Southern California Native Plants

So what did you do during Quarantine 2020? Well, I spent many, many hours exploring the fields behind my neighborhood, and I went hunting for native plants and wildflowers! Would you like to see what I saw? Below, I have listed all of the Southern California native plants I observed from March to July.

I had a lot of time on my hands, and I thought now would be an excellent time to get more familiar with the native plants in my area. Did you know that San Diego County has the highest biodiversity in the continental United States?

Yes! California hosts over 6500 species, subspecies, and varieties of plants, with 222 of these that are designated as rare, endangered, or threatened.

I live about one mile from the San Diego Border,  so even though technically Temecula is in southwest Riverside County, let’s pretend.

So, where did I see all of these lovely plants? Behind my neighborhood is an undeveloped area that lies just outside the Pechanga Indian Reservation, and a dry riverbed runs parallel to two golf courses owned by Pechanga.

Below, I have provided a Google Map of the area that has become my second home these past five months.

Temecula plant ID trails native plants
Red Line=Observation Area

There are several biomes to explore here-

  • Grasslands
  • Coastal Sage Scrub
  • Chaparral
  • Southern Oak Woodland
  • Serpentine

Table of Contents

Unusual Amounts of Rainfall for Southern California

April Rain Temecula wet river

On a side note, I wanted to boast about how much rain we got this winter. Something extraordinary happened!

You see, we, on average, have very little rain here. But, in April, it rained almost every day for three weeks.

Why does this matter? First, the creek bed behind our neighborhood is always bone dry, and I have lived here for almost 17 years and have never seen this river flow. However, it was raining so hard in April that the creek could be heard over a block away.

The average rainfall for Southern California is usually only 10.3 inches, but we received over 11.63 inches of rain in March and April. Can you believe it? In just two months!

I bring up this fact because I believe all of this extra rain impacted the chaparral tremendously, in a good way.

Take a look and tell me if you agree.

Southern California Native Plants and Wildflowers

I have been trying my darnedest to learn how to identify Southern California’s plethora of native plants, but the process has been very gradual because I am a slow learner. In my defense, San Diego County has the highest biodiversity of flora and fauna in the entire continental US.

Because of this, it helps me tremendously to separate each plant down to its Family and scientific name. Once you understand Family characteristics, identifying plants becomes more straightforward when observing them in the field.

–>Click on any photo to see a larger version.

Ethnobotany and the Temecula Chaparral

AHLDC Luiseno display case willow grass skirt
Display case at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center

As I was wandering around in nature, I thought a great way of learning about Southern California native plants would be by researching how the Native Americans of San Diego and Temecula Valley utilized them.

Once I became familiar with Ethnobotany, which is studying the region’s plants and practical uses through the traditional knowledge of the local culture and people, I now knew how to proceed.

To be honest, this post has taken me well over eight weeks to comprise, not to mention the endless hours of searching and searching for all the new blooming plants. I am not complaining, as I have learned a tremendous amount about the local flora and native plants of Southern Temecula.

I additionally found some excellent references, which will be listed at the end of the post.

 Kumeyaay and Luiseno’s Uses of Native Plants

Kumeyaay Willow Skirt native uses native plants
Kumeyaay Willow Bark Skirt-on display at the San Diego Museum of Man

So why did I choose the Kumeyaay and the Luiseno Tribes?  Luiseno is evident as I live next to the Pechanga Reservation. I picked the Kumeyaay Tribe because I have learned about its rich history every time I visit a nature center in San Diego County.

Down below, I will go over each tribe briefly to give you a general overview, but I have included links if you are interested in any additional information.

As I list all of the Southern California native plants, I will also add each of the Kumeyaay and the Luiseno indigenous names, if available. Also included within the list will be any traditional uses of each plant.

Applications of each plant are noted separately for each tribe. If no tribe is specified, please assume that the plant was utilized by a Southern California tribe unless otherwise noted.

The Kumeyaay of Southern California

Kumeyaay art print southern california native tribe
Illustration: Schott, Sorony, Co. NY 1857, digitalized by Kosi Gramatikoff

Kumeyaay translates to ” those who face a water from a cliff.” The tribe consists of two related groups with two divided homelands.

The Ipai remain in San Diego, bordering north at Oceanside. At the same time, the Tipai lives to the south in Mexico, including the Laguna Mountains, Ensenada, and Tecate (Baja California).

The Kumeyaay tribe were the original inhabitants of what is known presently as San Diego County when Europeans first arrived in California in 1769.

These immigrants were a combination of soldiers, explorers, and missionaries who preceded to settle in ancient Kumeyaay village Kosa’aay, formally known as Old Town San Diego.

These settlers brought non-native and invasive flora and domesticated animals, which all wreaked havoc on the native ecology.

There is evidence, via archeological findings proving that the Kumeyaay have been in this area for over 12,000 years. I have previously written briefly about a Kumeyaay coastal hunting trail that is believed to be over 10,000 years old and found at La Jolla- La Jolla Coast Walk Trail.

–> For more historical information on the Kumeyaay Tribe

The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians

luiseno old drawing southern california native tribe
Credit-Wikimedia Commons-Drawing by Luiseno Indian Pablo Tac circa the 1820s

The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, formally known as the Payaomkawichum ( “People of the West,”) has inhabited western Riverside County and San Diego North County for over 10,000 years.

Spanish Missionaries arrived in Temecula Valley in 1797 and established Mission San Luis Rey de Francia on Luiseno ancestorial territory. I have written briefly on the subject if you want to know more.–> Notable Places of Interest Near Guamoje Regional Park

The Luiseno used more plant foods than animal foods, which included over 17 species of native grasses. With the arrival and colonization of European settlers, the plant communities considerably altered.

The Executive Order officially established the Pechanga Reservation on June 27, 1882.

–> For more historical information on the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians

Glossary of Southern California Plant Terms

Before we start, I thought it would be a good idea to define a few terms beforehand.

First off, here is a plant diagram to help you understand how to identify-

Flower Diagram
Mature flower diagram
Credit- Wikimedia Commons

Next, a helpful chart gives you an idea of identifying each type of leaf.

Leaf Morphology

Leaf morphology

And finally, here are some helpful definitions to elaborate on how Native Americans utilized various Southern California native plants.

Herbal Medicine Definitions

Decoction- a liquor results from concentrating a substance’s essence by heating or boiling, especially a medicinal preparation made from a plant; the process of extracting- slow evaporation. You can make a syrup by adding sugar or honey to the essence.

Endemic- native and limited to one place

Herbalism-  a study of pharmacognosy (the study of plants of other natural sources as a source of drugs) and the use of medicinal plants

Infusion-  a drink, a remedy, or extract prepared by soaking the plant or herb into a liquid

Poultice- a soft, moist mass of material, typically of plant material, applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation and kept in place by a cloth


Family Adoxaceae

Blue elderberry family adoxaceae temecula california

The Moschatel Family

  • flowering plants
  • opposite toothed leaves
  • small five or sometimes (rare) four-petaled flowers in cymose inflorescence’s
    • cymose definition- flat-topped flower cluster where the main and branch stems each end in a flower that opens before those below it of to its side
  • the fruit is a drupe-( a fleshy fruit with a thin skin and a central stone with a seed inside

Mexican Elderberry- Sambucus nigra

Other Names– American black elderberry, Canada elderberry, common elderberry, blue elderberry, American elder, Mexican elder, tapiro, fever tree, tree of medicine, blood elder

Kumeyaay– Kepally

Luiseno- Kootah

Traditional Uses

  • very versatile- every part of the tree was used
  • berries are consumed via jams, jellies, wine, and syrups, where the fruit is cooked down with the seeds strained.
  • dye
  • leaves, and the inner bark is used as an insecticide and dye.

Interesting Facts

  • Edible flowers and berries (if ripe and cooked), but other parts of the plant are toxic, so it is not advisable to eat raw berries.
  • The genus comes from the Greek word Sambuca, after the ancient wind instrument. If you remove the pith from twigs, you can create a whistle.

Family Anacardiaceae

sugar bush family anachardiaceae

The Sumac Family

    • thick green leaves with red twigs
    • contain urushiol, which is an irritant
      • resin canals are located in the inner fibrous bark of the fibrovascular system found in the plant’s leaves, roots, and stems
    • evergreen leaves

Laurel Sumac- Malosima laurina

Other Names– California sumac, taco plant, lentisco (Spanish)

Kumeyaay- Ektii


Traditional Uses

  • Luiseno- would make tea by adding dried bark to hot water to give to women after birth; as well as used for an initiation ceremony for girls
  • Kumeyaay-dry out the fruits and grind them into a flour
    • used in woman’s puberty ceremonies as well as used in a bathing ritual during childbirth
    • used to treat venereal disease

Interesting Facts

  • dicot angiosperm
  • leaves will fold up along the midrib to help reduce the surface area during drought: thus, the term “Taco Plant.”
  • habit spreading or erect
  • leaves and stems are full of volatile compounds that have a distinct odor
    • leaves measure between 3 to 5 inches (7.5-12.5 cm) in length and 2-3 inches wide (5-7.5 cm)
  • flowers are cream-yellow in a conic panicle- (a branched cluster of flowers where the ones at the base open up first- pyramid-shaped) and bloom in the summer
    • the ‘skeleton’ of the flower remains on the tree for some time, giving it a unique look
  • one of the first plants to resprout after a fire
  • used as a sentinel plant- Early orange growers in California would decide where to plant their oranges by where Laural sumac was growing because this indicated that the temperatures would not get too cold for the oranges
  • north-facing

Fun Fact- All flowers of the laurel sumac have male stamens and female pistons, but only one sex is functional for each tree.

