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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Plant of the Month (October) : Pink (Hairy; Purple; Western) honeysuckle – Lonicera hispidula

Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula)

After five years of drought, plants are blooming at unusual times.   That’s because precipitation and temperature cues - used by plants to time flowering, leafing out and growing - are all mixed up. The long-term effects of climate change are largely unknown, but they are already making garden planning a little more challenging.  Our Plant of the Month is mostly a June bloomer.  But if you watered a bit this summer – or if we’ve had recent rains – a Pink honeysuckle may put out a few fall blooms, as the weather cools down.

Western Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) is a true honeysuckle.  The majority of Lonicera species are native to China.  Most are twining climbers or arching shrubs that produce lovely, characteristic flowers.   While widely planted, the non-native honeysuckles can be rampantly invasive.  Species like the Japanese, Amur and Coral honeysuckles are on ‘don’t plant’ lists in Australia and California for good reason!
Native honeysuckles can be groundcovers. This is the Southern
 Honeysuckle (Lonicera subspicata)

California gardeners are often surprised to learn there are native honeysuckles.  Of about 20 N. American species, seven are native to California. [1]    Four grow only in the foothills of Central and Northern California.  But three are native to Los Angeles County: Lonicera hispidula  (Pink honeysuckle);  Lonicera interrupta (Chaparral honeysuckle); and Lonicera subspicata  (Southern honeysuckle).  In fact, the range of the Pink honeysuckle extends from San Diego County through N. California to Oregon. [2]

Pink honeysuckle was collected in Los Angeles County by Anstruther Davidson in 1893, though earlier collections were made in Northern California. [3]   The earliest LA County collections were from Catalina and San Clemente Islands, where this species still grows.  It also can be found in Malibu Canyon, in the Santa Monica Mountain Range, and in the San Gabriels.  This is primarily a species of the foothills, growing in canyons, dry hillsides and stream banks, in local woodland and chaparral communities below 3000 ft. (1000 m.) elevation.
Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) - a sprawling vine
Pink honeysuckle is a climbing or twining vine (technically a liana; a woody vine that climbs up or through trees to get to the light).  The stems are herbaceous at the tips, becoming woody with age.  Lonicera hispidula is more robust than Lonicera subspicata  (Southern honeysuckle), the other local species we’ve grown in gardens.

That being said, Pink honeysuckle is not a ‘garden thug’ like some of its non-native cousins.  With water, it grows fairly quickly to 8-10 ft. in length; a very large specimen might reach 15+ feet long. The branches are not as long as those of the Southern Honeysuckle, which can reach 20 ft. or more.  The stems are hairy (another common name is ‘Hairy honeysuckle’) and have shorter side branches.  The branches can easily be pruned or trained before they get too woody.  The plant is said to live only 15-20 years or so, but our experience is too short to comment on this.

The local native honeysuckles do not really twine; nor do they have hold-fasts (like ivy) or tendrils (like grapes).  They are actually sprawlers; if not given support (or a convenient tree or shrub to grow through) they function as ground covers.  In fact, they make a nice low, woody groundcover under trees.

Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): foliage
Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): purple foliage
 of late summer
The leaves of Lonicera hispidula are fairly typical for the Honeysuckles: simple, opposite and oval or oblong.  The leaves are hairy like the stems; those of spring and summer are medium to darker green.  The leaves become purple-tinged with summer-fall drought and may be winter deciduous in colder areas. The purple leaves are unusual and attractive. In lowland gardens of Western Los Angeles County, the plant is mostly evergreen.
Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): flowers & buds
The flowers of this species are exquisite; the plant draws comments whenever it’s in bloom. If your garden favors the pinks and purples, this may be just the climber for you.   The flowers grow in paired clusters along slender flowering stalks arising from the leaf axils.  The color ranges from pastel lavender to bright pink, with a white throat.  A mature, flowering plant is a sight to behold!
Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): close-up of flowers
The flowers are modified to suit their primary pollinators – the hummingbirds.  The corolla consists of a floral tube of fused petals that terminate in two lips.  The lips are rolled back, away from the sexual organs (see above).  Both male (stamens) and female (style) parts extend well beyond the petals.  The female stigma is green-yellow and the anthers (pollen producing part of stamens) are orange with yellow pollen.

The flowers have a sweet scent, which attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.  The nectar, produced at the bottom of the floral tube, is also very sweet.  Children of all ages love to pick the flowers and suck the nectar from the tube.  These plants aren’t called ‘honeysuckles’ for nothing!

Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): ripe fruits
The fruits are small (to perhaps ½ inch) berries.  They start green and become a lovely translucent red when ripe.  Like most parts of the plant, the fruits are sticky (this plant has many secretory glands).   In addition to being decorative, the berries are edible.  They are quite tart – best used with plenty of sweetener or preserved as a flavoring (see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/08/california-gourmet-preserving-summer.html). If you don’t eat the fruits, the birds will gladly do so.

Pink honeysuckle thrives in most local soils, including clays, but probably not in very alkaline soils (pH > 8.5). No need to amend your soil in any way – just plant and water until established.   Like many local vines, it does best with a little afternoon shade or dappled sun.  But you could grow it in full sun (with water) or more shade (it just won’t flower as well). 

In our experience, Lonicera hispidula takes 2-3 years to become fully established.  After that, the plant is very drought tolerant, needing only occasional summer water (or none at all in shadier locations).  It also tolerates more frequent water – 2 to 3 times a month – to keep the leaves green.  

In Mother Nature’s Backyard, our honeysuckles may get watered 2-3 times from June through October.  Like all local natives, Pink Honeysuckle does need adequate winter-spring rains.  Don’t hesitate to supplement winter rains in a dry winter.  This plant can even take some standing water for a short time.

In our experience, Lonicera hispidula is fairly pest-free.  However, it is an alternate host for Phytophthora ramorum (Sudden Oak Death), a fungus-like pathogen affecting woody plants, including the Coast Liveoak.   For more on this emerging plant pathogen see references 4-6, below.

Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula): growing on
 open fence, Mother Nature's Backyard
Pink honeysuckle is most often used as a climber/vine.   It needs support, whether a convenient shrub, trellis, arbor or open-work fence (see above).  You can either weave new growth between the supports, or tie the branches (we use strips of old nylon stockings for this purpose).   Honeysuckles can also be espaliered along a wall or fence, with the appropriate supports.  
Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) needs support
Pink honeysuckle is a wonderful plant for growing over arches and arbors.  The flowers and scent are heavenly on a warm spring/summer day. It reminds one of grandmother’s garden.  And of course you can sit and enjoy the pollinators and the birds that eat the fruits.

We also like to let Honeysuckles grow along the ground as groundcovers.  We sometimes allow them to grow amongst native grasses, sedges, Yarrow, wild strawberries, Woodmints and other natives as a mixed groundcover under trees.   This is truly Mother Nature’s own groundcover – like something you’d see out in the wilds.  Lonicera hispidula would also work well on a bank, to stabilize the soil.
Mixed groundcover includes Honeysuckle, Yarrow,
native grasses
To our knowledge, Pink honeysuckle was not used in traditional Native California medicine.  The Asian honeysuckles, however, are widely used as medicinals.  The hollow stems of Pink honeysuckle were used as pipestems.  And the ashes of this plant were used for black tattoo color. 

In summary, Pink honeysuckle is a great native alternative to the invasive non-native honeysuckles.  It can be used as a climber or groundcover – equally well.  The flowers and fruits are attractive and edible (you can make a delicate tea from the flowers).  The plants attract hummingbirds, long-tongued butterflies and fruit eating birds.   We love the native honeysuckles.   We only wish that we saw them in more local gardens!

Pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) on fence (foreground).
 Mother Nature's Backyard, Gardena CA

For a gardening information sheet see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/lonicera-hispidula

For plant information sheets on other native plants see: http://nativeplantscsudh.blogspot.com/p/gallery-of-native-plants_17.html


  1. Calflora - http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/specieslist.cgi?where-genus=Lonicera
  2. Jepson e-flora - http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=31505
  3. Consortium of California Herbaria – http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/get_consort.pl?taxon_name=Lonicera hispidula 
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytophthora_ramorum
  5. http://www.suddenoakdeath.org/
  6. http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74151.html



We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to: mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com


Saturday, September 24, 2016

California Gourmet: Mother Nature’s Magic Grape Cupcakes

'Roger's Red' Grape has great flavor!

Mother Nature produces an array of interesting and unusual products.  Chemists, engineers, chefs and others continue to be amazed and inspired by plants.  Break-through inventions  are created every year based on plant chemicals!

Some plant products are nothing short of magical.  Among these are the chemicals that give plants their colors.  Plant colors are a great way to introduce children to the fascinating world of science; kids find the colors exciting and utterly captivating.

