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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Plant of the Month (June) : California everlasting – Pseudognaphalium californicum


California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum) in Mother Nature's Garden of Health


Some plants remain where you plant them; others move around in the garden.  The movers are those plants – often annuals or perennials – that re-seed where ever conditions are suitable.  Rather than fighting it, we let the movers pop up (within reason) in different places each year, adding an element of spontaneity to the gardens.  One such plant is the California everlasting, Pseudognaphalium californicum (pronounced soo-doe-nah-FAY-lee-um  cal-ee-FOR-ni-cum).

The Everlastings are an interesting and useful group of plants in the Sunflower family (Asteraceae).  Also called Cudweeds, they are common plants of temperate regions. In the western U.S., they are often herbaceous plants with hairy foliage and rather plain flower heads.  The floral bracts remain on the plant after flowering, making these ‘everlasting flowers’ useful in dried flower arrangements.  Several Everlasting species are used in traditional medicine, most commonly for sciatica.

In California, the most common Everlastings are classified in three genera: Logfila (the Cottonrose genus), Gnaphalium (the Cudweed genus) and Pseudognaphalium (Cudweed or Rabbit-tobacco genus).  Gnaphalium palustre (Western marsh cudweed), a common annual of seasonally moist places, is the only California native in the genus Gnaphalium.  

Eleven California Everlastings are currently classed as Pseudognaphalium.  Of these, most are perennials – although many function more like biennials or even annuals. [1] Seven species, along with the non-native Jersey cudweed (Pseudognaphalium luteoalbum), are native to western Los Angeles County.   We featured the Feltleaf everlasting previously (http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2013/09/plant-of-month-september-wrights.html).


California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum) - Palos Verdes peninsula
 
California everlasting (formerly Gnaphalium californicum) is native from Washington/Oregon to Baja California, Mexico. It grows throughout the California Floristic Province, with the exception of the Great Central Valley.  It can still be seen in the Santa Monica Mountains, in the foothills of the San Gabriels, on Catalina Island and in undeveloped areas of the Baldwin Hills and Palos Verdes peninsula.    

California everlasting is also known as Ladies' tobacco, California rabbit tobacco, Green everlasting, California pearly everlasting and California cudweed. It’s a common herbaceous plant of seasonally dry, open places in forests, grasslands and shrub lands (chaparral, coastal sage scrub and mixed evergreen), often on slopes or in disturbed soils.   It is also used in local gardens for its unique appearance, fragrance and other qualities.
 

California everlasting
Pseudognaphalium californicum
 
Whether Pseudognaphalium californicum is an annual, biennial or short-lived perennial depends partly on circumstances.  In favorable situations in the wild, it likely is a short-lived perennial.  In most gardens, it will behave as either an annual or biennial.  The plants begin growth with the winter/spring rains, first forming a luxuriant mound of soft, bright-green foliage.
 

California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum)
spring foliage
 
The plant itself is rather stout and upright, growing 2-4 ft. (0.5 to 1.25 m) tall and up to 2 ft. wide.  The larger leaves, which can be 4-6 inches long (to 15 cm), are clustered in a basal rosette in older plants.  The leaves are linear to lanceolate, with somewhat wavy margins; they may be sparsely hairy. 
 
California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum): foliage
 
The most striking foliage characteristic is the glands, which are found on both upper and lower surfaces of the leaves.  You’ll know from the leaves that this is California everlasting; it’s the only locally native everlasting with sticky, aromatic leaves. Chemicals produced by the glands are responsible for the characteristic aroma – like maple syrup with hints of lemon and camphor.   On a warm day, the scent makes you long for pancakes – kids love it!    In fact, the scent is one of many reasons to include this plant in your garden.
  
California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum):
 flowering plant in Madrona Marsh Nature Center
 native plant garden
 
With the warming spring weather, plants develop one or more erect, leafy flowering stalks.  These are many-branched at their ends, producing an inflorescence (cluster of flowers) that is wide and flat, mostly at the top of the plant.  The terminal branches have fewer leaves, so the flowering heads appear to float above the foliage.  Plants may begin flowering as early as February in lowland S. California; as late as July further north and at higher elevations.   In Mother Nature’s Backyard, Pseudognaphalium californicum usually blooms from April to June. 

