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
Beschorneria yuccoides 'Flamingo Glow' PP#22162 Sturdy soft clump of grey green leaves, each with a broad yellow center. Rose pink flower stem.
Bothriochloa barbinodis Cane bluestem. Clumping grass with bluish leaves; very drought tolerant.
Bouteloua curtipendula Clumping dryland grass with fine textured leaves, flowers.
Bouteloua gracilis Blue grama. Leaves to 8 inches. Eyelash-like flowers.
Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition' PP#22049 Blue grama, larger. Leaves to 12 inches, flower stems to 30 inches. Blonde "eyelash" flowers.
Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Mini' Blue grama. 6-8"h. Golden flower clusters.
Bouteloua gracilis 'Dwarf Black#2" Leaves to 8 inches. Charcoal colored eyelash-like flowers.
Bouteloua gracilis 'Pestana de Angel' Blue grama. To 8"h. Dark fls. CA selection.
Brachychiton acerifolius Australian flame tree. Bright red flowers. Tender.
Brachychiton populneus To 30 feet. Dense, with dark green leaves. Distinctive trunk. Cream flowers.
Brachypodium retusum Rhizomatous grass for meadows, light green leaves.
Brachysema celsianum (lanceolatum) Dense shrub to 2 feet, narrow dark grey leaves, bright red pea flowers.
Brodiaea californica Tall stems, to 2 feet. Bright rosy violet flowers spring-summer.
Brodiaea elegans Harvest brodiaea. 8-12 inch stems; blue purple flowers, spring.
Bromus benekenii 1 foot high. Spreading grass, soft light green wide leaves. Sun or light shade.
Buchloe dactyloides 'Buffalo Bill' TM Low grass, for meadows, turf; small showy panicles. Winter dormant.
Bulbine frutescens Clumping succulent, narrow green leaves; spikes of yellow flowers.
Bulbine frutescens 'Hallmark' Many trailing stems. Succulent leaves. Spikes of orange flowers.
Bulbine frutescens 'Orange' Clumping succulent, with long green leaves, spikes of orange flowers.
Bulbinella robusta Shiny narrow leaves, bright yellow "torches" winter-spring.

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