Fortunately, several color ‘experiments’ can be done using plants and equipment common around the home.  Cheap, simple and safe are always good, especially in working with children. And when there’s a bit of magic involved?  Well, that’s the fun of science!

Among the most interesting plant colors are the reds and blues.  These are produced by a set of plant chemicals known as the anthocyanins (pronounced AN-tho-sigh-ANN-ins or an-tho-SIGH-uh-nins). These are the chemicals that make red cabbage red, grapes purple and the flowers of old-fashioned snowball bushes (Hydrangeas) turn blue or pink.  

Anthocyanins change color when exposed to mildly acidic conditions (vinegar; lemon juice) or alkaline conditions (baking soda).   In fact, they can be used as pH indicators: they are pink in acidic solutions (pH < 7), purple in neutral solutions (pH ~ 7), greenish-yellow in alkaline solutions (pH > 7), and colorless in very alkaline solutions. [1]     Next time you buy a red cabbage, smash a bit of leaf and put a little vinegar or baking soda dissolved in water on the juice.    See if your kids can guess whether the test solution is an acid or a base (alkali).

Wild and Concord purple grapes are a good source of anthocyanins.    We shared our tips for picking and preserving wild (and other purple) grapes last month: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/08/california-gourmet-preserving-summer.html.

If you made grape juice - and still have a little left – you may want to make some ‘Mother Nature’s Magic Grape Cupcakes’.  They are delish – and nearly as easy as making a ‘box cake’.   You may want to make these cupcakes in other flavors as well; this is based on a really nice, old-time recipe.

Mother Nature's Magic Grape Cupcakes
But these cupcakes are truly magical.  Have the kids help make them.  Watch closely when you add the grape juice to the batter.  What happens to the color?  What color are the cupcakes after they are baked?  Are you surprised?  How do you explain what happened?

Mother Nature’s Magic Grape Cupcakes

½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine*, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. dry milk powder
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. homemade wild grape extract **
½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. homemade wild grape juice (unsweetened is best) **


Preheat oven to 350° F.  Prepare cupcake tins (either grease & flour or use paper liners).  This recipe makes 12 regular cupcakes; about 24-28 mini-cupcakes.   Cream butter until light and fluffy (an electric mixer makes this job easy).  Add sugar and continue beating 5 more minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Mix well after each addition.   Sift together the flour, soda, baking powder and dry milk powder.  Add the dry ingredients and the juice, alternately, stirring to mix and ending with the dry ingredients.  Watch for the magic as you add the juice. Add the extracts and stir just to mix.   The batter will be a bit thicker than batter from a standard ‘box cake’.
Spoon or pour batter into prepared cupcake tins, filling about 2/3 full.  When you’re done, level the batter and remove bubbles by dropping the tins on a countertop several times (just hold tins about 4-5 inches above the counter, then drop the tins flat onto the countertop).   Bake in a 350° F oven until done (toothpick inserted in center comes out clean); about 12-15 minutes for mini-cupcakes; 15-20 minutes for standard cupcakes.  Let cool for 10 minutes; remove from tins and let cool completely.  Check out the color!    Frost with Magic Grape Frosting (below).  Enjoy!

* can substitute vegetable shortening for half (e.g. ¼ cup shortening + ¼ cup butter/margarine)

** for instructions on how to make homemade extracts and juice see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/08/california-gourmet-preserving-summer.html   The juice is unsweetened.  It can be made from any wild or Concord type (purple) grape.  You might be able to substitute a natural, unsweetened, commercial purple grape juice (will be tasty, but I can’t guarantee the magic).

Mother Nature’s Magic Grape Frosting

We are often pressed for time and just modify vanilla frosting out of the can.  Pillsbury’s vanilla or any vanilla/vanilla buttercream frosting will work just fine.   Add 2-3 Tbsp. wild grape extract (see above) to the frosting. Stir well.   Then add enough powdered sugar to make the frosting stiff enough to spread.   Frost the cupcakes with the pastel purple frosting.  Enjoy!    

If you make a favorite vanilla frosting from scratch, that will work fine too.  Just add the grape extract and extra powdered sugar to get the proper consistency. 




