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
Rosmarinus officinalis 'Barbeque' Erect, narrow, aromatic leaves; light blue flowers in spring.
Ranunculus californicus Low green leaves form tidy clumps; sprays of shiny vivid yellow flowers in early spring.
Ranunculus cortusifolius Robust, to 2 feet+. Large round leaves, satiny yellow flowers in clusters.
Ranunculus occidentalis Hairy low leaves; bright yellow flowers in spring. Native to California and the Pacific Northwest.
Ratibida columnifera 2 feet+ flower stem. Orange to yellow flowers, tall dark center cone.
Restio similis 18 inches. Dark green branched culms, small bronze flowers.
Rhamnus alaternus 'John Edwards' Italian buckthorn. Angled branches, dark green leaves. Great hedge or screen plant.
Rhamnus alaternus 'Variegatus' Creamy-white leaf edges. Red berries. Great hedge.
Rhamnus (Frangula) californica 'Eve Case' Coffeeberry. 6 feet, compact; large dark leaves; red-tinged berries.
Rhamnus (Frangula) californica 'Leatherleaf' Coffeeberry. 4-6 feet+. Round, tight form. Shiny, deepest green leaves.
Rhamnus (Frangula) californica 'Mound San Bruno' 4-5 feet+. Coffeeberry. Dense, mounding, dark green leaves.
Rhamnus (Frangula) californica 'Seaview Improved' Coffeeberry. 16 inches. Prostrate, slow-growing. Dark satiny leaves.
Rhamnus (Frangula) californica ssp. crassifolia Coffeeberry; 8 feet or more; grey-felted leaves, red-black berries.
Rhamnus (Frangula) californica ssp. tomentella Coffeeberry; 8 feet or more; narrow dark green leaves, red-black berries.
Rhamnus ilicifolia To 8 feet or more, bushy. Glossy toothed leaves on stiff branches, bright red berries.
Rhaphiolepis umbellata 'Minor' To 5 feet. Evergreen leaves-copper spring and fall. White flowers.
Rhodocoma arida 5-6 feet. Columnar with thin blue almost leafless stems, clumping.
Rhodocoma capensis 5-8 feet. Erect, fluffy very dark green stems, drooping tips.
Rhus aromatica Loose rambling shrub roots as it grows. Good fall color.
Ribes aureum var. gracillimum Golden currant. Bright yellow fragrant flowers, red fruits.

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