Sugar Bush- Rhus ovata

Other Names– Sugar sumac, sugar bush

Luiseno- pac qwa t

Lemonade Berry Bush (Rhus integrifolia)

    • Luiseno- Shoval
    • Kumeyaay- Huutat
    • #Sugar sumac is very close inland relative to the coastal lemonadeberry bush

Traditional Uses

  • Luiseno-the leaves were used to make into a tincture or powder to use for mucous membrane ulcers and sores
    • soothes, shrinks, and disinfects
    • primarily used as a relief for a nursing infant
  • Kumeyaay- lemonade berry bush traditional uses-
    • used for colds, coughs and to ease childbirth
    • fruit used as a sweetener, eaten cooked or raw

Interesting Facts

  • an evergreen shrub that prefers south-facing slopes
  • ranges from northern Baja California up to the coast of Southern California
  • may grow up to 32 feet in height ( 6.6-32.8 ft) or ( 2-10 m)
  • leaves are simple, dark green, leathery ovate that fold at the midrib and are alternate
  • twigs and stems are red
  • the inflorescence occurs at the end of the branches and consists of 5 petaled flowers that are white to pink
  • the fruit is a red sticky drupe
  • blooms from April-May
  • excellent habitat for birds

Family Asteraceae

Family Asteraceae southern california naitve plants

The Aster, Sunflower, or Composite Family

  • most are annual or perennial herbs, with some trees and shrubs and vines
  • especially common in dry and open environments
  • composite flower head or pseudanthium or capitulum- small clusters of hundreds to thousands of flowers that are clumped together to make one flower
  • leaves can be opposite, alternate, or whorled
    • often contain resin or latex
  • the name Asteraceae comes from the type genus Aster, which in Ancient Greek means ‘star’ and refers to the star-like shape of the inflorescence
  • cosmopolitan distribution
  • economically significant as well as a weed
  • medicinal

Common Sunflower- Helianthus annuus

Other Names- wild sunflower

Luiseno- Paukula

Traditional Uses-

  • Luiseno- use the seeds for food

Interesting Information

  • large branching annual plant with many flower heads that are up to 12 inches in diameter
  • an erect hairy stem that can reach heights up to 9.8 feet (3 m)
  • leaves are mostly alternate, broad, rough, and toothed
  • the inflorescence is a composite flower head- numerous small five-petaled flowers (florets)
    • disk flowers- flowers in the middle which are arranged spirally

Fun Fact- Sunflower seeds were brought over to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century and in addition to sunflower oil,  became a very popular cooking ingredient

Golden YarrowEriophyllum confertiflorium

Other Names– yellow yarrow, Golden-yarrow

Traditional Uses

  • Kumeyaay-the whole plant was boiled, and the water was used to treat acne
  • grind parched seeds into flour

Interesting Information

  • Confertiflorum (Latin) means “densely-flowered.”
    • each flower head (inflorescence) has up to 30 flowers heads
  • Eriophyllum (Greek) means “wooly-leafed.”
  • shallow roots
  • great for erosion control
  • seen frequently after fires
  • important nectar source for a mixture of insects

San Diego Tarweed- Deinandra paniculata #


Other Names-Hemizonia paniculata, paniculate tarweed, slender tarweed, clustered tarweed, golden tarweed, sticky tarweed, clustered moonshine daisy, fascicled tarweed

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay- used the plant to ease headaches. They would boil the plant and inhale the steam either in a sweathouse or standing over a pot with a cloth over their head.
  • The Chumash, near Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands, would collect and dry the seeds, pound the seeds with a bit of water, and then form it into a ball to eat raw
    • tied several plants together to create a broom
  • seeds were also used in a Pinole, which was a flour-like substance that was used dry or as a gruel
  • boiled the entire plant and ate the thick, tarry substance

Interesting Information-

  • rare annual herb
  • flowers with 7 to 10 petals
  • the inflorescence is in an open panicle formation (spreading heads
  • found in dry foothills, mesas, and disturbed areas
  • exudes a resin, hence the name “Tarweed.”
    • the resin is believed to help reduce water loss from the plant tissues during the hot summers
    • a cut stem will stay ‘fresh’ for up to three days without water
    • the resin may smell unpleasantly sour or pleasantly delicious depending on the age of the plant
    • the resin is toxic and deters grazers
    • has compounds within the resin that are believed to absorb ultraviolet radiation, which may protect from sun damage to the plant
    • creates a green/yellow stain

California Mugwort-  Artemesia douglasiana

Other Names- Douglas’ sagewort, dream plant

Luiseno- Pakoshish, Pa’aku

Traditional Uses-

  • to make small boys’ arrows from mugwort stalks
  • inhaled via smoke to promote healthy dreams, sacred sleep, and ward off evil spirits: as well as to treat cold, flu, and fevers
    • antiseptic, antiviral, antimicrobial
  • make tea from the leaves to help with congestion
  • a sedative with calming effects
  • use the leaves as a treatment for poison oak
  • used to ease arthritis
  • insect repellent as well as to relieve insect bites
  • the wool from the leaves was collected and rolled into a small cone and then ignited to help cauterize a wound
  • used as a bath for measles
  • the leaves are chewed to ease tooth and gum pain
  • the leaves, whether dried, burned, or fresh, were used to cover food to prevent pests

Interesting Information

  • prefers damp soil; persist along streambeds
  • scentless
  • large, broad leaves that are green on the top and white below
  • has been used medically and ceremonially for thousands of years
  • considered a “magic plant”
  • calming sage-like scent
  • Mugwort was used to flavor beer in the UK before the introduction of hops, so some believe this is how it got its name.

Fun Fact- I remember seeing an article in May, about how in Madagascar they have created several natural remedies (COVID Organics) to help fight COVID 19, with an African variety of mugwort included as one of their active ingredients.

California Sagebrush- Artemesia californica

Other Names- Old Man, coastal sagebrush, California sagewort, California mugwort



Traditional Uses

  • Luiseno would use white sage and sagebrush to build a ceremonial pre-hunting fire. They believed that the smoke from the fire would absolve any negative energy and bad luck
  • Kumeyaay would ground the leaves up to make a poultice to help with ant bites or boil to make a tea when ill (respiratory, arthritis): water bath for measles
    • inhalation of smoke from the leaves was used to treat respiratory tract infections
  • bunches of sagebrush stalks were made into dolls for the “Burning of the Images Ceremony”
  • used in girl puberty ceremonies, menstruation teas, anxiety, depression
  • leaves are dried out and smoked like tobacco
  • poultice for toothaches and wounds applied to the back for asthma
  • to soothe menopausal symptoms, ease childbirth, and give to newborns to flush out their systems
  • early California miners used it in a spray to keep fleas out of their beds
  • some tribes would wear sagebrush necklaces to ward off evil spirits

Interesting Information-

  • not a true sage
  • is the dominant plant in the coastal sage scrub community, and an essential member of some chaparral and dry foothill communities
  • leaves are light green and hairy
  • contain terpene chemicals which give it a sage-like smell
    • these chemicals are thought to inhibit the growth of other plant species, resulting in bare patches of dirt under and around the bush
    • aromatic insect repellant
  • antimicrobial leaves
  • adapt to the summer heat by dropping their leaves under extreme drought
  • the root system is shallow and fibrous, which allows it to take advantage of early-season rains for rapid growth

Yellow Pincushion-  Chaenactis glabriuscula

Other Names– Yellow Chaenactis, common yellow chaenactis

Traditional Uses

  • dried seeds were grounded into a flower and then mixed with other seeds to make a mush/porridge

Interesting Information

  • blooms in early summer
  • prefers disturbed areas
  • all parts of the plants may be covered with cobwebby-like hairs
  • species in this genus are characterized by the lack of ray florets, the presence of two types of disks florets, and by a Pappas ( aides in seed dispersal) that consists of four flat scales
  • the outer florets, which are more oversized and asymmetrical, are female, while the inner disk florets are smaller, symmetrical, and bisexual
  • know as a ‘fire follower- it might be the smoke that initiates germination

California Everlasting- Pseudognaphalium californicum

Other Names- Ladies tobacco, California cudweed, California pearly everlasting, California rabbit tobacco, gnaphalium californicum

Traditional Uses-

  • The Ohlone tribe from the Monterey Bay area used an infusion of California everlasting to treat colds and stomach pains.
  • sleeping on a pillow of the leaves and flowers of California can cure catarrh (inflammation of the mucus membrane.)
  • Modern medicine has acknowledged that Pseudonaphallium ssp. relieves sciatica and numbness.

Interesting Information

  • easily recognized by lack of florets and by the papery phyllaries that envelope and primarily cover the disk florets (this is where the name “Everlasting” comes from)
  • the stems and both sides of the leaves are soft and green and very sticky, and sometimes scattered woolly hairs give it a gray tint
    • both stem and leaves a covered with tiny glandular hairs that give off a varied aroma- maple syrup, citrus, curry, lemonade
      • at the end of the bloom cycle, the leaves turn tan, and the scent of this plant perfumes the area
  • goes dormant during summer drought
  • pioneer species
  • prefers disturbed areas
    • can become semi-weedy in dry areas that were previously moist (for instance, near the dry riverbed)
  • is the preferred host for the American lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis)

Coyote Brush- Baccharis pilularis

Other Names-  chaparral broomcoyote bush

Kumeyaay- Samaall Kwsiyaay

Luiseno- Morwaxpish

Traditional Uses-

(Otherwise known as saltmarsh Baccharis, (Baccharis douglassii) was the variety used by the natives. All the information below refers to this type of coyote bush.)

