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
Panicum bulbosum 3 feet high. Low grey-green leaves, airy flowers. Yellow fall color.
Papaver orientale 'Plum Pudding' Light purple flowers with dark spot on each petal. Spring bloom.
Papaver orientale 'Prince of Orange' Oriental poppy. Large orange flowers, dark spots.
Papaver orientale 'Queen Alexandra' Pale pink flowers with dark spot on each petal. Spring bloom.
Papaver pilosum 1-2 feet; fuzzy basal leaves; bright orange flowers.
Papaver pilosum ssp. spicatum Fuzzy basal leaves; bright orange flowers along the flower stems.
Parrotia persica 15-30 feet, tiered branches, reddish flower tassels, great fall color.
Pasithea caerulea Clumping, with grassy leaves, 2 foot branched stems, spikes of bright blue flowers.
Pelargonium sidoides Low, spreading. Lobed grey-green leaves, dark magenta flowers.
Pellaea mucronata 12 inches. California native rock fern; wiry stems, grey leaflets.
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Desert Plains' PP#20751 Arching tawny plumes to 5 inches long in midsummer, light green leaves in vase shaped clump.
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Piglet' PP#19074 Light green leaves in low clump to 12 inches high; tawny plumes arch over the leaves in summer.
Pennisetum 'First Knight' PP#25515 Wide glossy leaves start green, but darken to deep reddish black. Great foliage plant.
Pennisetum setaceum 'Cupreum' Fountain grass; 2-4 feet; reddish leaves and stems, pink plumes.
Pennisetum setaceum 'Eaton Canyon' Low clumps, purplish foliage, pink feathery flowers.
Pennisetum setaceum 'Fireworks' PP#18504 New leaves combine red/green/pink/white before they settle down to a rich red shade. Burgundy fls.
Pennisetum setaceum 'Sky Rocket' PP#21497 Fountain grass. Green leaves are edged white on this warm season clumping grass. Pink plumes in summer.
Penstemon azureus Flower stems to 18 inches; blue flowers over grey-green leaves.
Penstemon azureus var. angustissimus 12-18 inches. Narrow blue grey leaves; yellow buds open to blue flowers.
Penstemon cardinalis Broad green basal leaves; 2 foot spike of bright, true red flowers.

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