Wiley Coyote Brush

coyote brush (Baccharis sp.)

coyote brush (Baccharis sp.)

Before people started to consciously landscape with California native plants, there was coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis). During those long years of drought in the late ’80s and early ’90s, coyote brush was eagerly sought and widely planted as a ground cover because of its capacity to live in the virtual absence of water. People did not really know or care where it came from as long as it lived up to its reputation for growing into a dense mat and thriving a whole summer without irrigation.
Coyote brush is, in fact, one of the most widely seen of all California native plants. It grows all long the California coast and throughout the chaparral and canyons of our own area. The growth habit of coyote brush becomes flatter as you get closer to the coast.
“Twin Peaks” is the lowest-growing and the most popular of the ground-hugging coyote brushes. According to Cynthia Kenyon of Mitsuwa Nursery, a wholesale grower in Moorpark, “Twin Peaks” is somewhat difficult to propagate and is not always available in nurseries. If you give it too much water during the summer, it will contract the Alternaria fungus, which creates leaf and stem lesions and usually proves to be fatal.
This plant was the first California native ground cover that achieved notoriety and may be considered the trailblazer where landscaping with native woody ornamentals is concerned.
I thought of coyote brush – some people call it coyote bush – the other day when I saw it flowering near the San Diego Freeway off Mulholland Drive. Actually, I saw the shrub version of this plant, a specimen about 5 feet tall, covered with masses of white fluff which constitutes its bloom. It occurred to me that there could not be a single plant in this city at this moment, regardless of its origin, with a presence that was half as stunning as that of this wild coyote bush, bedecked in lustrous pale green leaves amid those puffy floriferous clouds.
Each fall, local garden writers are duty bound to make the case for California natives, since this season is the absolute best time to plant them. In truth, California natives can sell themselves, at least where experienced plant watchers and gardening practitioners are concerned. California natives do not lack for color (even if their bloom is sometimes brief) and their foliage is often aromatic. They attract birds and butterflies. Their generally slow growth rate and modest water requirements make them allies of people who lack the time or the budget for the kind of intense gardening that tropical and subtropical plants – still favored by the majority of Valley homeowners – demand.
One native that seems to bloom throughout the fall is the California fuchsia (Zauschneria or Epilobium californica). It flowers in every shade of orange and red amid sprawling outcrops of blue-gray leaves. If you drive on Coldwater Canyon Avenue between Ventura Boulevard and Mulholland Drive, you will notice California fuchsia growing on the sandy, sloping west bank of the road. In fact, sandy slopes are the preferred soil environment for the growth of most California native plants.
The Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley has a new Web site (www.TheodorePayne.org) that offers information on upcoming native plant events. There is also a photo gallery on the site that includes two California natives which, in my opinion, every gardener should try to grow. One is the hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea), a romantic, aromatic bedding plant with large saggitate leaves and deep red flowers. With its drought-defying rhizomes, hummingbird sage grows well in the high shade of mature trees. The other plant of note here is the apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa) whose feathery flowers will remind you of those seen on the mimosa (Albizia julibrissin).

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