September 26, 2008

Singular Plants: Bush Monkeyflower

By Nora Harlow

Every other week, the East Bay Municipal Utility District features plants particularly well suited to California's summer-dry climate and adapted to periods of drought. For more information, contact Nora Harlow at [email protected]

Most drought-tolerant plants look better with occasional summer water, especially following a dry winter and spring such as we had this past year. And every newly installed plant needs water for at least the first couple of summers.

Our goal may be to garden with plants that when fully established can survive without supplemental water, but this may require some tolerance from the gardener for the dried-out appearance that many of these plants take on to make it through to the next rains.

Our native bush monkeyflower or sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus) is a natural candidate for gardens that feature the colors of California. This is the deep orange to yellow-orange flower that, along with lavender lupine and bright orange poppies, graces Bay Area roadsides, park lands and open spaces from spring into summer.

Tolerant of considerable dryness, bush monkeyflower goes semi- dormant in late summer or early fall, losing most of its leaves if unwatered. It may look more acceptable to passersby if you water it sparingly, but it will get by with none.

This monkeyflower needs good drainage and thrives on slopes or mounds or in rock gardens where excess winter rains drain quickly away. Some afternoon shade is appreciated, especially in inland gardens.

The bush monkeyflower is an erect to sprawling woody perennial native to open hillsides and rocky outcrops throughout much of California. The long-lived, long-blooming plant is sometimes called Diplacus, a former name that clearly distinguished it from other monkeyflowers that prefer regular summer water, rich soils, and shade to part shade.

Upright to 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide, with glossy, narrow, sticky green leaves, bush monkeyflower tends to get leggy without light pruning, and will accept a fairly hard cutting back.

Butterflies and hummingbirds flock to it, and deer seem to ignore it.

Originally published by Nora Harlow, Contra Costa Times correspondent.

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