The wild cucumber (Marah fabaceus fabaceus) is an enthusiastic native plant that happily covers any large object it can ramble over. It will scale trees, smother sheds and carpet the ground with its fast-growing wiry stems. The plant sends out curly tendrils to attach to anything within its grasp. And after showing off its clusters of white flowers, the wild cucumber will explode into bright green porcupine like inedible cucumber fruits. Explode is a good word for this plant as these fruits can burst open and shoot out the seeds. The wild cucumber survives extreme heat and drought by growing huge underground roots often referred to as ‘man roots’ due to their size. If you want one growing in your wildflower garden, just be sure you like the location. Once established, digging out that root is a major project! The Marah fabaceus fabaceus is native only to Southern California.
The wild cucumber is not edible (though looking at the spiny fruit, I don’t suspect many people would find it tempting, anyway).
Just coming into flower in the chaparral and desert hillsides is the California wildflower, Mirabilis multiflora. This small, sprawling plant smothers itself with brilliant magenta flowers that can be seen at quite a distance despite its small size. It is commonly called Froebel’s Four-O’Clock.
Look for this little gem tumbling between rocks or filling in between other natives. It likes full sun and excellent drainage. Early spring will find these Four O’Clock plants peppering hills and fields of California Poppies, Silver Puff flowers (Uropappus lindleyi) and Popcorn flowers (Plagiobothrys).
In a wildflower garden the Mirabilis will add eye-popping color and fill in open spaces with their low-growing, spreading habit of growth. Plant this California wildflower where you need something decorative that can handle extreme dry and heat in the summertime. You can buy the Mirabilis multiflora (Froebel’s Four-O’Clock) from some wildflower/native plant growers. Purchase seeds from Horizon Herbs or another online seed company. Sometimes Las Pilitas carries the plants in stock for direct purchase or mail order.
Here’s a video of the plant growing on a hillside behind my house. It’s just budding up:
The Latin ‘Mirabilis’ seems to be pronounced as either Mi-RA-bi-lis or Mi-ra-BEL-is.
If you can, rush out to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve soon. Fields of bright orange are visible for miles away as the poppies paint the hills. Swatches of blue from millions of blooming purple-blue Lupins intersect the orange and contrast with huge spreads of glowing yellow from masses of tiny yellow Goldfields. If the day-glow colors aren’t enough to amaze you, you can go picking through miles of trails at the reserve discovering the glittering seed heads of Silver Puffs, the red-purple of Owl Clover or find yourself scurrying after a patterned lizard to check out its designs.
The Poppy Reserve is located in Lancaster (northern Los Angeles County), just southeast of the Grapevine, 15 miles west of Lancaster center, and about 40 miles north of the Santa Clarita/Valencia area. You can find more information at http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=627.
Plan on brilliant color and blustering winds. The winds are typical of the high desert at this time of year. Wearing a hat is a good idea. Keeping it on your head may be a challenge. But it’s worth the effort to check out the wildflowers peaking at the California Poppy Reserve right now!
The California Poppy, (Eschscholzia californica) is a marvelously showy wildflower that can carpet hillsides in Southern California. Both the chaparral and desert areas should offer an exceptional show of California Poppies this year with the good winter rainfall after so many years of drought. I went off in search of the first blooms today and as I crested a hill, discovered the first stand of brilliant orange-yellow trumpets spattering the still moist terrain. It’s still early and there should be many more to follow. Check with the latest reports to see how intense the flowering is at the Poppy Reserve if you want to take a memorable hike through some of the more impressive fields of California wildflowers. Check out the Antelope Valley Poppy reserve with its miles of hiking trails through the Antelope Buttes near Lancaster, California — just northeast of Los Angeles, east of the ‘Grapevine’ at interstate 5.
It’s the beginning of the California wildflower season and with the generous rains nature kindly donated to Southern California, the flowers ought to be spectacular this year. Here is a little informal video of an expedition I just made into the wilds in the hills behind my house at about 2000 feet of elevation in the inland chaparral just north of Los Angeles. The first of the spring wildflowers are starting to carpet the hillsides. Here’s a look at some of our first California chaparral wildflowers for the spring.
Sometimes we become so used to seeing fancy hybrid flowers that we forget to look in our own backyards for the showiest of them all. One stunner that grows in the Southern California chaparral despite poor soil and hot, dry summers is the Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri). Despite growing in harsh conditions, this is a big plant that shows off in a big way.
Oddly fussy about where it grows, the Matilija Poppy can refuse what looks like a perfectly comfortable home and become downright invasive in a space it decides is more to its liking. Where happy it can create a formidable thicket sending runners underground to surface far and wide.
The leaves are an attractive, light blue-green and spread out from long, tall stems. In early spring the Romneya blooms with breath-taking, huge crepe-paper textured white flowers opening out to show off deep yellow globular centers. These flowers can be four to six inches in diameter and smother the plant with enormous glowing white and yellow blooms.
A native California plant, the Matilija Poppy can compete with any fancy hybrid plant as an eye-catcher. If you live in an environment with lean, well-drained soil, hot dry summers, and winter temperatures that do not offer hard freezes, the Romneya may be a perfect choice to fill an area that needs a big, bold planting. Give it full sun and excellent drainage – and plenty of space to grow.
You can propagate the Matilija Poppy from cuttings, seed or most easily from rooted underground offshoots. Whether you dig you plant or buy it in a pot, Romneya coulteri is likely to be sensitive to root disturbance and can refuse to grow if traumatized, so disturb the roots as little as possible when planting.
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