  • a cluster of branchlets was used to collect cactus from brushing away the tiny spines.
  • was used as a remedy for poison oak
  • shelter material
  • fire drill
  • a decoction was made out of leaves is used for bathing sores and wounds

Interesting Information

  • Baccharis is the only genus in Asteraceae that has male and female flowers on separate plants-dioecious
    • flower heads are in a leafy panicle (a many-branched inflorescence)
    • rayless flowers
  • erect bush generally less than 9.8 feet (3 m) in height
  • branches are spreading or ascending
  • leaves are .31 to 2.12 inches (8-55 mm) long and are entire (even and smooth) to toothed and oblanceolate to obovate
  • secondary pioneer plant in the coastal sage scrub and chaparral
    • it does not regenerate in a closed shrub canopy because seeding growth can not tolerate shade
  • colonizes fire disturbed areas due to the root crown resprouting
    • it is somewhat fire-resistant because of a high concentration of fire-retardant organic compounds in the leaves
  • important nectar source for predatory wasps, native small butterflies, and native flies

Telegraph Weed- Heterotheca grandflora

Other Names- no other names known


Traditional Uses-

  • Luiseno made arrows from the tall stems of this plant
  • Chumash used as a flea repellant

Interesting Information

  • short-lived perennial that produces many yellow daisy-like flowers in late summer and early fall
  • leaves are sticky to touch and smell similar to camphor when crushed
  • provides two types of seeds
    • seed from the center of the flower head has a silky tuft of bristles that act as wings (pappus) for the wind to carry them long distances- seeds germinate quickly
    • the seeds located on the edges of the flower head lack these bristles, and many will land close to the mother plant- seeds germinate more slowly
  • only found in California
  • prefers open sandy spaces
  • classified as a weed in other parts of the world
  • the common name “Telegraph” may be due to the tendency for this plant to take over disturbed areas

Mule Fat- Baccharis salicifolia

Other Names- mulefat, seep willow

Luiseno- Pa Aku

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay used mule fat as a thatching material as well as a poultice from cooked leaves and bud tips
    • made box traps for quail
    • hollowed out stems to make pipe stems
  • Luiseno would boil the leaves to make a tea to treat kidney infections and sores
    • hand fire drills- the tip of a thin vertical stick was rested in a shallow cup and rotated very quickly to create a spark
    • arrows and spears

Interesting Information

  • early colonizer riparian species that must have a regular or semi-regular water source; near ponds, streams, and river banks
  • bears male and female flowers on separate plants (dioecious)
    • the wind spreads hundreds of silky seed-bearing parachutes afloat
  • flower heads are made up of cream and white disk florets and are arranged in clusters
  • primary flowering time is late summer through early spring, but flowers are present year-round
  • the species name- salicifolia, means “willow-leaved”
    • mature mule fat leaves are resinous, which makes them shiny, and are the same color on each side (willow leaves have a duller surface and the back of the leaf is lighter)
  • forms dense thickets that are eventually taken over by taller willows and cottonwoods
  • receive the name ‘mule fat’ due to the fact of mules becoming bloated after eating the bush

Leafy Fleabane- Erigeron foliosus

Other Names- leafy daisy, Hartweg’s fleabane

Traditional Uses-

Interesting Information

  • an erect branching, clumping  perennial growing from woody roots to heights of 7.9 inches to 3.3 feet (20cm to 1 m)
  • leaves evenly spaced on the stem
  • native to Oregon, California, and Baja California-found in many habitats
  • the flower head has 100 golden disc florets surrounded by 15 to 60 pale to purple ray florets
  • leaves grow all along the stem and are equally spaced and equally sized
  • grows in dry and rocky soil across different elevations

Thistle -Cirsium

#not sure which species this is-

Other Names- plume thistles

Traditional Uses-

  • spring stems were picked and eaten raw

Interesting Information

  • known for colorful flowerheads- purple, pink, red, yellow, white
  • spread by seed or by rhizomes below the surface
  • seeds have ‘tufts’ of tiny hairs or pappus that help them fly in the wind
  • most are considered weeds
  • blooms from April to August
  • valuable nectar and food source for butterflies
  • birds eat seeds
  • the word ‘Cirsium’ is derived from the Greek word ‘kirsos,’ which means swollen vein- traditionally, thistles were used to treat swollen veins

Dean’s Stephanomeria- Stephanomeria exigua var. deanei

Other Names- twiggy wreath plant, wreath plant, small wire lettuce, Dean’s wirelettuce

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay would make tea from the whole plant to help intestinal worms.
  • The Spanish would also use the entire plant to make tea as a remedy for hangovers.
  • diuretic for venereal diseases– Hopi
  • used to treat measles- Navajo

Interesting Information

  • a perennial or biennial native to the western United States
  • lack disk florets
  • purple stamen
  • branching green stem plant that grows up to six feet
  • blooms during the driest time of year
  • leaves disappear before the flowers bloom
    • thought to be a strategy of the plant to conserve water
  • insect-pollinated
  • blooms late spring to early summer

Family Boraginaceae

fiddleneck bushes family boraginaceae
Common Fiddleneck

The Forget-Me-Not Family

  • Five lobed flowers are produced along a coiled stalk- scorpioid cymes
  • fruit that is split into four one-seeded chambers
  • alternately arranged leaves or a combination of alternate and opposite leaves
  • narrow hairy leaves which can irritate the skin

Common Fiddleneck- Amsinckia intermedia

Other Names- common fiddleneck, ranchers fireweed,  yellow fiddleneck

Traditional Uses-

  • Chumash grounded and toasted the seeds and made them into a pinole. It was said that they had a good flavor and a pretty color.

Interesting Information

  • as the plant grows, the stem uncoils, and new flowers blossom while the lower older flowers turn to seed pods
  • one or more stems with upright lateral branches  grow out of the base of the plant; upright lateral branches
  • flowers are radially symmetrical and bisexual
  • found abundant in large open areas such as meadows, grasslands, and disturbed areas
  • used for erosion control and restoration

Common Cryptantha- Cryptantha intermedia

Other Names-  Popcorn flower, large-flowered cryptantha, cat’s eye, common cat’s-eyes, clearwater cryptantha, white forget-me-not

Traditional Uses-

  • no traditional uses were found, but seeds could have been collected to eat

Interesting Information

  • flowers are grown on one side of the stalk, forming a tight coil (scorpioid), with the stalk unfurling when the flowers mature (similar to fiddleneck)
  • flowers are radially symmetrical and bisexual- short white trumpet-shaped with five rounded lobes
  • low growing annual that grows erect or spreading to two feet in height
  • ‘popcorn flower’ is an umbrella term for several species that vary in size, shape, and surface textures
  • form blankets of tiny white flowers- abundant in open spaces and disturbed areas
  • the Spanish called them ‘nievitas, ‘ meaning little snow
  • Common cryptantha is an obligate fire follower – studies show that their seed germination rate increases to 75% when seeds are charred by fire (50% germination rate typically/without fire)

Copper’s Popcornflower-Plagiobothrys collinus

Interesting Information

  • annual plant found in California, Arizona, and northern Mexico and is located in a variety of habitats
  • spreading or erect stem 3.9 to 15.7 inches (10-40 cm) in length
  • the inflorescence is a long, widely spaced series of tiny flowers, each with five lobes
  • the plant is coated in fine and coarse hairs
  • its fruit is so small, and you can only see with magnification
  • this species, Plagiobothrys, is known to carry free nitrates in such high concentrations that it can cause distress or death to cattle
  • bloom from February to May

Salt Heliotrope- Heliotropium curassavicum 

Other Names- alkali heliotrope, seaside heliotrope, wild heliotrope, Chinese purslane, Chinese pusley, monkey tail, quail plant

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay-  boil the entire plant to make tea for menstruation.
  • Spanish settlers would make a powder from the plant and blow it into wounds to promote healing.
  • the common name, Chinese purslane, came about in the 1800s when Chinese immigrants would harvest this plant to supplement their diets
  • a purple dye can be made out of this plant

Interesting Information

  • found in damp and disturbed areas, especially if slightly alkaline or saline
  • flowers bloom on a gradually uncoiling stalk, with seeds formed
  • small white flowers with yellow throats that turn purple with age
  • flowers are bisexual with five stamens and one green mushroom-shaped pistol
  • leaves are bluish-green and slightly fleshy
  • reproduction is more often by shoots coming off of the wide-spreading roots than by seeds
  • blooms from March to October

Fun Fact-Like others in this family, they produce organic compounds (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) that can be harmful to grazing livestock. These compounds taste bad and cause liver damage to vertebrates, including humans

California Bluebell- Pacella minor

Other Names- wild canterbury bells, wild scorpion weed, Whitlavia

Interesting Information

  • annual herb found in recently burned areas
  • grows up to 8 inches tall in a mostly unbranched formation
  • it is hairy, covered with thick glandular hairs
  • prefers sandy soils in open and disturbed areas, slopes
  • flowers from April to June

Branching Phacelia-Phacelia ramosissima

Other Names- caterpillar phacelia, wild heliotrope, scorpion weed

Luiseno- Sikimona

Traditional Uses-

  • the Luiseno would use this plant as “greens”- they were gathered before the flowers appear

Interesting Information

  • flowers are coiled on one end of the stem- as the stem uncoils, white or pale lavender flowers bloom at the apex of the coil
  • flowers are bisexual and radially symmetrical
  • each flower stem resembles a giant green caterpillar with a flower head
  • is a sprawling, untidy subshrub that has several long branching stems coming out from the base
  • lavender colored pollen
  • the thick hairs covering the entire plant (trichomes) are believed to defend against insects chewing or sucking on them; as well as a way to deter mammal grazers