We encourage you to send us your questions, comments and recipes (either comment below or e-mail to us at : mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com




Wednesday, September 14, 2016

White Checkered Skipper Butterfly (Pyrgus albescens)

White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus albescens) - female on Red Buckwheat 

Butterflies are common visitors to native plants.   Natives provide two types of butterfly food: nectar for the adult butterflies and larval food (usually foliage) for the caterpillars.  Larval foods can be quite specific – sometimes limited to a handful of plant species from the butterfly’s home range.  So it’s not surprising that natives attract more butterflies than plants not native to a region.  For more tips on butterfly gardening see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2012/06/butterfly-gardens.html

This year, we’re introducing a group of smaller butterflies: the Skippers (Family Hesperiidae), common butterflies of local gardens.  One species sometimes seen in Western Los Angeles County is the White Checkered Skipper – Pyrgus albescens   (pronounced PEER-gus  al-BESS-sens).  We’re spotting it more often this year, perhaps due to the drought.  You may also have noticed this butterfly, in your garden or in the wilds, and wondered what it was.

White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus albescens)
perches with wings onpen
Like the Umber and Fiery Skippers discussed in July and August (2016), the Checkered Whites belong to the family Hesperiidae (the Skippers).  But Checkered Whites are placed in the subfamily Pyrginae - Skippers that perch with wings outspread, rather than half-open.  Pyrgus species are further classified to the tribe Pyrgini, which contains nearly 600 species in North and South America.

The genus Pyrgus, which contains about 50 species, can be found in Europe, temperate Asia, and North, Central and South America.  All look somewhat similar: small gray butterflies, with square white blotches, and black-and-white checkered wing fringes. [1]   Pyrgus species can be difficult to tell apart, particularly in areas where the ranges of several species overlap.
White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus albescens)
male on Yarrow (Achillea millefolia)
The White Checkered Skipper is sometimes included in the more common and widespread Pyrgus communis (the Common Checkered Skipper).  In fact, there is still lively debate regarding the taxonomy of this ‘species’. [2, 3]  We’ve chosen to treat it as a separate species, due to its range limits and minor physical (morphological) differences.  However, it’s still not clear whether it is better regarded as a sub-species or variant of Pyrgus communis, an incipient species, or a truly separate species.  To learn more, we recommend references 2 & 3, below.

The White Checkered Skipper is native to the Southern U.S. (primarily Texas, the Southwest and California) and Mexico.  Its range appears to be expanding, both eastward and north. [2]     In Southern California, it’s found at lower elevations, in drier, sunny places including native prairies, low deserts, roadsides, fields and gardens.  It is never common, but may be seen where ever larval food plants (Malvaceae) are available.  Its range appears to be limited by the Sierra Nevada and Transverse mountain ranges. [3]


White Checkered Skippers are small butterflies, with a wingspan of 1 - 1 1/2 inches (2.5 - 3.8 cm). Their coloration is similar to, but slightly paler than, the Common Checkered Skipper.  The thorax (mid-body) of the males appears blue, due to conspicuous blue hairs.  The female body, lacking the blue hairs, appears dark gray to black.  The abdomen (hind-segment) is dark gray with white stripes.  

Both sexes have large, square white spots on the upperside of both sets of wings, forming irregular, blotchy stripes.  The wing background color is gray or gray-brown mixed with red-brown, the brown being more obvious near the wing margins.  The wing-fringes are checkered black and white.  This is particularly obvious in the males, where the checkered squares reach to the edge of the wing fringes. 

White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus albescens) - underside

The underside of the wings is overall a light gray, giving individuals a pale gray or gray-blue appearance in flight.  On closer inspection, the underside has a series of irregular bands, composed of squares that are pale gray, tan and dark brown-black.   You rarely see the underside, but it’s quite pretty.  As always, photographs are a great help in identifying butterflies and appreciating their intricate beauty.

White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus albescens)
 has pale under-body
The face, sides and underbody are hairy and pale gray in color, as are the upper segments of the legs.  The antennae are black and white striped, and have the characteristic tip of the Skippers.  The proboscis (tongue) is dark (see above). For more good photos (including those of the larvae), see:


White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus albescens) - male on
 Yarrow  (Achillea millefolia), Sunflower family

In our gardens, we see White Checkered Skippers flying near host plants or feeding on a number of nectar plants.  The peak flight period is from about February until October.  Like most skippers, Pyrgus albescens favors plants with many small flowers.  We see them most commonly on plants in the Sunflower (Asteraceae) and Mint (Lamiaceae) families, as well as the local native Buckwheats.  These butterflies are easy to identify when nectaring.

Skippers like the White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus albescens)
 will  go to  great lengths to get their favorite nectar
We also see Pyrgus albescens perched on leaves and sometimes on the ground.  Males perch and cruise in places with nectar and host plants, looking for food and receptive females. Males have scent scales on the upperside of the forewing that release pheromones that attract females. [4]   The males are quite territorial; we see them vigorously chase White Checkered and other Skippers, particularly the Fiery Skipper.

