top of page
Search

OFFICIALLY RANKING CALIFORNIA NATIVE PLANTS FROM BEST TO WORST



I have been helping farmers with native plant landscaping for almost two years now, and ranking the native plants I work with from best to worst is a project that is LONG overdue so…..Buckle up folks, we’re ranking California native plants from best to worst. Now, If I hear any “That’s impossible every native plant is just different and they all have their own ecologically significant traits that allow them to survive in a given ecological niche blah blah blah….” I will say this. Quiet. This is my list, my rules, sorry snowflake. Second, it is simply an OBJECTIVE TRUTH that some plants are good, and some plants are just bad. All I'm trying to say is some plants absorb CO2 and turn it into oxygen and sugar…. And others absorb CO2 just turn it into disappointment. OK, enough of the lollygagging, time to reveal the truth about which California Native plants are “The good ones", and which California native plants are whiny little babies that I would NEVER put in a hedgerow.



This plant is far superior to the other plants on this list, and generally any list. In fact, the only list where this plant would not come up on top would be a list of bad plants that are good at dying. There are many things I like about this plant. First of all I like that the common name is Coyote Brush, but nobody is really sure because half the people I ask call it Coyote Bush instead of Coyote Brush so it always makes it a little awkward because I never want to correct someone when they say Coyote bush instead of brush so I just let it slide because, besides what’s really the difference between a bush and a brush. It conjures up roughly the same image in the average person’s head (I am not the average person) but also the image of a little coyote sitting in one of these suckers is a swell thought so…. There’s that. Next, I love how spiteful this plant is. It will not die, it CANNOT die. Have a 6-year old plant it with half the roots out of the ground, that’s fine. Forget to water it for 2 years, whatever. Run it over with your Ford F-150, jokes on you this plant is into that kinda stuff. This plant is also DENSE… Need protection from dust, wind, pesticide drift, neighbors, existential dread? Plant some of this stuff and your problems will not be able to reach you through the “brush”. This plant is also native to every ecosystem in California, except maybe the reaches of the Mojave desert (but nothing grows there anyways so honestly, who cares?). Lastly, this plant harbors the largest populations of parasitic wasps of any other plant. What’s a parasitic wasp you ask? Well they are these little guys that lay their eggs in the body of other insects, and lots of times those host insects are things like aphids, mealybugs, other lepidopterans etc… that are big agricultural pests. So basically this plant will help keep pest populations down on your farm if you have enough of it. So for these reasons Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis) is the best plant on the list.



Ok so this is like 20 different plants, so I’m going to do a sub-ranking of the best Ceanothuses cultivars.



Pretty gnarly name honestly, but this Ceanothus is the best because it really do be creepin’. The glossy, delicious leaves of this plant create such a dense cover over an area, they essentially carpet the ground in a luscious blanket of life. The flowers are nice too, but this is for sure a leaf plant “if you know what I mean”.


2B) Ceanothus Dark StarOR Julia Phelps


These are both really small-leaved ceanothus that have thousands of little flowers in the

spring (Late Feb-April). When I talk about the most beautiful plants I've ever seen, I’m

talking about a Dark Star Ceanothus engulfed in indigo flowers, buzzing with insects in the

spring. An absolute beacon of joy in this world.


2C) Ceanothus Snow Flurry


It can be really tall and it has white flowers... sensational.


2D) Ceanothus Blue Jeans


Has really cool sharp, holly-like leaves, and every time I plant this, I listen to Blue Jeans by

Lana Del Rey and that’s always a pleasant thing for me.


2E) Ceanothus Ray Hartman


Is a pretty monstrous Ceanothus, and it has nice blue flowers, not too special.


2F) Ceanothus Concha


This is my least favorite Ceanothus, which is going to get me in trouble because my mentor

Sam Earnshaw likes it. Like, don’t get me wrong it’s a FINE plant... but I would only use it if

I couldn’t get my hands on a better Ceanothus, of which there are many.



Ceanothus is the domestic dog of the California Native plant scene. There are more breeds

than I can count on all my fingers and toes so I’ll do us all a favor and group them together

and put them in this ranking.



This was a real close one, but Deer Grass just barely eeked out the #3 spot on this list.

This is a reliable plant, it’s beautiful, and its a big grass. I love graminoids in general

(grasses, sedges, and rushes) so naturally a big 6 ft tall grass that loves to be neglected,

and provides habitat to lady beetles and other beneficial insects is going to wind up

somewhere high up in this list. Sam likes to place a few of these bad boys at the ends of

hedgerows because he thinks it looks nice. I agree. Rock on Deer Grass.



