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.

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Plant Name Capsule Description
Artemisia arbuscula Low sagebrush. Mounding shrub to 12 inches, grey-white leaves.
Artemisia californica Narrow silver, distinctively aromatic leaves on spreading branches. Loosely mounding.
Artemisia californica 'Canyon Gray' California sagebrush. Narrow silver, distinctively aromatic leaves on low spreading branches.
Artemisia californica 'Montara' California sagebrush. Narrow silver, distinctively aromatic leaves on low spreading branches.
Artemisia douglasiana California mugwort. Spreading perennial, stems to 3-4 feet. Dusty green aromatic leaves, grey undersides.
Artemisia ludoviciana 'Silver King' White sage. To 3 feet. Finely cut aromatic silver leaves.
Artemisia ludoviciana [ssp. incompta] Spreading perennial. Erect silver stems to 18 inches. Aromatic leaves.
Artemisia pedemontana Small scale flat mat with silky silver, furred leaves.
Artemisia 'Powis Castle' To 3 feet+, spreading; large grey, dissected leaves.
Artemisia pycnocephala 'David's Choice' Sandhill sage; nearly prostrate; furry white foliage.
Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana Sagebrush. This form to 4 feet, bushy, silvery foliage.
Arum palaestinum Calla relative; to 18 inches; large dark leaves, deep maroon spathe.
Asclepias eriocarpa Broad grey-geern leaves, heads of cream flowers in late spring.
Asclepias fascicularis Milkweed. 3-4 foot slender stems, narrow leaves; white scented flowers.
Asclepias speciosa Milkweed. 2 feet+.Large, furry leaves, broad clusters of cream flowers.
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly weed; 1-2 foot stems, bright orange heads.
Asphodeline lutea 2-4 foot stems; narrow, drooping leaves; yellow flowers.
Aster chilensis--dwarf Especially low compact form makes spreading carpet. Summer to fall bloom, lavender daisy flowers attract butterflies.
Aster chilensis 'Point St. George' Low growing California aster spreads widely. Summer to fall bloom, lavender daisy flowers. Attractive to butterflies.
Aster chilensis 'Purple Haze' Santa Barbara Botanic Garden introduction. To 2 feet. Bright lavender flowers in fall, widely spreading.

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