White Checkered Skippers likely have several broods a year in our area.  The eggs are pale green and are laid singly on leaves of host plants. [5] The larvae (caterpillars) are pale blue-green with stripes.  They construct simple ‘tents’ by folding over a leaf and fastening it with strands of silk. 

White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus albescens)
Female on Cheeseweed

While the scope is not well-defined, several genera of plants in the Mallow Family (Malvaceae) are known to serve as larval host plants.  These include the true Mallows (Sida or Malvella species), the Globemallows (Sphaeralcea), Velvet-leaf or Indian Mallows (Abutilon), Poppy mallows (Callirhoe) and likely others.  In our area, the common native host is most likely Alkali Mallow (Malvella leprosa). We have seen individuals visiting the non-native Cheeseweed (Malva parviflora); we’ll try to see if this species also serves as a host plant.

We are always glad to see this pretty butterfly in our gardens.  Look for them in your own garden, particularly if you grow the host plants.  We think you’ll enjoy watching these and other Skippers.  Their behavior is more interesting than you might think!


White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus albescens)


  1. http://www.learnaboutbutterflies.com/North%20America%20-%20Pyrgus%20albescens.htm
  2. http://images.peabody.yale.edu/lepsoc/jls/2000s/2000/2000-54(2)52-Burns.pdf
  3. http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1603/0013-8746%282008%29101%5B794%3APOGVBT%5D2.0.CO%3B2?journalCode=esaa
  4. http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Pyrgus-albescens
  5. http://www.learnaboutbutterflies.com/North%20America%20-%20Pyrgus%20albescens.htm




We encourage your comments below.   If you have questions about Skipper butterflies or other gardening topics you can e-mail us at :  mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Plant of the Month (September) : Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena – Verbena lilacena

Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena) - in container on porch
Mother Nature's Backyard

In September, the orange-brown seed heads of the Buckwheats provide a colorful backdrop for other late summer bloomers.  One of the prettiest of ‘the others’ – which is blooming right now on our back porch – is the Lilac verbena, Verbena lilacena (pronounced ver-BEE-nuh  lie-luh-SEE-nuh)

Plants know no political borders.  In fact, the ‘California Floristic Province’ (the area west of the Sierra Nevada Range in California) includes parts of Baja California, Mexico.  We’ve spoken before about the interesting connections between our Channel islands and those off Baja California (http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2014/07/plant-of-month-july-guadalupe-island.html).

Because plants of the Baja Peninsula share not only climate, but also a geologic and botanic history, many Southern California native plant nurseries sell Northern Baja plants.  These species often grow well in western Los Angeles County and add accents not available in locally native species.  One such plant is the Lilac or Cedros Island verbena.

Lilac verbena hails from Cedros Island, off the coast of Baja. The island, which is well known to sport fishermen, is located about 62 miles (100 kilometers) west of Ensenada, Mexico, in the Pacific Ocean.  Cedros Island, or Isla de Cedros ("island of cedars"), is home to a number of unique plant and animal species, some of which are endemic (like Verbena lilacena).  To learn more about Cedros Island see references 1-3, below.

Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena) - in glazed
 pot. Greenhouse, CSU Dominguez Hills
Lilac verbena naturally grows in sandy washes, canyons, slopes, cliffs and hillsides. It’s a mounded, evergreen sub-shrub that’s 2-3 ft. (about ½ to one meter) tall and 3-4 feet wide at maturity.  In most gardens (with occasional water) the plant is evergreen; in a very dry garden, some leaves may be lost in the dry season (summer/fall).

Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena) in sunny location
Native Plant Garden, Madrona Marsh Nature Center, Torrance CA
The plant appears delicate, with numerous thin stems which are surprisingly stiff.  The branch tips are herbaceous; the lower parts of branches become woody with age. Plants grown in part-shade are more rangy; those grown in full sun are naturally more compact (see above).   

Foliage plays an important role in California native gardens.  Foliage colors, shapes and scents provide the contrasts that define mediterranean climate gardens.   Veteran Southern California gardeners know the trick of pairing lush, green plants with the soft gray- and blue-green foliage common in the Coastal Sage Scrub plants. The contrast is nothing short of magical!   The problem is finding smaller shrubs that are both drought tolerant and vivid green.  Lilac verbena is one such plant.
Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena) - lacy foliage

In fact, foliage is one of Verbena lilacena’s strong points.  The color ranges from medium green to almost blue-green, depending on site characteristics.  The leaves are highly incised, giving a lacy appearance to the foliage.  In fact, Lilac verbena looks like a traditional garden plant; that’s probably one reason it’s become so popular with water-wise gardeners.

Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena),
Flowering plant
As if the foliage isn’t enough, Verbena lilacena has pretty flowers and a growing season that spans much of the year in our area.  In hot, inland areas, plants seems to flower less in the hottest months.  But plants can be covered in blooms from spring well into fall.   The secret to a long blooming season is simple: deadhead (remove) the spent flowering stalks. 

Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena).
Close-up of flowers
The flowers themselves are small – perhaps 1/3 of an inch (less than 1 cm) across.  They have five notched petals and are relatively simple.  The flowers grow along flowering stalks densely packed with flowers (see above).  The flowers open serially, from bottom to top, providing a long bloom season.

In the most common cultivar, Verbena lilacena ‘De La Mina’, the flowers are medium purple (the straight species has paler purple flowers).  In the cultivar ‘Paseo Rancho’, the flowers are pastel pink.  All are strikingly pretty and attract a wide range of pollinators, from butterflies to pollinator flies.   The flowers have a very sweet aroma; particularly noticeable on days with higher humidity. 

Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena) 'De La Mina'
The cultivar Verbena lilacena ‘De La Mina’, which is readily available at native plant  and other nurseries offering water-wise plants, was collected by Carol Bornstein on Cedros Island.  It was introduced into the horticultural trade by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden [4].   ‘Paseo Rancho’, which is less readily available currently, is slightly larger and was introduced by Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden [5].

Lilac verbena does well in many local gardens.  It prefers a well-drained, sandy soil, but can be grown in clays.  If your soil has questionable drainage, try planting it on a slope or on a small berm. 

Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena) - El Rincon
 Native Plant Garden, South Coast Botanic Garden
While often grown in full sun, Verbena lilacena may do better with some afternoon shade in hot, inland gardens.  But this is not a plant for shady places – it really does need some sun to bloom well. 

Lilac verbena is quite tolerant of a wide range of garden water regimes.  It prefers a monthly deep watering in summer; that’s similar to conditions in the wild.  But it can take even more frequent summer water, provided soils are well-drained.  Be careful not to over-do with overhead watering during warm weather, as powdery mildew can be a problem.   Watch for snails and slugs, which can eat young foliage.

Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena)
Well-pruned specimen, Native Plant Garden,
Madrona Marsh Nature Center, Torrance CA
Lilac verbena does require a little pruning to look good.  Deadhead the flowering stalks regularly for best bloom.  And cut back branches by 1/3 each fall to create a full, mounded shape.  Wait until the weather cools down before pruning.  The pruning doesn’t hurt the plant.  In fact, it simulates ‘natural pruning’ by animals.

Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena) provides
 color and  contrast.  Madrona Marsh Nature Center,
 Torrance CA
Lilac verbena can be a welcome addition to many local gardens.  It’s water-wise and of a size that can be accommodated by even a small garden.  If needed, it can even do well in a container or large hanging basket.   The green foliage creates a green oasis in the summer-fall garden.  It is a great plant for providing contrasts.

Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena) contrasts
 nicely with salmon-colored wall
This is one of our favorites for floral scent.  Plant it where you can enjoy the sweetness as you walk past.  While not a super-star like the Buckwheats, Verbena lilacena attracts enough insects to warrant a place in the habitat garden.  And if you love those rare, unusual native plants, this is one of those. 

In short, Verbena lilacena is an attractive, useful plant.  It does well in local gardens with very little care and it is water-wise (ever so important these days).   So consider purchasing a Lilac verbena at the up-coming native plant sales.

Lilac (Cedros Island) Verbena (Verbena lilacena) (l)


For a gardening information sheet see: http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/verbena-lilacina

For plant information sheets on other native plants see: http://nativeplantscsudh.blogspot.com/p/gallery-of-native-plants_17.html



  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cedros_Island
  2. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/baja-4-u/2012/mar/26/isla-cedros-an-exotic-island-adventure-in-your-own/#
  3. http://baja.com/bahia-asuncion/the-cedros-island-experience/
  4. http://www.sbbg.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=livingcollections.pip
  5. http://www.smgrowers.com/products/plants/plantdisplay.asp?plant_id= 3755



We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to: mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com