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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Plant of the Month (May) : California brodiaea – Brodiaea californica

California brodiaea (Brodiaea californica) : Mother Nature's Backyard 

The parade of native ‘bulbs’ continues to unfold in S. California gardens.  From the early-blooming Red-skinned onion and Blue dicks, to the late-blooming Tritelias and Brodiaeas, there’s usually something of interest from January through May.  Right now the star geophyte is the California brodiaea, Brodiaea californica [pronounced bro-DEE-uh  cal-ih-FOR-ni-cuh]. 

As its name suggests, California brodiaea is endemic to California, gracing the foothills and meadows of the North Coastal Ranges and northern Sierra Nevadas.  It grows in gravelly, clay soils or serpentine, in the grassland, open woodland and chaparral communities, up to about 3000 ft. (900 m.) elevation.  But it grows surprisingly well in a range of garden soils and climates, making it a staple perennial in local gardens.   It is variously placed in the Lilliacieae or the Themidaceae, along with the California native Bloomeria, Dichelostema, Muilla and Triteleia. 

California brodiaea (Brodiaea californica) : corms
Brodiaea californica is a corm-producing perennial.  It dies back to its underground storage organ (the corm) after producing seeds.  The corm is rounded and has coarse, brown fibers (see above).   The plants remain dormant until the winter rains, when the stems begin to grow again.  The plants first produce several leaves; then, with the warmer weather, they quickly send up flowering stalks and begin to flower.  In our S. California gardens, the first green appears around February and flowering commences in late April or early May.  Flowering can last up to three to four weeks.

California brodiaea (Brodiaea californica) : foliage
The leaves of Brodiaea californica are long and narrow – up to ½ inch wide and 24 inches long.  Like most in this genus, the leaves are fleshy and medium green.  In a dry spring, the leaves will begin to yellow and dry at their tips as flowering begins.
California brodiaea (Brodiaea californica) : flower and buds
Flowers are grouped in starburst-like umbels atop stout stems.  Each umbel contains 8-12 upright flowers, each flower about 1-1 ½ inches (2.4-3.8 cm) in length (see above).  The flowers may be white or pale pink, but those in Mother Nature’s Backyard are a lovely pale lavender. 

California brodiaea (Brodiaea californica) : close-up of flowers
The flowers themselves have a specialized form.  The perianth (fused petals and sepals; three of each) forms a long tube with a flared opening (see above).  The pollen-producing stamens are surrounded by an upright, white, tube-like structure formed by the staminodia (sterile stamens).    

Such specialized floral architecture often reflects adaptation to specific types of pollinators.  We recently observed a hummingbird carefully visiting every flower.  We were surprised to learn that little is known about the pollination of Brodiaea californica.  We will continue to observe and photograph any potential pollinators, with the goal of adding to our knowledge of this species. We’ll also be more observant regarding the production of viable seeds.   Here’s hoping!

California brodiaea (Brodiaea californica) : lovely late spring color
California brodiaea is an easy plant to grow.  Once planted in the ground or in a pot, it needs only adequate winter/spring moisture and relatively dry conditions through the summer/fall to succeed and multiply.  In fact, as it hails from N. California, these corms can even take occasional summer water – just don’t over-do.

California brodiaea does fine in full sun to part-shade; morning sun is probably optimal in our drier S. California gardens.  If you’re growing it in a container, provide a layer of fresh potting mix or ½ strength fertilizer in winter/early spring.

 If flowering starts to decrease – or pots seem over-crowded – thin the corms in the fall. You’ll probably only need to do this every third or fourth year.  For more on caring for native corms, see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2017/02/gardening-with-california-native-bulbs.html
California brodiaea (Brodiaea californica) : glorious massed
This is truly one of the prettiest California native ‘bulbs’.  The robust foliage and flowers compete well with other native wildflowers.  We love the look of it with California poppy, the Clarkias and Gilias.   Masses of Brodiaea californica provide pastel color when many spring-flowering annuals are already done for the season (in S. California).  We welcome anything that provides color in the ‘between seasons’ period of May and early June.

Its size makes Brodiaea californica a good candidate for the foreground in mixed beds.  It also makes a good filler around perennial grasses, shrubs and herbaceous perennials.  This is one of our all-time favorites for containers; it’s truly a conversation piece. Place a container of California brodiaea near an outdoor seating area for maximum enjoyment.    The corms were apparently eaten by native Californians, though we have yet to try them.   We’ll try to learn more about their preparation.

In summary, California brodiaea is one of our favorite native ‘bulbs’.  It’s pretty, adaptable, robust and easy to grow.  We hope you’ll consider adding a pot or two to your own garden.   Just remember to order bulbs in summer – they sell out fast!
California brodiaea (Brodiaea californica) : lovely container plant
Home garden, Redondo Beach, CA

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


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

1 comment:

  1. We just took a tour of one of the remaining areas for vernal pools in San Diego county and saw Brodiaea en masse. It was delightful. I had wanted to think about how to recreate some of this habitat at home and here is you article!

    Thank you.