Locals Only: A Surprising Tour of Southern California’s Native Plants

Last weekend we headed up the coast in search of indigenous plants, and were amazed by the colorful diversity we found. The low-lying chaparral we expected was punctuated by shocking, shoulder-high clouds of wild lilac (Ceanothus) and flannel bush blooming yellow, and one of the most stunning flowering euphorbias we’ve ever seen. It was at least 10 feet tall!

How sweet is to find so many species called californica. These discoveries happened courtesy of the “Blooming Consciousness” tour, presented by Garden Native and the California Native Plant Society. You might remember our preview; this year’s two-day tour featured fifteen locations all over North County San Diego — from Vista and San Marcos to Carlsbad and Solana Beach. The plants on view are native to California and Baja.

We explored three gardens: (1) Lux Art Institute, where bees wrestle with salvia and bladderpod shrubs planted along an uphill path. The trail leads to a gallery filled with rotating works created by artists-in-residence from around the world. (2) A private house in Encinitas with the abovementioned euphorbia at the entrance, plus mini meadows thick with native plants like California poppies, yucca and punchbowl clarkias, and one seriously cool repurposed art/water feature in the backyard. And (3) a Solana Beach home with out-of-this-world succulents and an inventive quiz about natives versus invasives.

(We did just so-so on that quiz.)

Below, we wander. Come on with!

Cleveland sage (Salvia 'Pozo Blue')

Spotted at Lux Art Institute in Encinitas: Cleveland sage (Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’).


Battling what’s known in the biz as “visor hair” as I stand between a wild lilac shrub (left) and a California brittlebush.

Desert penstemon (Penstemon Pseudospectoabilis)

Desert penstemon (Penstemon pseudospectoabilis).

Salvia 'Bee's Bliss'

Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss.’

Del Mar manzanita

I marvel at the Del Mar manzanita.

Del Mar manzanita


“Birdhouse II” by Joan Bankemper is made from broken china and figurines.

Wild lilac or Caenothus 'Wheeler Canyon'

Check out those globs of pollen! This bee is in the business of another wild lilac (or Ceanothus ‘Wheeler Canyon’).

Bladder pod, California Cleome or Isomeris arborea

This bladder pod (California Cleome or Isomeris arborea) stopped us in our tracks.

Baha spurge (Euphorbia xantii)

Now on to a private residence in Encinitas. This Baja spurge (Euphorbia xantii) knows how to make an entrance. Wait for it…

Baja spurge (Euphorbia xantii)

Spectacular. The Baja spurge is a fast-growing euphorbia, in the same genus as the poinsettia.


The California poppy, our state flower, soaks up the afternoon sun.


Dudleya arizonica, Fouquieria diguetii, and Ferocactus chrysacan

A native plants tour wouldn’t be complete without cacti. Clockwise from top left:  Fouquieria diguetii, Ferocactus chrysacanthus and Dudleya arizonica. (Numbers were placed throughout the garden to aid IDs.)


Fremontodendron californicum or Flannel bush

Behold the flannel bush! Also known as Fremontodendron californicum.

Fremontodendron californicum or Flannel bush

wild lilac

More wild lilac.


Art and water awaited in the backyard.



Antiques join to create an homage to a 1930s service station. (Framed by creeping fig vine.)


This pond charmed us. The owner told us he made it as deep as it is (about three feet) because raccoons won’t wade in if they can’t sense depth.






An alligator lizard makes a run for the house.

Chaparral Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei)

Chaparral Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei) adds height and slickness to this flowerbed.

Chaparral Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei)

California poppies, chaparral yucca and punchbowl clarkias unite to recreate Warhol.

Dudleya brittonii (white form)

Britton’s dudleya (Dudleya brittonii) is a succulent in the Crassulaceae family.

Carpenter bee hive and California pepper tree

Funny story. The California pepper tree (here, it houses a hive for carpenter bees) isn’t actually native to any of these parts. The tree is indigenous to the Peruvian Andes but became ubiquitous after it was spread by missionaries in the 19th century.

Deer fern (Blechnum spicant), maidenhair fern (Adiantum jordanii)

Fantasy-level ferns. They are, clockwise from top left: Deer fern (Blechnum spicant), maidenhair fern (Adiantum jordanii), leather leaf fern (Polypodium scouleri) and maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes).

Native plant quiz!

Then we headed to the house in Solana Beach, where we were met with a native plant quiz!

Native plant quiz! Native plant quiz!

Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus)

Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus).

Grindelia stricta venulosa or prostrate gum plant

Prostrate gum plant (Grindelia stricta venulosa).

Raised level planter bed in front of black sage (Salvia mellifer).

A raised level planter bed in front of black sage (Salvia mellifer).


THIS.(…is an Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartcop.’) Alas it’s not native to California and instead indigenous to the Canary Islands; still, we stare.

Catalina Island Currant (Ribes viburnifolium)

Catalina Island Currant (Ribes viburnifolium).

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum).

Arctostaphylos 'Howard McMinn' - Manzanita

Ryan struts past a ‘Howard McMinn’ manzanita.