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
Stachys bullata--SBBG/unscented Form with unscented leaves from Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, widely spreading. Pink flowers.
Stachys thirkei Like lamb's ears, but greener, tighter and better looking in winter. Mauve flowers.
Stipa cernua (Nassella c.) Nodding feather grass. 2 feet high and wide. Airy flowers.
Stipa coronata (Achnatherum c.) California bunch grass with fairly upright green leaves; narrow flower stems to 4 feet, erect habit.
Stipa gigantea Giant needle grass; 4-6 foot golden flower stems.
Stipa gigantea 'Little Giant' Suncrest Nurseries selection. Clumps to 1 foot; flower stem to 3 feet. Shiny golden flowers.
Stipa hymenoides (Achnatherum h.) Low clumps; lacy flower heads with tiny spikelets in summer.
Stipa lepida (Nassella l.) Foothill needlegrass. 1-2 feet high and wide. Narrow leaves, clumps. Airy flowers.
Stipa pulchra (Nassella p.) Purple needlegrass. 2 feet high and wide. Strong clumps, airy flowers.
Stokesia laevis 'Elf' PPAF 8"h; tight mounding. Lavender-blue fls with a lighter domed ctr.
Styrax redivivus Snowdrop bush; white-flowered western native.
Symphoricarpos albus 'Tilden Park' Snowberry. To 4 feet, bushy. Large white berries in summer and fall.
Symphoricarpos mollis Spreading stems have soft light green leaves. Small pink flowers are followed by fat white ornamental berries.

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