Contributor: Ruben Tapia
Photographer: Saffron & Sage
Southern California has some of the hardiest plants in North America with its range of climates from coastal to arid, forest to desert. As such, most California flora is drought resistant or tolerant (succulents) that only need minimal watering once they are settled. Colorations of these flowers are vivid and lovely, which gives a hint as to why native peoples would hold so much value in the advantages these flowers provide.
But why is it important that we grow native flowers? First off, many native insect species, which help keep plant life thriving, have spent generations relying on flora originally from their area (the way a hummingbird needs more tubular flowers, like the honeysuckle). These native plants maintain keystone insect species in an environment in which there is a mutual need to survive. If either are absent, this could lead to the loss of a native species. Native flowers help maintain a durable bionetwork of plant-life not available anywhere else in the world. This list boasts just a few local choices from dozens of options that can enhance your local flora and attract local pollinators to your garden.
California Poppy - Eschscholzia californica
It goes without saying that the state flower of California would be a perfect choice for this list. Historically, first sights of Russian immigrants in the 19th century were that of amazement at the rolling golden hills of poppy that greeted them upon their arrival. This flower is a shining beacon of spring from the state of Washington to the Baja peninsula – a gorgeous addition to any garden with the strength to handle even the most rugged of environments.
California Bee Plant (California Figwort) - Scrophularia californica
This flowering plant has a trifecta of advantages. It’s an energizing plant in the home or office, whose simple blossoms provide an added splendor. As the name indicates, this flowering plant is host to pollinating species (most notably the Chalcedon Checkerspot Butterfly and various species of bees, as the namesake suggests) which diversifies and strengthens local ecology. Plants like this help bring life and vitality to a garden, while simultaneously adding a dazzling local bloom.
Matilija Poppy - Romneya coulteri
The Matilija poppy is a big draw for local pollinators, such as the California carpenter bee (Xylocopa californica) and Sweet Bees (Halictini). It is the largest flower of all poppy plants with plumes of delicate white petals whose texture is reminiscent of the twirl of Latin American polleras. This southern California beauty can be a bit competitive with other plants for space, but the shine it brings would put the pep in anyone’s step.
California Mountain Lilac - Ceanothus 'Concha'
California is known for having some of the most prestigious natural wonders, from its glorious forests to sweltering deserts to colossal mountain ranges. In partnership with these wondrous landscapes are flowers to match. The California Mountain lilac carries the hardiness of the Sierra Nevada range with its drought tolerance and ability to flourish almost anywhere. Lilac flowers are renowned for their scintillating purple and blue blossoms and fresh attar and have a favorite pollinating species to match – the Ceanothus Silk Moth. This symbiosis of beauty and strength showcases spring perfectly – when beautiful flowers bloom and insects continue the previous years’ duties despite the cold winter.
Wild Rose – Rosa californica
Despite its name, the wild rose of California is an elegant sight. With fine pink blossoms this rose is quick to attract an array of local pollinators. Insects aren’t the only ones that love this flower. The Cahuilla people used the rose for its secondary purpose – its ability to provide rose hips after the petals have done their work to help with pollination. Rose hips were often eaten raw and have been shown to help lower cholesterol, relieve arthritic pain, and hold anti-carcinogenic properties. The best way to remove rose hips is to trim or pick them in the same way one might pick a berry. The hips themselves are considered the fruit of the rose and can easily go forgotten as they form after blooms have naturally been lost and the flower has been pollinated (late summer/early fall).