Catalina Island Flora for your Garden

Catalina perfume (Ribes viburnifolium)

Catalina perfume (Ribes viburnifolium)

Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune to spend a day on Catalina Island and get acquainted with its flora.
If you go to Catalina, make sure you visit the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden. You will be tempted to grow the plants found there in your own garden.
There are eight plants that are endemic to Catalina Island. Endemics are plants that live in one particular spot on Earth and nowhere else. The Catalina Island endemics do not require extraordinary care, while providing a variety of decorative affects. You should be able to locate some of the Catalina endemics in our local native plant nurseries.
For those that cannot be found, comparable and closely related species should be available.
The most famous Catalina endemic is Catalina ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus), a tree that can reach a height of 30 feet and a spread of 15feet. It grows slowly and assumes a tall and slender form. Leaves are deep green, bark is red and peeling, and flower clusters, which come abundantly in spring, are white. A subspecies, known as fernleaf ironwood (asplenifolius), has attractively lobed foliage as well. This tree requires protection from hot afternoon sun.
Another Catalina endemic of considerable renown is Saint Catherine’s lace (Eriogonum giganteum). It, too, has reddish bark and, through selective pruning, can assume sculptural qualities as a large shrub that will grow up to 8 feet tall and 10feet wide. Foliage is whitish gray and flowers are pink, fading to brown and blooming over a long period in spring and summer. Faded blooms may be used in dry arrangements.
Rounding out the red-barked endemics is Catalina manzanita (Artostaphylos catalinae). Manzanita is among the royalty of California natives. Its smooth-textured bark, leathery leaves, and urn-shaped flowers give it a stand-alone quality in the garden. Its minimal need for water, other than winter rain, is an added bonus.
Catalina live-forever (Dudleya hassei) is the only succulent endemic to the island and its chalk gray, fingerlike leaves would nicely complement the similarly colored foliage of Saint Catherine’s lace. Dudleyas may be found growing in the crevices of sandy cliffs and canyon faces throughout Southern California. Dudleyas develop into eye-catching rosettes with yellow flowers perched on stalks that grow above the foliage.
Catalina mahogany (Cercocarpus traskiae) belongs to the mountain mahogany group, a collection of self-maintaining, compact shrubs or small trees that seldom grow more than 15feet tall. Mountain mahoganies are highly drought-tolerant and withstand sub-freezing temperatures. They grow in all types of soil, including clay, and make an outstanding informal screen or hedge. Their fruits are distinguished by wispy tail feathers, giving the plants an unexpectedly ethereal aspect during the fall season.
Catalina perfume (Ribes viburnifolium), a nonendemic Catalina native currant, possesses leaves that emit a powerfully sweet fragrance after it rains. It is a shade-loving shrub that grows up to 8feet. Catalina perfume is recommended for planting under oak trees.
Speaking of currants and their relatives, now is the moment of glory for fuchsia-flowering gooseberry (Ribes speciosum). In a north-facing garden with no direct sun, I saw several of these glorious shrubs, each covered with hundreds of brilliant red, hanging blooms, a favorite treat of hummingbirds.
Some experienced California native plant watchers have singled out the fuchsia flowering gooseberry for special acclaim, not only because of its prolific blooms, but also for its shimmering, dark green and delicately lobed foliage and arching growth habit. It may also be planted under oaks.
Tip of the week
I have noticed a plant often referred to as papyrus that is, in truth, the somewhat weedy and invasive umbrella plant (Cyperus alternifolius). This plant may pop up almost anywhere in the garden.
True papyrus (Cyperus papyriferus) is a more delicate species with feathery foliage that absolutely requires protection from hot summer sun. Umbrella plant, on the other hand, often found in shade gardens and on the edges of ponds, has tougher foliage and may grow in plenty of sun as long as it has an ample water supply.
Umbrella plant is virtually indestructible and is sometimes used as an indoor plant. Most indoor plants are killed by overwatering, which is never a concern with the umbrella plant.

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