Fun Fact- Touching this plant can irritate your skin and can cause an allergic reaction similar to that of poison oak- itchy blisters can stay on your skin for up to a week- sensitivity varies person to person

Family Cactaceae

prickly pear cactus family cactaceae pechanga creek

The Cactus Family

  • thick-skinned succulents that lack leaves with spines
    • spines are produced from specialized structures- areoles which are  highly reduced branches
    • flowers bloom from the areoles
  • live in drought-like environments
  • shallow root systems which take advantage of the rain
  • the stems are fluted or ribbed, which allows them to expand and contract efficiently for immediate water absorption after any rain

Chaparral Prickly Pear- Opuntia oricola

Other Names- Western prickly pear, nopal

Kumeyaay- ‘Ehpaa

Luiseno- Navut

Traditional Uses-

  • Luiseno would utilize all parts of the plants for eating: fruit (tunas), new pads (nopales)
    • save the seeds from the fruit, dry them out, grind them into a ‘meal,’ add water, and use this as a food source. Cholla cactus seeds were used in this ‘meal’ as well.
    • the liquid within the fruit is believed to help with bone nourishment
  • Kumeyaay would fry or boil the pads
    • used the long spines to apply tattoos using charcoal
    • make a tea to help with diabetes
    • used as a dressing for wounds
    • spines were knocked off the plant by using a coyote bush branch

Interesting Information-

  • the internal tissues of the pads are filled with water
  • a shallow root system, extensively branched
  • a sizeable tree-like  plant that is covered in clusters of 2 to 6,  2 cm long non-barbed spines
    • at the base of each long spine, there or tufts of short, fine barbed spines (glochids)
  • the spines discourage grazing and are used to collect and direct water from the fog( a dew point)- the most prominent spines point downward; thus, the moisture is directed down to the roots
    • early morning gathering of this plant was recommended because that is when the spikes lay more flat
  • showy yellow flowers sprout on the edges of the pads in May and June
  • an edible egg-shaped red fruit is produced and is covered in glochids (beware)- was eaten raw and dried
  • important plant species for cattle grazing during dry spells in the early 20th century
  • host to a cochineal scale ( Dactyliopis spp). The scale contains carminic acid, which is distasteful to predators. The Aztecs learned how to make a brilliant red dye from the acid. So when the Spaniards arrived in the New World, they found widespread farms of prickly pear cactus, along with its associated scale. Cochineal quickly became an extensive export to European markets, second to only silver for its export value.

Fun Fact- I have a prickly pear cactus situated right in front of my house. Though I have not cooked or eaten any of the pads, I do thoroughly enjoy the fruit. It is important to have something wrapped around the fruit before picking it, due to those nasty, nasty glochids!

I use a newspaper to pick the fruit and then to roll it within the newpaper to get rid of the tiny spines. Next cut the peel off and enjoy! One thing that I do also, is let the fruit sit in a large glass of water for a couple of hours. By soaking, you increase the viscocity of the water  and truly experience its wonderful watermelon flavor. It really is natures’ Gatorade!

Cholla Cactus- Cylindropuntia fulgida

Other Names- coastal cholla cactus, choya, cholla costera, jumping cactus

Kumeyaay- Etat’kwilly

Luiseno- Mutual, Choya

Traditional Uses-

  • the meat (tuna) of the stem is eaten, and it is high in protein
  • the roots were used as a water source
  • seeds used for food
  • the meat of the cactus was roasted and then applied to wounds or burns

Interesting Information-

  • has many spreading tubular branches covered in sharp barbed spines
  • greenish to yellowish flowers bloom from April to June
  • referred to as the ‘jumping cactus”

Family Caprifoliaceae

Chaparral honeysuckle caprifoliaceae temecula creek inn trail

The Honeysuckle Family Characteristics

  • cosmopolitan distribution with ornamental value
  • mostly shrubs and vines-rarely herbs
  • leaves are evergreen or deciduous, which are primarily opposite of each other
  • flowers are ‘bell-like’ or tubular with five outward spreading points or lobes and are often fragrant
  • the fruit is a berry or a drupe

Chaparral Honeysuckle- Lonicera subspicata var. johnstonii

Other Names- Southern honeysuckle, San Diego honeysuckle, Santa Barbara honeysuckle

Luiseno- kupat

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay used honeysuckle as cordage, basket making, and to treat cold and flu
  • Luiseno used the arching red stems basket making
    • bundled several long branches together to make brooms

Interesting Information

  • is a vine that grows through sturdier plants as a way of support
  • dark green semi-glossy oval leaves with a paler lower surface
    • leaves up to 1.5 inches (4 cm) long
  • creme colored (sometimes tinged with pink) bisexual flowers with red berries
    • 1.5 inches (4 cm) long
    • flowers have an upper and lower lip
  • the fruit is a yellow or red berry that is less than .5 in (1 cm)
  • endemic
  • flowers bloom from April to July

Family Caryophyllaceae

Indian Pink Caryophyllacea temecula creek inn traile

The Carnation or Pink Family

  • cosmopolitan distribution with many species grown commercially
  • herbaceous annuals and perennials which die off above ground each season
  • most are non-succulent
  • leaves are almost always opposite
  • terminal hermaphroditic flowers which bloom singly or branched or forked in cymes

Cardinal Catchfly- Silene laciniata

Other Names- southern pink, Mexican pink, fringed Mexican pink, fringed Indian pink, catchfly

Traditional Uses-

  • Chumash women would make a tea from this plant that would help regulate the menstrual cycle

Interesting Information

  • one to several stems with a thick taproot
  • Five petaled flowers are symmetrical, bisexual with ten stamens that are as long as the petals, which tend to group on one side of the flower
  • the name “catchfly” came from the fact that this plant has glandular hairs with a sticky substance on its stem and leaves, which trap small insects such as flies and ants. It is thought that this adaptation helps the plant save its nectar for larger insects (bees, butterflies), thus increasing the chance of cross-pollination.
  • flower May to July

Family Convolvulaceae

CA Dodder Convolvulaceae temecula creek inn trail

The Bindweed or Morning Glory Family 

  • mostly herbaceous vines
  • recognized by its funnel-shaped, radially symmetrical corolla
  • leaves are simple and alternate
    • reduced to a scale with California dodder
  • the fruit carries only two seeds
  • leaves are starchy, and tuberous roots are edible with some species (sweet potatoes, water spinach)
  • some members of this family are well known as ornate garden plants

California Dodder- Cuscuta californica

Other Names- chaparral dodder

Traditional Uses-

  • The Kumeyaay would use a dodder that was attached to buckwheat as a cure for the black widow spider bite
  • Luiseno used to scrub utensils and containers
  • a yellow dye can be made by boiling the plant

Interesting Information

  • an annual plant that likes to attach to perennials-once the host plant goes dormant, the dodder will die off, giving the host plant time to recover afterward.
  • a parasite lacks roots, so all nutrients and water come from the host plant, which is rarely killed.
  • top host species – California buckwheat, deerweed,  sages, croton, and sand aster.
  • has short-lived leaves and small flowers (3mm wide) and a pinhead-sized fruit that has two to four seeds inside
  • reproduces by seed that only lives in the soil for 5 to 10 days
    • within this time, the plant must be able to find and attach to a suitable host if it is to survive
    • it penetrates the host by small root-like structures (haustoria), and then the original root dies
  • listed as a noxious weed

Family Crassulaceae

chalk dudleya rainbow road trail

Stonecrop or Orpine Family

  • dicotyledons (dicots) are flowering plants with succulent leaves
  • a unique form of photosynthesis, CAM- Crassulacean acid metabolization
    • the stomata in the leaves stay closed during the day, which conserves water and reduces evapotranspiration, and opens back up at night to collect carbon dioxide
  • the inflorescence is often many-branched
  • flowers may be red, yellow, or white

Stonecrop Family Medicinal Qualities

  • fights against articular gout, diarrhea, stomach pain, worms, and more
    • uses were internal as well as applied topically
  • know to regulate hormone response of the body
  • crushed leaves with wine were used to get rid of intestinal parasites
  • mashed leaves were used for burns and scalds
  • cut leaves were utilized for calluses, corns, warts, and insect bites
  • the juice was used for shingles and earache

Plants within this family are widespread in Mexico, but here in Southern California, they are extremely rare.

Lady Fingers- Dudleya edulis #

Other Names- coast live-forever, fingertips, San Diego Dudleya, string bean plant, Nuttal’s live-forever, Ladies’-fingers live-forever, dead man fingers, mission lettuce, chalk lettuce, tapertip liveforever

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay would chew on the stems to relieve thirst, eat the young flower stalks, and eat the stems raw.
  • Luiseno, used as an antinociceptive, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic,
    • would cut, crush, and smash stems to make

Interesting Information

  • a low-growing perennial with one or several short branches from a woody base. Each branch produces a rosette of fleshy green leaves.
  • grows in rocky soil and bluffs
  • three to eleven flowers occur on the terminal branchlet on very short pedicels
  • bisexual flowers are cream-colored and less than 3/8 of an inch long with five fleshy sepals and five petals
  • the leaves are generally 8 inches or shorter (as you can see in the photo above, the leaves are much longer than 8 inches!)

