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
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus 'Diamond Heights' 1 foot high, 4-5 feet wide. Yellow variegated leaves; light blue flowers.
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus 'Kurt Zadnik' 3-4 feet high, 8-12 feet wide. Shiny dark green leaves, deepest indigo blue flowers in spring.
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus 'Yankee Point' 3-5 feet high, 8-15 feet wide. Dark green leaves, medium blue flowers.
Ceanothus 'Tilden Park' 3 feet high by 6 feet+ wide. Dark green leaves; medium blue flowers, spring.
Ceanothus 'Wheeler Canyon' 4 feet high by 8 feet wide, dense; textured leaves, pink buds, blue flowers.
Centranthus lecoqii Valerian; bushy, to 3 feet+; blue-green leaves, lavender pink flowers.
Centranthus ruber 'Albus' Valerian; bushy, to 3 feet+; blue-green leaves, white flowers.
Centranthus ruber 'Coccineus' Valerian; bushy, grey-green leaves, profuse red flowers.
Centranthus ruber 'Rosenrot' Valerian; bushy perennial; greyish leaves, heads of rose-pink flowers.
Cerastium tomentosum Snow-in-summer; fuzzy grey leaves, white flowers.
Ceratostigma griffithii To 2 feet, shrubby; blue-green leaves, bright blue flowers.
Cercis occidentalis--dark Lake Co. strain Redbud; deep colored magenta flowers, bushy.
Cercis occidentalis 'Firefall Strain' Redbud. Selected for dark pink flowers, brilliant fall leaf color.
Cercocarpus betuloides Mountain mahogany. Striking creamy seed plumes. California native.
Cercocarpus ledifolius Desert mountain mahogany. White bark, small green leaves, to 10 feet.
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Imbricata Pendula'' Very slender cascading green stems. Slow growing. Very striking form.
Chasmatophyllum musculinum Flat mat; grey-green leaves; bright yellow flowers, red buds. Hardy.
Cheilanthes argentea 10-12 inches. Creeping dryland fern for dry sites. Green upper frond, silvery beneath.
Cheilanthes covillei Rock fern. Dense clumps, fuzzy, much-divided fronds.
Cheilanthes lanosa Hairy lip fern. Dryland fern from the eastern United States. 8 inches high, olive green fronds.

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