Plants for a Thirsty State

Public interest in plants with relatively low water requirements has come and gone several times over the past few decades. Each new dry cycle seems to bring a new awakening, a new missionary movement, and the “learning” of new approaches to gardening. All of these seem to be quickly forgotten soon after the wet years return. In the long run, however, it is clear that with a growing population and (at least in our lifetimes) declining rainfall averages over much of the state, Californians will be gardening with less water, like it or not, even in the best of years. Fortunately, there is already a large body of information on which to draw, some of it–like new developments in drip and spitter irrigation–being compiled continuously in the interest of more economical garden maintenance. Some of the best information on particular plants comes simply from observing neglected or abandoned gardens, regardless of current weather patterns.

Partly by design, partly by pursuing other fancies with plant groups from California, the Southwest, Mexico, temperate South America, Australia and South Africa, we at Suncrest have gradually accumulated a collection of several hundred plants with a record of at least moderate tolerance of summer drought. This means simply that they can be maintained in good condition with substantially less summer irrigation than the average popular garden plant (and vastly less than the lawns that still fill major portions of many California landscapes). The fact that many of these plants are also beautiful, fill nearly every possible garden niche, and collectively provide year-round seasonal interest, would make them desirable garden candidates even if water were not an issue.

You can use the alphabetical listings below (with page divisions for the larger groups) to easily access informational displays on these plants. More detailed descriptions and information on how to use them are now available in our new publication, Plants for a Thirsty State, in PDF format. Click here to download the complete publication, with color covers, in PDF format. A separate, smaller file with just the main body text is available here.

Select A Letter Below
Plant Name Capsule Description
Mahonia (Berberis) aquifolium Oregon grape. Shiny divided leaves, bright yellow flowers, blue berries.
Mahonia (Berberis) 'Golden Abundance' Robust, to 8 feet. Large dark leaves, masses of golden yellow flowers.
Mahonia (Berberis) nervosa Usually low, with purplish leaves, many leaflets.
Mahonia (Berberis) nevinii 6 feet+; bushy growth; small prickly grey-green leaves, many red fruits.
Mahonia (Berberis) repens Low, slowly spreading; purple-tinged leaves.
Mahonia (Berberis) 'Skylark' 6 feet, bushy; glossy leaves, red new growth, yellow flowers.
Malacothamnus fasciculatus 'Casitas' Upright to 8 feet. Large lobed grey leaves, cupped pink flowers.
Malacothamnus fremontii Upright to 6 feet, thicketing. Grey leaves, pink mallow flowers.
Malacothamnus palmeri 'Hanging Valley' 4-6 feet; open growth. Large lobed, grey-green leaves, heads of pink flowers.
Malacothamnus palmeri 'Jolon' Santa Lucia bush mallow. Green leaves, white flowers, to 4 feet.
Marrubium bourgaei 'All Hallows Green' 18 inches high, 2-3 feet wide. Dusty green furry leaves make dense spreading mound.
Meehania cordata Creeping mint for shade. Lavender blue flowers in early summer, soft green leaves.
Melaleuca incana 6-7 feet high by 8 feet wide; soft, fuzzy grey leaves, cream flowers.
Melaleuca nesophila 15-20 feet. Dense, sturdy shrub. Round balls of mauve flowers spring to summer.
Melanoselinum decipiens Woody stem to 5-9 feet has terminal tuft of tropical looking wide green leaves. Broad heads of creamy flowers in spring.
Melica californica California melic. Green clump to 12 inches, flower stems to 30 inches.
Melica imperfecta Clumping bright green California bunchgrass; flower stem to 2 feet.
Mimulus aurantiacus Monkeyflower, to 4 feet or more. Narrow leaves, bright tangerine orange flowers.
Mimulus aurantiacus 'Electric Pumpkin' Erect habit, with masses of bright orange flowers in spring and early summer.
Mimulus aurantiacus 'Pine Canyon' Monkeyflower; bushy, narrow leaves, ruffled soft yellow flowers.

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