Chalk Dudleya- Dudleya pulverulenta

Other Names- Chalk-leaf dudleya, chalk live-forever, chalky live-forever, chalk lettuce, hens-and-chickens

Kumeyaay- Millykumaay

Luiseno- Topnal

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay would skin and heat the leaves and use them to remove calluses and corns
    • leaves were eaten and also chewed
    • a decoction of roots was made into a tea  to treat asthma
    • black seeds were used in ceremonies
  • Luiseno would use the juice in the leaves

Interesting Information

  • A succulent evergreen herb with a short thick stem (caudex) produces a dense rosette of thick pale leaves up to 2 feet in diameter.
  • the entire plant is covered with a fine white waxy powder (like chalk)
  • blooms in the spring and summer
  • One to five long flower stalks (peduncles) arise between the basal leaves
  • bisexual flowers are adapted for hummingbirds

Family Cucurbitaceae

coyote gourd july cucurbitaceae

The Gourd Family

  • ranks among the highest plant families with the highest percentage of plants that are used as food for humans
    • earliest cultivated crops of the Old and New Worlds- watermelon, cucumber, squash, zucchini
  • stems are hairy and pentangular (five angles)
  • most are annual vines
  • flowers are unisex, with males and females on different plants or on the same plant
  • the Genus name Cucurbita comes from Classical Latin, which means gourd

Buffalo Gourd- Cucurbita foetidissima

Other Names- coyote gourd, wild squash, calabazilla, chilicote, coyote gourd, fetid gourd, fetid wild pumpkin, Missouri gourd, prairie gourd, stinking gourd, wild gourd, and wild pumpkin

Luiseno- wild squash

Traditional Uses-

  • the fruit contained saponin (soap-like) and was used to clean various utility items- buffalo gourd oil
  • seeds were used as a food source

Interesting Information

  • need very little water and prefer arid environments- requires high temperatures for germination
  • large heart-shaped leaves
  • flowers grow singly on the nodes of the vine after a significant amount of growth
  • the fruit has a diameter of 3 to 4 inches with over 292-315 seeds

Wild Cucumber- Marah macrocarpus

Other Names- manroot, chilicothe (Spanish), Cucamonga manroot, cucumber gourds

Luiseno- Enwish

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay would boil the leaves to help treat hemorrhoids
    • ground the black seeds, mix with water to create black face paint
    • a topical application of the leaves was used to relieve pain and inflammation
  • Luiseno would use the dried seeds for necklaces
    • used to make a grease base for paint
    • made red and paint from the seeds
    • created a green dye
  • Other native tribes would pulverize the root and throw pieces of it into ponds and streams to go “fishing”

Fun Fact-Oils from the seeds were used to reverse balding. Chemicals in wild cucumbers have similar pharmaceutical properties compared to those used today for baldness treatment.

Interesting Information

  • relative of the cucumber, watermelon, and squash
  • a long herbaceous perineal trailing or climbing vine that can get to up to 25 feet (8 m) in length
    • the vine attaches itself to adjacent shrubs by ‘tendrils”
  • white or creme flowers are either male or female and are on the same plant
    • blooms from December to April and  becomes dormant in the summer
    • male flowers appear first, and this helps to increase cross-pollination and thus decreases self-pollination
    • the fruit grows out of the female flower, which is larger than the male flowers
      • the fruit is a large (1.5 to 5 inches), green spiny ovoid and, when mature, split open and disperses up to 16 seeds
  • has a vast tuberous root that looks like a grown man in the ‘fetal position’ and can weigh over 100  pounds
    • the root contains the  chemical (megharrhin) which was used to ‘stun’ fish

Family Cyperaceae

Family Cyperaceeae San Diego Sedge bushes

The Sedge Family

  • stems with triangular cross-section
  • leaves arranged in three ranks compared to grasses which have alternative leaves, forming two ranks
  • Cyperaceae is the family of graminoids, which means ‘grass-like.’
  • prefer moist areas such as wetlands as well as disturbed areas.
  • examples include water chestnut, papyrus

San Diego Sedge- Carax spissa

Traditional Uses-

I didn’t find any native uses for this particular species, but Carax sp. (sedge) in itself has many beneficial properties-

  • the grass was used inside of the mocassin as an insulator
  • infusion of leaves for diarrhea
  • roots used in basketry
  • the stems were woven to make spoons
  • stems used for food
  • sacred plant
  • fibers used to make mats, bedding, and rugs
  • juice from the pith was used as a beverage

Interesting Information

  • prefers moist ecosystems is disturbed or ‘seep’ and sometimes serpentine soils
  • has angled stems that are up to 4 feet long that are surrounded by leathery green to reed leaves
  • the inflorescence is up to 2.5 feet tall with many long reddish-brown flower spikes with up to 300 developing fruits

Family Ericaceae

Family Ericaceae Rainbow Manzanita bush

The Heath of Heather Family

  • members include- blueberries, cranberries, azaleas
  • found most ordinarily in acid and infertile growing conditions
  • a diverse range of taxa- herbs, shrubs, dwarf shrubs, and trees
  • evergreen leaves, which can be alternate, whorled, simple, and without stipules
  • hermaphrodite flowers with fused petals with a variety of shapes
    • urn-shaped, narrowly tubular, or funnelform
  • have mycorrhizal fungi that grow in and around the root, which help extract nutrients from infertile soils

Fun Facts- In many parts of the world, ‘heathland’ is described as an open community with low-quality acidic soils, mostly comprised of low-lying shrubs and often dominated by plants in the Ericaceae family.

Rainbow Manzanita- Arctostaphylos rainbowenis #

Traditional Uses-

  • the berries were used as a food source

Interesting Information

  • named after the community in which it is present- Rainbow, California and was described as a new species in 1984
  • erect bush that is between 3 to 13 feet tall
  • upside-down bell-shaped flowers that form clusters and produce plump reddish-brown fruits
  • it has a burl at the base and is coated in reddish-brown bark

Family Euphorbiaceae

Family Euphorblaceae croton plant temecula

Spurge or Euphorbias Family

  • flowering plants, with most being herbs, but in the tropics, some are shrubs and trees
  • leaves are opposite
  • radially symmetrical unisex flowers, which are usually on the same plant
  • the family contains large amounts of phytotoxins
    • the seeds of the non-native plant of this family, the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), have the highly toxic carbohydrate-binding protein ricin
  • many are grown as ornamental plants- rubber plants, poinsettia
  • numerous species are listed on the poisonous plant database of the US Food and Drug Administration
    • a milky latex is characteristic of sub-Family Crotonoideae

Croton- Croton californicus

Other Names- desert croton

Luiseno- Shuikawut

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay made a tea out of the entire plant and used it as an eye-wash for pink eye
    • in Baja California, they drank the tea for a cough
  • Luiseno used croton to induce abortion
  • other native tribes made a salve that was rubbed on the skin for rheumatism or as a poultice for earaches

Interesting Information

  • low growing gray-green plant with small unnoticeable flowers (lack petals) which prefers sandy environments (avoids high organic and clay soils)
  • male and female flowers are on different plants
    • bloom from May to October, but flowers can be seen year-round
  • the foliage is covered with tiny stellate (radiating) hairs which help to deter grazers as well as to reflect the sun, thus cooling the plant, and protecting the leaves from the wind, also reducing water loss
  • reputation as a coastal scrub plant
  • the genus name Croton comes from the Greek word that means “tick,” as the seeds  of this plant look like these nasty parasites

Turkey Mullein-Croton setiger

Other Names- Doveweed, Croton setigerus

Traditional Uses-

  • the Pomo tribe up in the Los Angeles area would use it as an anti-diarrheal by making a decoction of the smashed plant
    • a decoction of mashed and boiled roots was used for bleeding diarrhea
  • crushing plants were used to stupify fish by some Native American tribes

Interesting Information

  • low-lying, pale green plant with hairy, felt like hexagon-shaped leaves with small green flowers covered with fine bristles
  • used as ornamental plants
  • foliage is toxic to animals, but birds eat the seeds
    • the common name ‘dove weed’ is due to the affinity of its seeds to doves and wild turkeys

Family Fabaceae

Family Fabaceae deerweed bush pechanga creek

The Legume, Pea, or Bean Family

  • important agricultural and food plants as well as ornamental
  • the third-largest plant family following Orchidaceae and Asteraceae
    • Fabaceae is the most common plant family found in tropical forests and the dry forests of America and Africa
  • easily recognizable by its fruit (legume) and stipulate leaves (an outgrowth from either side of the base of the leafstalk)
  • wide variety of growth forms- trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, vines, and lianas (long-stemmed woody vine which uses trees as a support to reach the upper canopy for sunlight
  • leaves are usually alternate and compound
  • hermaphroditic flowers with five fused sepals and five free petals
  • entomophilous plants- pollinated by insects
  • many members of this family have symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules. The bacteria (rhizobia) can transform atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen compounds that higher plants can utilize.
    • this nitrogen-fixing process helps the soil recover after a fire by replacing the nitrogen lost in the fire
    • Rhizobia are found naturally in the soil but need a host plant to do its “nitrogen-fixing” job.
    • When the host plant dies, the nitrogen material is broken down and becomes available to other organisms to utilize

Luiseno- Mawat

Native Uses of Lupinus sp.

