California Native Garden
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Plant of the Month

Plant of the Month
September 2010

Rhamnus Californica-California Coffeeberry

Type:  Evergreen Shrub

Light:  Sun to Shade

Soil:  Adaptable

Water: Drought tolerant but can take occasional water

Even in summer and fall we do have some color in the GWC Native Garden. The pastels of the Erigeron (beach aster), the bright yellows of the Solidago (goldenrod) and Grindelia (gum plant), the hot orange-red of the Epilobium (California fuchsia), and the exotic orchid like flowers of Chilopsis (desert willow) are reminders that summer is not a barren time.

But summer and fall are seasons of rest for much of the garden and genuine native plant lovers understand that their gardens “takes a breath” at this time. We do not expect a riot of color all year. It’s at times like these that the solid greens of plants like the coffeeberry stand out with a refreshing coolness, and really provide an anchor for a garden’s design.

And it is such a versatile and forgiving plant! It can be left untrimmed and provide a mound of lush green as a foil for lighter leaved plants, especially gray and silver leaved plants. Or, it can be trimmed into a hedge if needed. It can be used in sun along the coast or in dappled shade or fairly dense shade inland. Water in summer? It usually does not mind but can also take weeks with no water once mature. Clay soils? It can usually handle heavy soils without problems. It is this adaptability that makes this plant one of my all time favorites to use and to recommend.

Coffeeberry is not known for its flowers, which are almost unnoticeable. But the plant makes up for this with a stable reliable dark green all year long and lovely berries that resemble those of a coffee plant. Though these are NOT edible for humans, they are extremely attractive and adds a layer of color lying at or slightly below leaf level in summer/fall months. There is a desirable richness with this dark green leaf with ripening berries ranging from lime green through rose, red and finally burgundy and almost black.

Sizes for various coffeeberry cultivars range from around 2 feet-3 feet tall X 3-4 feet wide with the low growing ‘Seaview Improved’ and ‘Little Sur’ to the midsized ‘Mound San Bruno’ and ‘Leatherleaf’ to some of the taller forms like ‘Eve Case’ and ‘Bonita Linda’. ‘Bonita Linda’ has an open habit that makes it a great living trellis for Keckiella cordifolia (heart-leaved penstemon) to climb in. ‘Mound San Bruno’ is extremely dependable middle green, and ‘Leatherleaf’ is the darkest leaf of all. When the sun is about to set it actually looks black.

Whatever coffeeberry you chose to grow in your garden you will be I know you will be pleased.