Saltbush, Quailbush, this hunk of a shrub goes by many common names, but I call it

Atriplex lentiformis (again because I need to emphasize my botanical superiority). How did

the Saltbush get its name you ask? Well, we call it that because, like your uncle with high

blood pressure this guy LOVES salty conditions. It tolerates the poorest saltiest stuff you

got, but also can do well in normal soils. A jack-of-all-trades perhaps. This plant is also

really big, forming gigantic impenetrable hedges that can reach 10 feet tall and 20 or 30

feet in girth given the correct conditions. The plant is also really quite attractive with

scurfy, almost seafoam green luminescence blazing in the central valley sun. One last fun

fact about this plant is it can change in sex throughout it’s life. For example some plants

are monoecious which means they have both “male” or “female” flowers on the same plant,


and other plants are dioecious which mean the “male” flowers and the “female” flowers

exist on separate plants. Atriplex lentiformis can present as either a monoecious, OR a

dioecious plant AND if dioecious they sometimes change their sex during their life! And

for these reasons, Quailbush has clenched the #4 spot on this list, the definitive guide of

which native plants are good and which are bad.



The diverse and beautiful Manzanitas. So these are the most beautiful plants on this list

by far, but they can also be whiny babies sometimes, so that’s why they are number 5 and

not number 2 or something. 5th place is still pretty good, so the Manzanita shouldn’t be too

sad. These stunners are in the same family as blueberries (Ericaceae, The Heath Family),

and they have the same white “urn-shaped” flowers indicative of the family. Most species

are endemic to the west coast, and they thrive on the conditions present here. The only

problem is they are slow growing, which is less than ideal when you’re trying to grow a big

hedgerow quick.



This is western blue-eyed grass. It is one of my favorite plants of all time, and it is in the

Iris family. Piercing blue flowers speckling a grassy field is the best. This plant is not

particularly useful in hedgerows, but since I really like it, it gets to be #7 on the best

native plant list. Ok Next!



The Toyon. What can I say, it’s a good plant. It’s the kind of plant I always forget about

and then when I'm looking for another plant I go “oh yeah... I can put some Toyons in

there”. Pros, there is a nice urban legend that Hollywood got its name from the Toyon

(otherwise known as the California Holly) even though the legend is not an actual true

story. I will still cite the story because I think it’s nice. Cons, this plant is an alternate host for fire blight, a bacterial disease that can damage or kill pears, apples, and quince trees, so we have to be mindful of where we put it....



Ok, Flannelbush is great. It really is. But this thing first of all gets too big. It grows to

make 30 feet. Second, the leaves give you a rash, which would’ve been good info going into this whole native plant thing. Also, again I am using the term, this plant can be a whiny

little baby. Sometimes they do great, and sometimes they just die, or just look kinda

wimpy. Honestly mostly going off vibes for this one, and she doesn’t pass the vibe check.



Too big. Just far too large. Honestly I wish there was a law that made it so farmers were

legally obligated to let me plant oaks all over their farms.... But apparently there is not

that law, and farmers “don’t like oaks because they are too tall and shade their crops”. So,

in summary #9 because it makes me sad I can’t plant them everywhere.



This is your cleveland sage, black sage, white sage, your terra seca, your hybrids etc etc. They’re good, mostly only native to southern California so that’s a negative, and they’re also pretty leggy which isn’t ideal. But they also smell lovely, have great flowers that hummingbirds like, and they are very easy to grow. The 10 spot isn’t that bad.



This is coffeeberry, and it is fine. They have cool leaves I guess? Gives “the whoppers left

in your bag of candy in mid November that you are definitely going to eat before the dots

and the banana laffy taffy... but you're not looking forward to it” vibes. Still an amazing

plant, but I can think of many plants that come first.



I can think of approximately 50 other plants that could go on this list but I am legally

obligated to keep this list under 5 pages because “Rambling doesn’t look good in front of

the judge, Nicholas”.... Talk to my lawyer if you want a longer list ok.


13. Achillea millefolium


Barf. Oh yuck. I’m sorry I think the murky puddle behind Wendy’s is calling and asking for

their plant back. I don’t care what you say about this thing, it is an underwater plant, and

it should go back to where it came from. I did not attach a link to this plant so that I can

spare you of the unsettling grossness. No, I will not further justify my opinion on this

plant, and YOU can’t change the ranking because the ranking is done, and it’s permanent

and correct.



128 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page