  • Luiseno would eat the leaves as food

Short Podded Lotus- Acmispon brachycarpus

Other Names- foothill deer vetch

Interesting Information

  • it is an annual herb spreading upright or taking on a matted clumpy form
  • hairy and fleshy leaves with yellow pea-like flowers growing from the leaf axis
  • lined with leaves with four leaflets, each 1 cm long

Pomona Milkvetch- Astragalus pomonensis

Interesting Information

  • a bushy perennial herb that forms clumps and mounds
  • the inflorescence is made up of an extensive array of 45 cream-colored flowers
  • the Genus- Astragalus has a reputation for being toxic

San Diego Pea- Lathyrus laetiflorus ssp scoparius #

Other Names- San Diego sweetpea

Interesting Information

  • usually associated with the Coast Live Oak tree, poison oak, heartleaf keckiella, and red bush monkeyflower
  • the flowers are violet and have a fragrance

Deerweed- Acmispin glaber

Other Names- coastal deerweed, California broom

Traditional Uses-

  • The Chumash would tie several deerweed branches together to make brooms
  • used as hatching in sweathouses

Interesting Information

  • Deerweed is one of the most plentiful nitrogen-fixing plants in the Coast Sage Scrub community, which makes it an essential post-fire colonizer
    • prefers dry, disturbed areas
    • fire helps germinate their seeds
  • a shrubby perennial that takes a hemispherical shape when not crowded
  • flowers are yellow but turn orange with age
    • flowers turn orange and lose their petals after being pollinated
  • the fruit is a two-seeded pod about 5/8th of an inch long, which curves slightly upward.
  • does not release its seeds but relies on birds and small animals to eat and disperse them
  • the common name is believed to come from the fact that deer enjoyed eating this nutritious plant.

Bicolored Lupine- Lupinus bicolor ssp. microphyllus

Other Names- miniature lupine, annual lupine, Lindley’s annual lupine, dove lupine, pigmy-leaved lupine

Traditional Uses-

  • used for greens

Interesting Information

  • small, less than 12 inches tall
  • distinguished by many pointed, narrow leaflets, and a tall spike with many individual flowers around the central stem
  • bilaterally symmetrical flowers are less than one inch in size
  • all parts of the plant are covered in soft hairs
  • colonizes burned and disturbed areas
  • blooms from March to June

Stinging Annual Lupine- Lupinus hirsutissimus

Interesting Information

  • each palmate leaf is made up of 5 to 8 leaflets up to 2 inches (5 cm) and 1 to 2 inches wide
  • each flower is bright purple and .4 to .75 inches (1 -2 cm) long
  • the inflorescence has several flowers not arranged in whorls
  • native to Southern California coastal mountains on dry slopes
  • an erect annual herb from 7.9 inches to 3.2 feet (20 cm- 1 m) tall
  • the entire plant is covered in stiff hairs

Collared Annual Lupine- Lupinus truncates

Other Names- collar lupine, blunt leaved lupine, truncate leaf lupine, wood lupine, slender lupine, collard lupine

Traditional Uses-

  • Luiseno would eat the stem and leaves, but there is no information about how they cooked them

Interesting Information

  • an annual herb native to Southern California and Baja California coastal mountain ranges and canyons
  • grows to  1.6 feet (.5 m) tall
  • each palmate leaf is made up of 5 to 8 narrow leaflets with truncate (blunt) tips measuring  .78 to 1.5 inches  (2-4 cm) in length
  • the inflorescence is a raceme of widely spaced flowers
  • flowers are purple and turn magenta when fertilized
  • can be easily recognized by the blunt leaf shape and the widely spaced flower stalk
  • blooms March to May

Silver Bush Lupine- Lupinus albifrons

Other Names- silver lupine, white-leaf bush lupine, evergreen lupine

Traditional Uses-

  • Northern California tribe, the Karuk, would make a decoction of the plant and take a steam bath for stomach problems
    • the Kashaya Band of Poma Indians of the Sonoma Coast (Northern California) would add silver bush lupine flowers to ceremonial wreaths to be worn for the Flower Dance at the Strawberry Festival in May

Interesting Information

  • a perennial shrub that may grow up to 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and 2.1 feet (.61 m) wide
  • flower stalks grow to 3-12 inches (7.6- 30.5 cm) tall
  • the leaves are silver with a downy surface
  • the plant is deer-resistant due to alkaloid toxins (anagyrine, lupinine.)
  • Mission blue butterfly’s larvae need this plant to feed.

Grape Soda Lupine- Lupinus excubitus

Interesting Information

  • found in the Southwestern United States
  • a raceme inflorescence-rich purple flowers, each with a slight yellow spot the flowers that smell like grape soda
  • gray-green fan-shaped leaves with tiny silvery hairs; each is made of 7 to 10 narrow leaflets .2 to 2.0 inches (5 to 50 mm) long

Family Fagaceae

live Oak Family Fagaceae

The Oak and Beeches Family

  • deciduous or evergreen flowering trees and shrubs with alternate, simple leaves
  • unisex flowers which form catkins (cylindrical flower clusters with inconspicuous or no petals which are situated on the central stem that are often drooping)
  • one of the most important ecologically and economically woody plants in the Northern Hemisphere temperate forest
  • prominent ornamental trees
  • woodchips from the genus Fagus are commonly used in flavoring beers

Coastal Live Oak- Quercus agrifolia var. oxydenia

Other Names- Live oak, red oak, field oak, Encina (Spanish)

Kumeyaay- Esnyaaw

Luiseno- Wiashal

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay -acorns were made into a mush (shawii)
  • The inner bark was used for toothache, and a decoction of chipped bark was used as a wash for sores.

Interesting Information

  • Shiny evergreen convex-shaped leaves are thought to hold dew and mist in its leaves-fog harvesting
  • Unusual acorn shape, which is more extended and narrow, with a red fruit

Family Lamiaceae

white sage july family Lamiaceae
White Sage

The Mint Family

  • Salvia is the largest genus in the family that contains “true sages.”
  • characterized by the stamens of the flowers pointing downward, which deposit the pollen on the back of the pollinators
  • all members of this family also have essential oils.

White Sage-Salvia apiana

Other Names- bee sage, sacred sage

Kumeyaay- Pellytaay, Pestaay

Luiseno- Quaashil, Kashil

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay would toast the seeds and then ground them to make pinole (a type of porridge)
    • the leaves were used as a remedy for a cold
    • young stalks were peeled and eaten
    • burn the leaves inside of the sweat house to purify out the toxins when sick
    • leaves were burned and used as a fumigation method
  • Luiseno would use the top of the stems when tender and peeled them and would eat uncooked
    • leaves were chewed or smoked as a decongestant
    • seeds were used as an eye-cleanser and foreign object remover
      • when the seed enters the eye, it becomes glutinous and will pick up any foreign objects
    • basket making material
    • used in blessing ceremonies
      • hunting
      • boy’s puberty
      • purification
  • smudge sticks
  • white sage was carried in the mouth or under the arms while hunting to mask the human scent.

Interesting Information-

  • sacred plant
  • shrubby (less than 3 feet tall), a velvet-like plant that has a blue-gray appearance due to minute hairs covering both sides of the leaves
    • leaves feel smooth and rubbery
    • flower stalks can reach over 6 feet in height
  • the main component of white sage that gives it its aroma is Eucalyptol which research says can help with skin diseases
  • flowers are white with a hint of purple
  • compared to other sages, white sage has longer paler leaves and more prolonged, taller flower stalks.
  • the species name ‘apiana” means bee. The way that that flower is designed, a pollinator has to be ‘heavy’ enough to open up the lip of the flower to get access to its throat and nectar. It is believed that this adaptation helps decrease the chances of hybridization with other sages in the area.
    • white sage’s primary pollinators are bumblebees and carpenter bees

Cleveland Sage-Salvia clevelandii

Other Names- Alpine Cleveland Sage, musk sage, fragrant sage, blue sage, Jim sage,

Kumeyaay- Mulh’amulh

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay would use the seeds to season wheat
    • leaves were burned for ceremonial smudges
    • seeds  were toasted  and grounded up to make a type of mush called pinole
    • leaves were also used to treat coughs and congestion, a remedy for poison oak
    • burning leaves inside of a residence was used as a type of fumigation method
  • Luiseno would dry, ground, and cook the seeds into a kind of mush

Interesting Information

  • a shrub that reaches 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 m) tall
  • an evergreen shrub that is more woody compared to other sages, which have bright purple/violet trumpet-shaped flowers
  • long course leaves which are green on top  and underneath, are lighter
  • deep purple flowers with a strong scent.
  • blooms from June to July

Black Sage-Salvia mellifera

Other Names– honey sage, Jade carpet

KumeyaayHa’anya yul


Traditional Uses

  • Kumeyaay would ground up the seeds into mush as well as eat these seeds raw
  • Both the Luiseno and Kumeyaay would boil the leaves and stems to create bathing water to help alleviate the flu, arthritis, and rheumatism.
  • used as a spice in cooking

Interesting Information-

  • most common sage in California
  • small dark green to yellow aromatic leaves
  • a frequent co-dominate in the coastal sage scrub community
  • flowers range from white to blue lavender
    • each flower creates a fruit with one to four seeds
  • seasonally dimorphic, with the leaves larger in the winter and more curled and compact in the summer as a strategy to save water (reduce transpiration)
  • grows 3 to 6 feet (.9 m- 1.8 m) in height
  • blooms from April to July

Family Malvaceae

chaparral mallow april temecula creek inn

The Mallow Family

  • alternate leaves are often palmately lobed or palmately veined
  • stems contain mucous canals and mucous cavities
  • flowers are borne in definite or indefinite axillary inflorescences
  • hollyhock, hibiscus, cotton, okra
  • entomophilic- pollinated by insects

