Plants at Home

California native plants can thrive in drought because plants do well when they are placed where they are adapted to live.

By Neil Khosla
Think about your favorite market. You know where to get everything you need -- cereal is on aisle five, the produce is in the back, and the bakery is near the flower department. When you go to a new market, you have to spend time searching for the things you need. Your grocery shopping becomes way less efficient.

It’s the same for plants living in their natural environment. Over thousands of years, native plants adapt to efficiently find and take resources from their environment. These adaptations equip plants with the tools they need to be successful in their home range.

When planted away from home, some plants can struggle to get the resources they need, like sunlight, nutrients, and water. Especially during drought years, native plants thrive and are more successful than others.

The Elkhorn Native Plant Nursery, located on a bluff in Moss Landing overlooking the slough, houses a diverse variety of native California plants. Rob de Bree, manager of Elkhorn, suggests checking out these beautiful plants that can be found at the nursery this week.

Salvia mellifera (black sage)
This plant is pretty sweet...literally. The second half of its name, mellifera, means honey-bearing. Black sage flowers produce a delicious nectar and emit an alluring fragrance. This pleasant aroma attracts a variety of thirsty pollinating insects.

“We see a whole bunch of different bee species, different species of flies, and we have seen butterflies on them as well,” de Bree says.

Butterflies and bees fly to black sage to collect nectar from its juicy center. In fact, black sage is one of the most important nectar-producing plants on the West Coast. Honey produced from this plant is slightly peppery, highly coveted, and very rare. If you are a beekeeper and want to add some spice to your current honey flavor, black sage would be a great addition to your garden.

Black sage is a drought-tolerant plant. It is native to Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay, and will survive intense drought conditions. In fact, this plant is best when planted in full sun, and only needs to be watered once per week.

Mimulus cardinalis (scarlet monkeyflower)
This plant also attracts many pollinators, but not of the insect variety.

“The scarlet monkeyflower is definitely attractive to wildlife,” de Bree says. “You see a lot of coming and going of hummingbirds. They will disappear and ten minutes later they will come back.”

Hummingbirds flock to the scarlet monkeyflower to drink its sweet nectar. Pollen clings to their foreheads, and is transferred from one flower to another. This is how the scarlet monkeyflower is able to reproduce.

As you might expect from its’ common name, the scarlet monkeyflower blooms rich reddish-orange flowers. Plant this flower in your backyard and watch your garden bloom into a beautiful ruby-speckled playground for hummingbirds.

But this flower cannot stand direct sunlight.

“It is definitely a plant that grows in more moist conditions in nature,” de Bree says. “Don’t plant it on a south-facing rocky hillside, because then you will be disappointed.”
It is best to plant this flower in shaded areas, or in spots that naturally receive water. Patches in your garden near pools of water, at the bottom of a slope, or near a drainpipe would be ideal.

Calocedrus decurrens (Incense cedar)
They say that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is right now. So why not plant a drought-resistant conifer that is native to California?
The incense cedar is one of the most beautiful trees on the West Coast. Its amber tinged trunk glows softly in the sunlight, and serves as a reminder that these trees are resistant to fires and drought that can decimate the landscape.

This tree would make a great addition to any home. The cinnamon-red of its bark warms cool green gardens, adding richness to a flowery yard.

“They always look very fresh, even when it is very dry outside,” de Bree says. “Some of the plants that are evergreen drop their leaves and get damage from drought stress. I have not observed this with any of the incense cedars ever. It is definitely a worthwhile plant for a large yard.”

Make sure to plant the incense cedar in an area with a lot of open space to allow it to grow to its fullest potential. It takes some time for this cedar to grow to its maximum height. Expect to wait a few years before it begins noticeably shooting upwards.
Elkhorn Native Plant Nursery is a wholesale nursery open to the trade by appointment, and open to the public on Friday. “Because we are a wholesale nursery, we can offer retail customs great prices not found at other nurseries," de Bree says.

It’s a very good idea to check out, where you’ll find useful information including prices and an updated plant-availability list.

Elkhorn Native Plant Nursery: 1957B Highway 1, Moss Landing. (831) 763.1207

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