California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum):
 flower heads
 
California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum):
 close-up of flower heads
 
The flowers themselves are typical of the native Everlastings.  The flowering heads have no showy ray flowers (the ‘petals’ of a typical sunflower head) and the yellow disk flowers are only slightly visible.  The overall shape of the flowering head is like a turban or bulb; rounded and wider at the base, more pointed at the tip (see above).  The flowering heads are covered by thin, scale-like, white involucral bracts (flower leaves), giving them an overall white color.  In this species, the bracts are blunt tipped (see close-up picture, above). 
 

California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum):
 going to seed

Like most Sunflowers, California everlasting is insect pollinated.  The seeds are tiny, with bristles that aid in wind distribution (or occasional hitchhiking in animal fur).  In our experience, new seedlings establish readily in suitable places.  This is a pioneer species (an early colonizer of bare or disturbed sites).  As such, it tends to establish on bare ground, in places with adequate winter moisture and light.  

California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum):
 seedlings
 
The seedlings are easy to distinguish from other plants (above) and young plants are easily removed where necessary.   This is not an aggressive invader in our experience; new plants pretty much replace the old ones each year.

California everlasting is not fussy about soil type, doing well in sandy, rocky or clay soils.  It probably does best in full sun, but also grows in part-shade (it tends to be a bit leggy and has fewer blooms).  Pseudognaphalium californicum tolerates coastal conditions, salty and alkali soils, poor drainage and deer.  It is not eaten by rabbits and does well on slopes or flats.   All it really needs is adequate soil moisture from winter until it begins to flower. 

California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum)
 in garden at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden,
 Claremont CA
 
There are many good reasons to include Pseudognaphalium californicum in your garden.  It functions as a useful filler plant between shrubs and grasses in new and mature gardens.  The white ‘flowers’ usefully tie together disparate colors in a garden bed.   And, of course, the wonderful scent makes it a natural for the scented garden.  A plant next to a sunny garden seat is heavenly on a warm spring day!

Like many of the native Pseudognaphalium species, California everlasting is a larval food source for the American Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa virginiensis.   If you like the Painted Ladies, you should consider planting some native Everlastings (like Pseudognaphalium californicum).
 

California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum)
Garden of Dreams Discovery Garden,
 CSU Dominguez Hills, Carson CA
 
Of course another reason to plant California everlasting is to have a ready source of dried flowers for bouquets and crafts.  Simply clip off the flowering stems before most of the flowers open, bundle the stems, then hang them upside-down to dry in a dry place.  The ‘flowers’ will last for a year – until the next season provides a new crop.  They provide useful filler in bouquets and floral arrangements; but they also make an airy arrangement all by themselves.

A final reason to plant Pseudognaphalium californicum is for its medicinal uses.  Tinctures of several Everlasting species, including P. californicum, have been dissolved in water and ingested in the treatment of lower back pain and sciatica. A tea made from dried stems and leaves is a traditional remedy for colds, coughs and stomach ailments.  This treatment may work by strengthening the immune system, so it’s important to use a mild dose (perhaps 5-10 leaves per pint of hot water).  After steeping, the leaves are removed and the refrigerated tea is drunk once a day over 3-4 days. [2]   This tea was also used as an eyewash.
 

California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum)
Mother Nature's Garden of Health, Gardena Willows
 Wetland Preserve, Gardena CA
 
A pillow stuffed with dried flowers and foliage is reported to help some sufferers of asthma and chronic cough. This is an unusual delivery mode for a medication, but may be worth a try.   A poultice of the leaves is a traditional treatment for cuts and skin sores; it reportedly numbs the pain and aids in healing.   Finally, Chumash healer Cecelia Garcia has shared explicit instructions on the use of Pseudognaphalium californicum as a weight loss aid.  Read reference 3, below, for more on this application.

In summary, California everlasting is an interesting native plant with many attributes to recommend it.  It can be grown in a variety of soils, even along the coast.  Its aroma is unique among the local natives and it provides needed habitat for American Lady butterflies.  It can also be a source of craft materials and medicinals.  It’s an easy plant to grow - if you can provide bare soil and don’t mind it moving around in your garden.  We love this plant and think you will too.

 



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

 

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  1. Calflora - http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/specieslist.cgi?where-genus=Pseudognaphalium
  2. http://www.livingwild.org/summer-blog-posts/pearly-everlasting/
  3. http://www.abeduspress.com/files/Chumash_treatments_to_aid_weight_loss.pdf

  

 

 

 

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

3 comments:

  1. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    Gardening Oxford

    ReplyDelete
  2. Do you know which nursery in San Diego, CA has this plant for sale?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Click on the 'Where to buy native plants' page (right side) for a list of native plant sources. There are several from your area.

    ReplyDelete