Chaparral Bush Mallow- Malacothamnus fasciculatus ssp. laxiflorus

Other Names- bush mallow,  Mendicino bushmallow, chaparral mallow

Luiseno- kaukat

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay used the seeds for food, and the flowers were used as cordage
    • roots were utilized to ease stomach discomfort and ulcers.
      • the roots contain mucilage, which decreases inflammation and swelling.
    • teas from mallow were used for mouth sores, gas, bloating, and heartburn
    • leaves were used for the above purpose if roots were not available.
    • a cooled decoction was used as a bath for feverish babies
  • Luiseno made a decoction of the leaves that is used as an emetic

Interesting Information

  • dicot angiosperm
  • an open shrub with soft gray-green leaves with multi-branched elongated upright or arching outward stems from 3 to 15 feet (.91-4.5 m) in length
  • leaves are oval and round and seldom lobed: heart-shaped at the base
  • pale flowers occur in whorls of three to several flowers all along the outside of the branch
  • bloom from April to June

Family Montiaceae

Miners lettuce april family Montiaceae

The Montia Family

  • succulent herbs with bisexual flowers, which usually have two sepals and five petals
  • can grow in shaded areas but can also tolerate full sun and dry conditions

Miner’s Lettuce- Claytonia perfoliata

Other Names- winter purslane, Indian lettuce, spring beauty

Luiseno- Towish Popa’kwa

Traditional Uses-

  • seeds, leaves, and flowers were eaten raw and cooked
    • early California miners would eat to prevent scurvy- hence the name

Interesting Information

  • dicot angiosperm
  • self pollinator
  • a small herbaceous and slightly succulent plant that blooms in early spring (March to May) that may reach 12 inches (30 cm) high
  • extremely high in Vit C
  • prefers shady, moist areas
  • bright green leaves are fused into a circle and surround the stem
    • leaves are sometimes streaked with white and occasionally reddish
  • tiny white flowers with five petals bloom from the top of the stem
    • bisexual radially symmetrical flowers occur in one or more clusters rising from the center of the fused leaves

Family Nyctaginaceae

Family Nyctaginaceae sand verbena temecula

The Four O’Clock Family

  • many genera have unusual characteristics-
    • sticky bands on the stems between the nodes
    • cleistogamous flowers- self-pollinate without opening
    • gypsophila-the ability to grow in soils that have a high concentration of gypsum
    • bougainvillea, sand verbenas, wild lantanas

Pink Sand Verbena- Abronia villosa

Other Names- desert sand verbena, chaparral sand verbena

Interesting Information

  • a low-growing perennial but sometimes annual, which has several stems attached to a tap root
    • the plant may die off during the driest time of the year, but with enough moisture, flowers and leaves may be present year-round
  • maybe smooth or covered in hairs
  • leaves are somewhat sticky,  thick, and fleshy
  • bisexual flowers occur in globular clusters and have a sweet fragrance
  • blooms between February and May

Fun Fact- The seeds of the pink sand verbena (a coastal cousin) were first collected in 1786 by a French Expedition that was continuing the Pacific Ocean exploration of Captain Cook.

The seeds were shipped back to Europe to be grown and studied by the famed biologist, Jean-Baptist Limerick. So, the pink sand verbena was the very first California flower known to Science!

Family Onagraceae

Family Onagraceae suncups pechanga creek trail

Willowherb Family or Evening Primrose Family

  • popular garden plants and garden weeds
  • herbs, shrubs, and trees
  • found on every continent, from the tropics to the boreal
  • flowers have four petals and sepals
  • leaves are opposite or worked and usually simple and lanceolate
  • primrose, fuchsia

California Suncup-Camissoniopsis bistorta

Other Names- suncups, sun cups, southern suncups, southern sun cups

Interesting Information

  • dicot angiosperm
  • low growing annual with long sprawling reddish stems
  • small bright yellow flowers, often with a tiny ring of red dots in the center
    • bisexual flowers, with four yellow petals each, occur in the leaf axils near the top of the branches
  • leaves are linear to lanceolate, oblanceolate,  and sometimes elliptic
  • long hairs cover the leaves and stems
  • prefers sandy open spaces, disturbed  or natural
  • endemic to Southern California and northern Mexico coast

Winecup Clarkia- Clarkia purpurea ssp. quadrivulnera

Other Names- purple clarkia, winecup fairyfan

Traditional Uses-

  • The Native Americans of California would sow this plant to later harvest the seeds to ground into food.

Interesting Information-

  • erects an up to 1-meter reddish stem with a few lance-shaped leaves
  • bowl-shaped flowers that have four petals and come in the hues of pink, purple and deep wine red, often a red or pink streak or dot in the center
  • a favorite flower of bees, which is commonly referred to as a ‘honey plant

Fun Fact- Clarkia purpurea was first described in 1796 as Oenothera purpurea in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. It was later changed to the genus Clarkia in 1918, by Aven Nelson and Francis MacBride.

Family Orobanchaceae

Family Orabanchaceae

The Broomrape Family

  • annual herbs or perennial herbs and shrubs
  • hermaphroditic flowers are bilaterally symmetrical and grow in either a raceme, spike, or singly at the apex of the stem
  • family of mostly parasitic plants- holoparasitic or hemiparasitic (whole or partly parasitic)
    • These plants attach to their host through haustoria, a root-like structure that surrounds the host plant’s roots and transfers nutrients from the host to the parasite.
    • the host plants are then reduced to compact vegetative stems
  • pollinated by insects and birds

Woolly Indian Paintbrush- Castilleja foliolosa

Other Names- Texas Indian paintbrush, Indian paintbrush

Traditional Uses-

  • Native Americans use the Indian Paintbrush plant as a food source, condiment, and to treat various ailments.
  • contains the mineral Selenium (Se) within its tissues, so consuming the leaves or roots can be very toxic.

Interesting Information

  • A perineal wildflower grows 1 to 3 feet tall and is covered in woolly white or gray branching hairs.
    • the hairs reflect the sun and help capture moisture from the air; on foggy mornings
  • gray fuzzy leaves are about 2 inches long and linear in shape
  • the inflorescence contains layers of bracts tipped in bright orange and red to a dull yellowish-green.
    • in-between the bracts are plain linear, pouch-shaped green flowers.
  • the flower gives the appearance of a paintbrush dipped in paint; hence the name
  • blooms from March to June
  • Species in the genus Castilleja are hemiparasitic, where their roots tap into other plants’ roots and steal nutrients from the host plant.
    • Because of this parasitic nature, you will likely find this plant next to other natives, especially next to Desert Broom -(Baccharis sarothoides) and California Sunflower (Encelia californica)

Purple Owl’s Clover- Castilleja exserta

Other Names- escobita, exserted Indian paintbrush

Traditional Uses-

  • The Native Californians harvested the seeds

Interesting Information

  • the inflorescence is a vividly colored shaggy purple-pink to pale lavender flowers
  • like others in the Castilleja genus, purple owl’s clover is hemiparasitic
  • an introduced species in Hawaii

Fun Fact- This flower is an essential host for the threatened species the Bay checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha bayensis), which is endemic to the San Fransico Bay Area in Northern California.

Family Papaveraceae

Family Papaveraceae california poppies

The Poppy Family

  • cosmopolitan but lacking in the tropics.
  • plants may be annual, biennial, or perineal and herbaceous with a few shrubs or evergreen trees
  • lactiferous, producing a latex-like liquid that may be milky, clear, yellow, or red.

California Poppy- Eschscholzia californiaca var. peninsularis

Other Names-  cup of gold, golden poppy, California sunlight

Luiseno- Ataushanut

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay
  • Luiseno would eat the leaves as greens, and the flowers were added as a flavor enhancer to a milkweed flower to make a chewing gum
    • the whole plant was harvested when in bloom, and the dried plant and sap were used as a pain reliever, sedative, diuretic, and aids in the treatment of incontinence
    • used to calm hyperactive children
  • The Spanish made a type of  hairdressing by boing poppy petals in olive oil and adding perfume

Interesting Information

  • dicot angiosperm
  • many-branched herbaceous annual with a fleshy orange taproot
  • less than 24 inches in height
  • blue-green basal stems and leaves
  • bisexual radially symmetrical bright orange flowers with yellow edges; 4 petals are up to 2.5 inches long
  • does not produce nectar but has plentiful amounts of pollen
  • California’s state flowers since 1903
  • early Spaniards called them ‘Dormidera,’ which means ‘fall asleep’ as these flowers close at night and sometimes during cloudy or foggy days

Fun Fact- To increase their chances of pollination, the California poppy flower has a large central spot that absorbs UV radiation while reflecting the longer wavelengths. Humans can not see UV light, but insects do. As humans, we only see a bright orange flower, yet insects can see the UV pattern, which looks like a dark spot in the middle of the flower. In essence, this adaptation helps guide the insects to the pollen.

Family Phrymaceae

yellow monkey flower stream temecula creek inn trail
Common Yellow Monkey Flower

 The Lopseed Family

  • a small family of flowering plants, mostly herbs and a few subshrubs
  • annual and perennial
  • opposite leaves
  • five-lobed flowers
  • a cosmopolitan distribution that occurs in diverse habitats
  • flowers are tubular, toothed, and bilaterally symmetrical

Here is a shortcut to learning: many different types of monkeyflowers exist.

