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
Polygala virgata 'Portola' 4-6'; Upright habit. Narrow leaves, spikes of purple sweetpea-like flowers.
Polypodium californicum 'Sarah Lyman' California native fern; dissected-leaf selection. Deciduous in summer.
Polypodium scouleri Creeping fern has leathery dark green fronds.
Polystichum luctuosum Korean rock fern. Dark green fronds with black stems. Good cut foliage.
Polystichum munitum Western sword fern; large, thick dark green fronds.
Prostanthera baxteri 'Lavender Moon' Greyish stems with narrow leavs. Many lavender-mauve fls.
Prostanthera linearis To 5 feet, dense. Narrow leaves are greyish green, many lavender flowers in spring.
Prostanthera ovalifolia 'Purple Haze' Mint bush. To 5'+. Fragrant lavender fls deep violet ctr.
Prostanthera ovalifolia 'Variegata' Mint bush. To 5 feet+. Cream-variegated leaves, bright purple flowers.
Prostanthera rotundifolia 'Rosea' Mint bush; 4 feet. Dense, small round fragrant leaves, pink flowers.
Protea 'Pink Ice' Narrow green leathery leaves, deep pink flowers winter to spring.
Prunus emarginata Suckering shrub with white flowers in spring, purple red fruits.
Prunus ilicifolia 8 feet+. Holly-leaf cherry. Shiny green leaves, white flowers.
Prunus ilicifolia var. lyonii Catalina cherry. 10-20 feet tall. Evergreen glossy leaves, white flowers.
Prunus lusitanica Portugal laurel. Evergreen. 10-30 feet tall. Dense habit.
Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke' Deep rose pink fragrant flowers on bare stems in spring.
Prunus virginiana var. demissa Western chokecherry. Thicketing shrub to 8-12 feet high. White flowers.
Pseudognaphalium californicum Erect perennial with aromatic green leaves and clusters of white papery flowers in summer.
Ptilotus exalatus 'Joey' Striking silky pink flower plumes over silvery green leaves.
Punica granatum 'Wonderful' Pomegranate; to 10 feet; red flowers, large fruit.

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