Autumn’s Favorite Arrival Botanical Signs

Native Gardeners Corner—’Member’s Tips, Tricks, and Techniques

What is your favorite botanical sign that Autumn has finally arrived in your native garden, even here in southern California?

2019 November-December

By Dan Songster

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.


Chris Reed: “Hands down my favorite is Fuchsia flower Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum). With warnings of red as bright as wild grape, the leaves turn cowhide brown. Lethal spikes on the stems become fully exposed. The whole plant makes believe it’s truly dead—only to burst into glossy green and fiery red after the winter rains.”

Carol Bornstein: “Although I don’t have any Polypodium californicum  in my own garden, but I always delight in seeing the bright green croziers emerge in Autumn, both in the wild and in garden settings such as here at the LA Natural History Museum’s Nature Gardens and, for many years, at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Before even a drop of rain falls, they begin to appear and unfurl once the Autumnal equinox arrives.”

Nancy Harris: “The Monkeyflower plants start perking up, berries start to form on my Coffeeberry and Lemonadeberry, and my Maidenhair fern begin to come out of dormancy.”

Ron Vanderhoff: “Other than my annual dues renewal notice from CNPS, it is the sight of new, glossy little leaves beginning on my Ribes speciosum, fuschia-flowered gooseberry. I know that soon I will have loads of bright red flowers and beautiful hummingbirds.”

Mark Sugars: “All the Menzies’ Goldenbush (Isocoma menziesii) in my yard started to bloom right after the equinox, so that would be a pretty dramatic way for fall to begin, if it becomes a habit for them.”

Antonio Sanchez: “Love seeing all the different species and hybrids of Manzanitas flower at way different times, sometimes as early as October. It’s a sign to start getting those fancy jackets out, start making tamales, and to start taking cuttings of your favorite manzanitas!”

Brad Jenkins:California Buckwheat‘s white flowers, that have been blooming prolifically since May, are now mostly shades of brown—seed packets for the birds.”

Linda Southwell: “I know it’s Autumn when the Buckwheat blossoms turn cinnamon-nutmeg, and the larger clusters on my Santa Cruz Island buckwheats become shades of burnt umber mixed with burnt sienna.”

Mabel Alazard: “For me, Autumn is when the showy California fuchsias burst into bright orange-red tubular blooms to accent the buckwheats’ browns.”

Chuck Wright: “In the wilds of the Laguna Canyon, (not my garden…) you know that fall is really here when Coastal California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasiculatum ssp.fasiculatum, turns from Rusty Red to Rich Mahogany. Also, not directly plant related…

…I know Fall has fallen when the migratory birds like Townsend Warbler pass through, one of my favorite visitors.”

Dan Songster: “Well, of course the Roger Red Grape turning scarlet is really something and the big payoff for all the trimming you have done over the months to keep the “beast” in check. Goldenrod, California fuchsia, desert willow, various gold bushes and gum plants (Grindelia, Hazardia, and Isocoma sp.) often start their blooms in midsummer and easily last into Autumn. Perhaps my favorite fall color is the buckwheats (Eriiogonum fasciculatum, E. giganteum, E. arborescens, E. cinerium) that slowly change their creamy white blooms into pale orange, rust, and later chocolate colored infloresences, coloring well into early winter.”