wavyleaf Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum Startling at first, this strange plant is really very interesting. The strap-like leaves have wavy-edged leaves 12-18 inches long that curl arounf the base of the plant It grows 4-7 feet tall on a wispy appearing but sturdy stalk, which in July explodes into a myriad of delicate white vase shaped flowers in early mornings and evenings. Almost transparent, the flower stalks are hard to photograph, disappearing into the background.
If you look closely you’ll see that the insects, syrphid flies, and tiny moths know just when to visit this plant and the whole stalk is jumping with activity. At the base of the root is a fibrous bulb, which when dried was used by the local Mono Tribes as a brush for cleaning pots as well as for food. Get out a big shovel if you want to dig up the root, for it goes deep almost 18 inches!
Chaparral honeysuckle, Lonicera interrupta, is a round leaved, opposing leaved native vine with a delicate grey-green color. The leaves are the size of pennies. Native to California alone, it grows under the oaks and pines and twines up into them, with a slender grapevine-like trunk that thickens if it’s cut to the ground. It grows bushier if that is done, of course. The fragrant flowers are a buttery yellow.
Red maids, Calandrinia ciliata, grows very flat to the ground, slightly succulent, annual broadleaf native to California. Although an attractive plant in natural areas, redmaids are considered a weed, especially in vegetable beds where it can compete with smaller growing crops. It is found throughout Redmaids like cool weather, so will disappear with the first hot, sunny weather. Another name for it is desert rock purselane.
Blue Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bellum
Blue-eyed grass or Western blue-eyed grass is native to California and other areas west of the Sierra Nevada. A perennial meadow wildflower related to the iris family, it hides among the other grasses until the clear blue flowers appear in April or May. It can be found growing wild on grassy hillsides and in meadows throughout the California foothills. The flowers form at the ends of long branching iris-like stalks about the same height as the leaves giving it the grassy look. Each flower is up to an inch in diameter, with 3 petals and 3 sepals. Each has a dab of yellow at the center and is topped with a delicate yellow style. It is said to be propagated by seed, and to self-sow. It can also be propagated by division of its rhizomes.
Native grasses are the ones I’d like to learn more about I had hoped to cultivate them by decreasing, if I could, the non natives, but now after learning more and realizing that many of the non natives have been here in the foothills for hundreds of years, I am content with identifying what natives that I see here and planting more native California grasses where I can.
Deer Grass, Muhlenbergia rigens, is a hardy drought resistant grass that will remind you of Fountain grass, Miscanthus, growing quickly to 2-3 ft high and wide. It’s evergreen and reseeds in normal rainfall years. Deergrass is easily transplanted to form curving swaths where ever you like when seedlings grow too close to the mother plant. Very easy care.
Pacific Woodrush, Luzula comosa, grow in wetter areas of the ground, either in clay or sandy soil, often under Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizenii with poison-oak present. The grass-like leaves are about 3-4 inches high and have reddish tips. On the top 2 inches of each slender round, green stalk are groups of spiky reddish bristles about 1/4 inch long. These bristles hold the seeds. Here in this garden, there is a grouping of the sedge under an oak, with California Golden violets as their companions. Both bloom in early March.
Small Fescue, Vulpia microstachys, is a grass that came in a California native meadow mix. Very slender round leaves will distinguish this from other non-natives. It has slender waving seedheads and rice shaped seeds.