Our Garden’s Entertaining, Interesting, and Weird Plants

Gardener’s Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts

By Dan Songster, 2017 March

This column is a regular newsletter feature offering chapter members and local experts a chance to briefly share information on many things related to gardening with natives. The request for this edition is: “Do you grow any native plants because they are especially entertaining, interesting, or just plain weird?”

Leon Baginski -“Although not strictly native, I enjoy my organ pipe cactus. Slow grower but always reminds me of my trip to the national monument of the same name. Also love my ocotillo!! It is so odd for coastal garden. Unfortunately gophers seem to like the roots.”

Laura Camp -“We have pipevine (Aristilochia californica) blooming right now outside the Tree of Life office. The dutch pipe flowers are plentiful and bizarre and brown, and it’s weird because with the leaves in dormancy you can’t even tell that it’s flowering until you get up close—then the elaborate shapes and camouflage coloring make me go ‘whoa’!”

Bob Allen -“At home, I grow Ceratophyllum demersum, aquatic hornwort or coontail, an odd aquatic flowering plant in the Order Ceratophyllales (only 6 species), sister group to all Eudicots. It lives in a 20 inch tall glass vase full of water with a bubbler to keep it aerated.” http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=18711

Greg Rubin -“I can think of a couple cool and weird ones. First, Redshanks (Adenostoma sparsifolium). I wish people would consider it more for its beautiful, almost Dr. Seuss-like quality as a small tree. One of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen was south of Idyllwild where a naturally occurring stand of redshanks formed a backdrop for a mass of little Ceanothus greggii. Very simple and gorgeous. I couldn’t have designed it better than Nature already had.

A plant that I wish was more available is the Maurandya antirrhiniflora. It’s a little snapdragon vine whose flower color varies between red and blue depending on soil pH (apparently). Although it is somewhat herbaceous, it is a little thing that is so well suited to small-scale features like courtyard trellis’s or hidden gardens. It is very drought tolerant and I’ve actually seen the flower color change from the pot to the ground!  Related to Monkey flowers and Penstemons.

Finally, if you have the room, the Fremontodendron x Chiranthodendron hybrid is huge and fun and it is the fastest thing I’ve ever seen (mine grew from a 2″ pot to 30+ feet in 2.5 years!)

Rama Nayeri -“I have various varieties of Dudleya’s that are growing nicely indoors. They don’t get watered all that much and are still thriving.”

Chuck Wright -“Blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium bellum, comes to mind.  It was one of the first plants I bought and planted many years ago when someone brought some to a CNPS meeting in 2 inch pots. 15 years later they still pop up all over the yard but never overwhelming it. At first I was bothered by their shabby looks with dead leaves and I painstakingly pulled each dead brown leaf off.  When I mentioned this to Sarah Jayne and Celia, they both said why just whack them back and they will come back. I do and they do. They are a cheery blue delight.”

Brad Jenkins -“Eye-catching, elegant Calochortus flowers mesmerize me. Evidently other people too. In the yard (C. splendens and catalinae) or on the trail, plant novices always ask for the name. The more knowledgeable smile delightfully while looking at the structure and for insects inside. The entertainment value must be high because of what growers put up with…. The bulbs hide below ground most of the year, and only a dainty leaf and stem arises during winter. Spring flowers seem short lived. Bulbs require summer dry locations, and each fall I wonder, did they survive?”

John Gossett -“I planted an apache plume this year. I like it both for its flying-cloud seed heads and its name: Fallugia paradoxa.”

Dan Songster -“I used to grow Horsetail (Equisetum sp) to use the plant as a very fine sandpaper but it got too invasive. Isocoma menzeisii is the most entertaining of pollinator magnets around. How enjoyable just watching which insects use it each day. Oh, and all the native medicinal or herbal or food plants are fun to learn about.”

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