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
Ocimum 'African Blue Basil' New leaves purple than dark green. Pinkish flowers. Leaves have a camphor flavor.O. kilimandscharicum x basilicum.
Oenothera elata Lush green leaves; tall stems of large bright yellow flowers. Birds love the seeds.
Oenothera caespitosa Densely clumping, to 12 inches. Long narrow leaves, huge white fragrant flowers.
Oenothera speciosa 'Rosea' 18 inches+. Mexican evening primrose. Large pink flowers.
Oenothera speciosa 'Siskiyou' 6-10 inches high. Mexican evening primrose. Compact, pink flowers. Widely spreading.
Olea europaea 'Montra' Shrubby, compact, to 8 feet. Green leaves, no fruits.
Olea europaea 'Skylark Dwarf' Shrubby, compact, to 12 feet. Grey leaves, few fruits.
Olea europaea 'Skylark Dwarf' Shrubby, compact, to 12 feet. Grey leaves, few fruits.
Olearia paniculata Leathery oval green leaves. Dense habit. Cream flowers in clusters in fall.
Olearia phlogopappa 'Dilly Dilly' Evergreen shrub with erect habit. Lavender blue daisy flowers are abundant in summer.
Opuntia humifusa Prickly pear gets 2 feet high, spreads. Large grey pads, yellow flowers.
Orbexilum pedunculatum Low, spreading. Dark 3-parted leaves, purple pea flowers.
Origanum 'Amethyst Falls' 12 inches high. Drooping hop-like flower heads with pink bracts, long bloom.
Origanum 'Buckland' Fuzzy grey leaves are rounded; pendant rose pink bracts, flowers. Clumping.
Origanum dictamnus Round hairy leaves; pendant rose pink bracts, flowers. Clumping.
Origanum 'Green Goddess' Densely matting; nodding creamy bracts, flower stems to 12 inches.
Origanum 'Kent Beauty' Matting. Round leaves; large pink bracts with flowers.
Origanum laevigatum 'Hopleys' Low leaves; vivid red purple flowers on 12 inch stems, summer.
Origanum libanoticum 12-15". Drooping hop-like fl. 4" bracts with magenta blooms popping out.
Origanum x majoricum Aromatic green leaves have great flavor.

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