Rerun -- The REAL Native Plants for Your Garden

Sep 5, 2016

Advice From the Help Desk
of the UC Master Gardener Program

This blog is an updated version of a blog we posted in early May. The reason for the rerun is that UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa County (UCMG) are having a special day-long event September 10th that will be featuring "Dry Plants", many of which are California natives.  Your can find more information here. Many California Native plants are "dry plants" once you get them up and going, which might take several years. However, usually once they have reached their "dry" mature stage, as long as there is reasonable rain, they usually can survive with minimal to no water during the "dry season". Several organizations exist to support the use of native plants in the garden. California Native Plant Society is probably the advocacy leader. "Bringing Back the Natives” also sponsors ed and showcases an extensive tour in Contra Costa County of home gardens that utilize primarily California native plants. The BBTN tour highlights what you can do in your garden using native plants as well as minimizing your water use and providing habitat for native wildlife. Many of those plants featured and/or recommended by CNPS and BBTN will be available at UCMG's "2016 GET DRY Workshop & Plant Sale"

While the plants featured by the several organizations are California native plants, they may not be "native" to where the garden was actually located. Have you ever wondered what the “native plants” were where you actually live and garden? Well, the California Native Plant Society along with UC's Jepson Herbarium (and many other herbariums and collectors) did and they have implemented a very useful graphic database on the web,, that has cataloged what actually was native to your garden … right down to your address. So now you can "easily" plant and grow what was originally “native” vs. what “natives” you could grow… maybe. Their efforts are at

Below are edited excerpts from the “About” page of to entice you to check it out:

“About Calscape
Our goal at Calscape is to help Californians restore nature and save water one garden at a time. We do this by showing people which plants are really native to any location in the state, helping them figure out which ones they want, and where to buy them and how to grow them.

California is an extremely environmentally diverse state. Different California native plants evolved to grow in areas of the state with very different temperatures, rainfall levels, summer drought periods, air moisture levels, and marine influences, among other factors. Because of this, it's always best to grow California native plants in the areas in which they evolved. They are easier to grow, healthier and require little or no artificial irrigation when they are planted in an area in which they evolved and naturally belong. Native California plants that aren't really native to that location will often struggle or die no matter how much you water them.

True native plants are the foundation for nature restoration. They attract birds, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and insects and other pollinators that evolved with those plants, and over time create a working natural ecosystem, without pesticides, and without artificial fertilizers. The bird life in particular in a true natural garden is often spectacular. With the right plants, it's not hard for homeowners to create small patches of nature throughout even the developed part of the state.

Our estimates for which plant species naturally grow in each square mile of California are based on algorithms using the GPS locations of over a million field occurrences of native California plant species provided by the participants of the California Consortia of Herbaria, the 36Jepson geographic subdivisions, and detailed elevations profiles within each square mile of California.

Sources of plant photos include Calphotos, and dozens of amazing plant photographers who have agreed to share their photos with Calscape. Authorship and copyright information is shown under each plant photo.

Other sources include Wikipedia, which is an important source for the "About" sections in the Calscape plant pages. In many cases the sections have been edited and built on by Calscape volunteer editors. …

[S]unset information was provided by The Jepson Flora Project.

Propagation from seed information was provided by the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden from "Seed Propagation of Native California Plants" by Dara E. Emery.

Other general sources of information include CalfloraCNPS Manual of Vegetation OnlineJepson eFloraLas PilitasTheodore PayneTree of LifeThe Xerces Society, and information provided by CNPS volunteer editors, with special thanks to Don Rideout.”

The input and effort for is very impressive, solid, and can only get better as it allows for edited input on locations, plants, etc. (e.g., think Wikipedia) If you are interested in the impetus that led to and how it was “built”, Dennis Mudd, one of leaders provided some details in a recent radio interview. (He was also the founder of the digital music website Slacker.) He said he was motivated to construct this website because he planted so many drought-tolerant plants in his San Diego garden that died. But he couldn't find a site which told him what he should be planting instead. Thank you Dennis!

Help Desk of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa (SIM)

Note: The  UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions.  Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA  94523. We can also be reached via telephone:  (925) 646-6586, email:, or on the web at MGCC Blogs can be found at You can also subscribe to the Blog  (// 


By Stephen I Morse
Author - Contra Costa County Master Gardener