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
Solanum pyracanthum Airy angular shrub has long orange spines on leaves; purple flowers in summer.
Solanum umbelliferum v. incanum 'Dark Eyes' Native subshrub. Green leaves and stems, vivid blue purple flowers.
Solanum umbelliferum v. incanum 'Indians Grey' Native subshrub. Grey leaves and stems, bright lavender flowers.
Solanum umbelliferum v. incanum 'Spring Frost' Native subshrub. Grey leaves and stems, white flowers.
Solanum xanti 'Mountain Pride' Purple nightshade. Vivid royal purple flowers, soft green leaves.
Solidago velutina ssp. californica Spreading. Yellow flowers along wand-like stems to 2-3 feet in summer.
Sollya heterophylla (fusiformis) Australian bluebell creeper. Climbs 6 feet+, bloom summer and fall.
Sollya heterophylla (fusiformis)--white Shrub or vine has clean bright green leaves. Many white bell flowers in spring and summer.
Sparaxis grandiflora ssp. acutiloba Bright soft yellow flowers, spring. Dormant in summer.
Sphaeralcea 'Childerley' Soft salmon orange flowers along flexible branches summer and fall.
Sphaeralcea coccinea Low spreading cushion for dry gardens with grey-green leaves and bright red orange flowers in summer.
Sphaeralcea fendleri var. venusta To 3-4 feet+. Grey-green leaves, spikes of clear pink flowers.
Sphaeralcea fulva 'La Luna' Baja native, to 2 feet+. Light green leaves, silky white flowers. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden introduction.
Sphaeralcea incana Erect stems to 3 feet+. Grey-green leaves, orange flowers.
Sphaeralcea incana--dark pink Erect stems to 3 feet or more. Grey-green leaves, dark pink flowers.
Sphaeralcea 'Newleaze Coral' To 3 feet+. Vase shaped perennial, vivid flowers start orange, shift to coral.
Sporobolus airoides Alkali dropseed. Clumps to 2 feet+; airy flower clusters.
Sporobolus maximus 6-9'. Huge clumping grass from South America.
Sporobolus wrightii 'Windbreaker' Los Lunas form. 8-10 feet high. Especially robust.
Stachys bullata--dark pink fl. Hedge nettle. Bright dark pink flowers; widely spreading roots.

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