A Golden Yellow Welcome to Spring

Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens)

Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens)

In Los Angeles, spring is welcomed in February with tapestries of yellow and gold flowers. Just the other day, I counted more than a dozen trees, shrubs and vines blooming in radiant emulation of the solar emanations that are already here, warming us and our gardens, even as cities in more northern climes are still sunless, frozen and gray.
Plants with yellow flowers are more likely to originate in warm climates than in cool ones. Research has revealed that the first blooming plants may well have had sun-colored flowers, as if to acknowledge the light-giving source that makes vegetative life possible on Earth.
The floral curtain that encompasses our city is embroidered each February with the yellow trumpets of Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens). This fragrant vining plant is native to the East and Southeast, from Virginia to Florida to Texas, and may be found growing wild in Guatemala as well. It is both poisonous and medicinal. Its curative powers were discovered 150 years ago when a Mississippi farmer who had taken ill consumed its root by accident, thinking it was another medicinal plant. Ingestion of the Gelsemium root only made him sicker, to the point where he was given up for dead. When he finally recovered, his cure was properly attributed to the plant that nearly killed him, and a new drug therapy was at hand. Used in correct dosages, Gelsemium alkaloids became famous for their analgesic effects. According to “A Modern Herbal,” by Mrs. M. Grieve, Gelsemium “relaxes all the muscles; it relieves, by its action on the general system, all sense of pain.”
Carolina jasmine is available now in most nurseries. Planted from 1- gallon containers, it will cover a 6-foot fence in a few years. Once established, it requires only occasional summer irrigation. Italian jasmine (Jasminum humile) grows into an 8-foot shrub with butter-yellow flowers that may be seen at any time of the year, including now.
One of the most spectacular yellow-blooming February flowers is the velvet groundsel or California geranium (Senecio petasitis). In truth, it is a member of the daisy family, though, when not in bloom, its huge geraniumlike leaves easily create a mistaken horticultural impression. When in flower, as it is now, dozens of 1-inch daisies form enormous clusters, rising above the leaves, which make you cry out involuntarily, “I must have this plant ” Unfortunately, the California geranium has been virtually eliminated from the nursery trade. Some of the reasons, no doubt, are these: It is not drought-tolerant; although requiring lots of sun, it needs almost daily watering during the summer to avoid wilt. And it is not especially cold-hardy, although it has been spotted from San Marino to Woodland Hills. The plant itself grows into a huge shrubby mound, the largest local specimen of which may be observed at the Arboretum of Los Angeles County, in Arcadia.
Leguminous trees and shrubs that are native to dry climates are either blooming now or will be soon; nearly all of them have yellow flowers. The
obscure yet distinctive canary bird bush (Crotalaria agatiflora) is a drought- tolerant shrub that deserves wider recognition and landscape use. It has an open, arching growth habit. More common legumes include the acacias, with their small spherical sulphur flower puffs; as well as Cassia artemisioides, its finely cut leaves offering considerable garden interest after flowering has passed.
One plant that is a source of pride to any California gardener is Dendromecon rigida, the bush poppy. Possessed of clear yellow flowers that will bloom through the summer, this shrub is at the top of the list of those who admire California natives. No other plant that grows in our gardens produces this kind of yellow flower for so many months, to say nothing of the bush poppy’s complement of memorable gray-green leaves.
Lovers of succulents can ogle at least three species with yellow flowers this month: Sedum confusum, the lushest succulent ground cover; Lampranthus aurantiacus “Sunman,” a bright yellow flowering ice plant; and Euphorbia rigida, an architectonic delight with blue-gray leaf spears, lemon yellow bracts and an uncanny self-sowing capacity.
In the days ahead, keep an eye open for Spartium junceum, which can be seen along highways and canyons from Los Angeles to Lake Hughes. Its
electrifying yellow flowers contradict the drabness of the hillsides along which it grows.
Tip: If you are thinking of planting California natives, consider yourself lucky if you have a sloping yard. A sloping terrain can compensate for soil that drains imperfectly. If your yard is flat, make sure the soil dries quickly after water is applied; otherwise, plant more traditional ornamentals and forgo, for now, your California native experiment.

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