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
Agave colimana Greyish green rosette with white edges. Flower stem can reach 10 feet.
Agave 'Cream Spike' Blue grey leaves edged cream. Chestnut spines.
Agave geminiflora Narrow green spine-less leaves form dense globe. Flower stem to 8-10 feet.
Agave gracilipes 2 feet high by 3 feet wide. Grey green tooth-edged rosettes, hardy.
Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue' Solitary blue rosette to 3-5 feet tall. Flower spike to 10 feet.
Agave parryi Grey green toothed rosettes, 10 foot+ flower stem.
Agave 'Sharkskin' 2-3 foot robust dark grey-green rosettes form colonies.
Agave vilmoriniana Octopus agave. Large, low fleshy rosettes, flower stem to 10 feet.
Agropyron smithii 1-2 feet. Colonizing cool season blue-green grass for meadows.
Agrostis pallens--bronze form Leafy bent grass. Spreading green grass for meadows.
Allium taquetii 1 foot. Grassy leaves, loose heads of purplish red flowers, summer.
Allium tuberosum Garlic chives. Dense clumps of narrow pungent leaves, white flowers.
Allium unifolium Showy native; 1-2 foot stems, dark pink flowers, spring.
Aloe arborescens 6-8 feet. Succulent shrub blooms in fall and winter; showy spikes of orange red flowers.
Aloe arborescens--yellow 6-8 feet. Succulent shrub blooms in fall and winter; showy spikes of yellow flowers.
Aloe 'Blue Elf' 8-12 inch rosette, bumpy blue-green leaves. Spikes of orange flowers to 18 inches.
Aloe 'Christmas Carol' Rough green rosettes have peachy red bumps and leaf edges.
Aloe cooperi Grass aloe, to 18 inches. Coral orange flowers in summer, low green leaves.
Aloe dorotheae Rosettes to 8 inches; new leaves bright red orange when grown in sun.
Aloe fosteri 2 foot high rosette, streaked green leaves. Flower stem to 5 feet, orange flowers.

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