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Umbellularia californica- California bay laurel

Plant of the Month
May 2012

Encelia californica-Bush Sunflower

Type: Evergreen sub-Shrub
Light: Sun (but can take a touch of shade in hot inland areas)
Soil: Likes good drainage but adapts well
Water: Infrequent to drought tolerant

This common plant of our nearby Coastal Sage Scrub habitat can be easily found in our local hills blooming through spring and often into summer. There is normally a consistent fall bloom as well. A fairly large plant, about 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide, it is a cheerful addition to many gardens that use natives, with its bright yellow daisy flower (like a miniature sunflower) with chocolate brown centers brightening the landscape. Like other sunflowers, bees, butterflies and insects are attracted to the plant's blossoms which is certainly a plus to nature lovers.

Here at the Garden we have taken a clue from nature and use this plant of hillsides and slopes. Currently it has been replanted (after construction disturbance) on the south facing slope near the new Learning Resource Center where it will be a very effective as both a colorful display and holding the slope. It is a fast growing plant with tenacious roots and its dense cloak of evergreen leaves deflects the impact of even hard winter rains helping prevent erosion. I love it on slopes!

While great on hillsides it can also be used in conventional gardens as a background plant if given room. Limited to frost free areas, it does grow in all types of soil, will take heat and drought, and provides a long lasting bloom.

Note: It is also a good foil to many of the Grey and silver foliaged plants such as California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), Saint Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum) and the many sage species like Salvia leucophylla ‘Point Sal’ (a spreading form or purple sage). Of course mixed with blue flowering California lilacs (Ceanothus sp.), or the purplish Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) it makes a stunning color combination.

Maintenance: No disease or pest issues known to me. A bit of water in the late spring and into early summer will often extend the blooming period if that is desired. Pruning? Deadheading the spent flowers a few times after blooming spurts in spring and fall helps the blooms keep coming but isn’t really necessary but light shearing in early winter (especially in the first few years) encourages a denser plant with more flowers in the spring. If (and when) it becomes woody after several years you may want to cut it all the way to the ground in the early winter to promote all new growth. In clay soils, after a decade or more of enjoyment your plant may die, if so simply allow one of its nearby seedlings to grow and fill in the space.

The genus name Encelia comes from Christoph Entzelt, a German clergyman and naturalist who lived in the 1500s and wrote about the medicinal uses of plants and animals.

PS: A cultivar form named ‘El Dorado’ has been released from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden which is said to have larger, more golden yellow flowers and may bloom a little earlier in the season.