  • Genus Erythranthe-moisture
  • Genus Diplacous- drought

Cardinal Monkey Flower- Erythranthe cardinalis

Other Names- red monkey flower

Interesting Information

  • a large spreading plant that prefers moisture
  • serves as a model system for studying pollinator-based reproductive isolation
  • bright red flowers with toothed fuzzy leaves
  • a favorite of hummingbirds whose foreheads transfer the pollen between the flowers

Common Yellow Monkey Flower- Erythranthe guttata

Other Names- seep monkey flower, common yellow monkey flower

Traditional Uses-

  • leaves are edible, both cooked or raw

Interesting Information

  • grows along banks and streams- needs moisture and full sun
  • pollinated by bees
  • blooms in spring in lower elevations and summer in higher elevations
  • A model organism for biological studies as over 1000 scientific papers focus on this particular species. There are many papers where the original scientific name (Mimulus gluttatus) is still recognized

Southern Monkey Flower- Diplacus aurantiacus

Other Names- sticky monkey flower, bush monkey flower, orange bush monkey flower

Luiseno- Yamayut

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay would use the bush monkey flower to create poultices for burns and wounds to treat colds, coughs, flu, and heart ailments.
    • a hot infusion of the roots was used to treat stomach disorders
    • made a tea by boiling the whole plant to help regulate menstruation
  • Luiseno used as an emetic (to cause vomiting)

Interesting Information

  • woody perennial or a subshrub that can grow up to 4 feet (1.2 m) in height
  • the shiny leaves are narrow, with the surface of both sides being the same color of green
    • glandular leaves that feel sticky due to exuding a resin, especially for younger leaves on a hot day
  • tubular flowers that are bilaterally symmetrical
    • Five petals are united into a two-lipped tube, with two up top and three below
    • unusually two flowers per node
  • blooming from March to August
  • referred to as ‘sticky’ because of the texture of the leaves

Fun Fact- The two-lobed stigma of the Southern monkey flower is touch-sensitive, so when it is touched by a pollinator, the lobes will fold in and flowers will close up. If pollen has been deposited, fertilization will be initiated and the flower will stay permanently closed. If not, the flower will open back up after a short time.

Wide Throat Monkey Flower-Diplacus brevipes

Other Names- Widethroat yellow monkey flower

Interesting Information

  • an endemic hairy annual herb growing from 2 to 30 inches ( 5-72 cm) tall
  • native to the mountains and foothills of Southern California -found in the chaparral, especially after a fire
  • important butterfly flower


Family Plantaginaceae

Family Plantaginaceae red penstemon

The Plantain Family

  • a diverse family of flowering plants
  • cosmopolitan distribution occurring primarily in temperate zones
  • leaves are spiral to opposite and simple to compound
  • the structure and form of the flowers are variable

Native American Uses of Penstemon sp.

  • infusions of roots were used as a cold remedy, whooping cough, tuberculosis
  • the plant was chewed and inserted into the tooth cavity to relieve pain
  • an infusion was taken, and a poultice of pounded leaves was applied to rattlesnake bites

Heartleaf Keckiella- Keckiella cordifolia

Other Names- climbing penstemon

Traditional Uses-

  • used as a dermatological aide by making an infusion – used as a wash or poultice of the plant to apply to fistulas and ulcers

Interesting Information

  • native to the coast and the coastal mountains of Southern California to northern Baja California; as well as the chaparral and riparian woodlands
  • shiny green leaves, oval to heart-shaped, pointed and edged with small teeth arranged oppositely on the branch
  • spreading shrub, which can reach 6 feet in length
  • hairy tubular flowers with wide-open mouths
  • prefer shady slopes in hotter inland which have a little more groundwater- sunny spots on the coast

Blue Toadflax- Nuttallanthus canadensis

Other Names- Canada toadflax, old-field toadflax

Interesting Information

  • annual or biennial with slender leaves and erect flowering stems
  • flowers are purple to off-white with white throats: 5 petals, sepals, and tepals
  • blooms from mid-spring to late summer
  • grows in bare areas, grasslands, meadows, sandy soils
  • was introduced to western North America and Europe and it is now locally naturalized from Washington to California

Showy Penstemon- Penstemon spectabilis

Other Names- showy beardtongue, royal beardtongue, royal penstemon, showy penstemon

Interesting Information

  • a perennial herb that grows up to 3.2  feet (1 m) in length
  • native to California and northern Baja California, where it grows in chaparral, scrub, and woodlands of the coastal mountains ranges
  • thin leaves are lanced shape to oval and have serrated edges that are oppositely paired, which may fuse about the stem at the bases
  • the inflorescence has wide 1.2 inches (3 cm) long purple-blue tubular flowers, which have a light lavender to white-colored throat
  • pioneer species in disturbed areas
  • pollinated by wasps and hummingbirds

Family Platanaceae

Family Plantaceae sycamore tree california

The Plane-Tree or Sycamore Family

  • the family only has one genus- Platanus, with eight species
  • tall trees native to temperate and subtropical regions in the Northern hemisphere
  • the hybrid London plane is planted in cities worldwide

Fun Fact- I was lucky enough to visit London in 2018 and fell in love with the London plane tree! Here are a couple of photos. They are so majestic!

California Sycamore- Platanus racemosa

Other Names- western sycamore, California plane tree, aliso (Spanish)

Traditional Uses-

  • Luiseno would use the wood for the construction of housing
    • chips of bark and roots were boiled to make coffee
    • made soda pop-boil a piece of bark in water and then remove and let the water cool

Interesting Information

  • native to California and northern Baja California
  • found in diverse habitats- riparian areas, meadows, canyons, flood plains: anywhere with a good water source
  • some trees have more than one trunk and can reach over 100 feet (30 m) in height, and have a diameter of 5 feet (1.5 m)
  • five-lobed leaves
  • the bark is white
  • habit spreading with many branches
  • monoecious with colorless flowers which turn into bristly hanging globular fruit

Family Polemoniaceae

Family Polemoniaceae common cryptantha little white flowers
Common Cryptantha

The Jacob’s-Ladder of Phlox Family

  • annual and perennial plants that are native to the Northern Hemisphere and South America
  • Five sepals, five fused petals, and five stamens alternate with the lobes of the corolla (all of the petals of the flower)
  • grown as ornamentals

Sapphire Woollystar- Eriastrum sapphirinum ssp. dasyanthum

Interesting Information

  • annual herb reaching between 2 to 15 inches (5 to 40 cm) in height, growing in clumps or as a singular thin stem
  • the stem is erect and reddish to green
  • thread-like leaves that may be sparse to densely covered in fine hairs
  • the name ‘wooly’ refers to the fuzzy filaments found just below the petals
  • endemic and also found in northern Baja California- found in many habitats
  • the inflorescence is located at the tips of the stems are arranged with pointed leaf-like green to red bracts and funnel shape flowers
  • the corolla of the flower has five lobes, with each measuring .2 to .4 inches (.5 to 1 cm) in length and is pale blue to bright blue
    • the throat of the flower may be the same color or yellowish to white
    • at the mouth of the tubular flower, there may be yellow or white dots
  • blooms from May to August

Chaparral Gilia- Gilia angelensis

Other Names- volcanic gilia

Interesting Information

  • a member of the chaparral community and native to the coastal mountains of Califonia and Baja California
  • has a slender branching stem standing anywhere between 4 to 27 inches (10 to 70 cm) in height
    • at the end of the stem branches, there are  bunched  inflorescences of petite flowers
  • several small clusters of thin leaflets grow on the lower part of the plant

Bluehead Gilia- Gilia capitata ssp abrotanifolia

Other Names- blue-thimble-flower, globe gilia, blue field gilia,

Interesting Information

  • annual taprooted herb
  • a flowering plant that grows in many habitats, especially in sandy or rocky soils
  • branching leafy stems that can grow from 4 to 35 inches (10 to 90 cm)
  • the leaves are divided into toothed and lobed leaflets
  • a spherical inflorescence of 50 to 100 small flowers is found on top of the thick stem
  • each flower has a throat opening into a corolla which can be white, pink, lavender, or light blue
  • blooms from March to June

Family Polygonaceae

California Buckwheat July 1 Temecula Creek Inn trail

The Knotweed or Smartweed-Buckwheat Family

  • perennial herbaceous flowering plants with swollen joints, but there are also trees, shrubs, and vines
  • the family name is derived from Greek, where ‘poly’ means many, ‘gony’ denotes ‘knee’ or ‘joint’
  • several species are ornamentals

California Buckwheat- Eriogonum fasciculatum ssp. foliolosum

Other Names- wild buckwheat, Antelope sage, Colita de Raton, sulfur flower,  skeleton weed, eastern Mojave buckwheat, flat-top buckwheat

Kumeyaay- Hamill

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay would boil the flowers to relieve stomach problems, eyewash, mouthwash, and  bladder infections
    • a decoction of these flowers was given to infants as a remedy for diarrhea, as well as to help adults with cardiovascular disease
  • Luiseno would use to treat varicose veins, tissue swelling, and water retention
    • buckwheat has a high content of the bioflavonoids rutin, which is known to strengthen capillaries

Interesting Information

  • a common shrub that is native to the Southwest United States and Northern Mexico, especially on the coast and within Southern California Coast Ranges
    • grows on slopes and dry washes of diverse habitats
  • dominant species in coastal sage scrub and is found scattered in the chaparral, especially in disturbed areas
  • variable in appearance, which can form a patchy, compact bramble or a spreading bush which can grow up to 6.6 feet (2 m) and 9.8 feet (3 m) across
  • leathery leaves are simple and alternate, wooly on the underside, and grow in clusters at the nodes along the branch
    • the small narrow rolled leaves look very similar to rosemary and are less than 1 inch (3 cm) in length
  • white and pink flowers appear in clusters
    • flower petals are lacking, and the six sepals resemble petals
    • dried flowers turn a rusty color
  • very important to the local butterfly and bee communities
    • predominant source for California honey
  • an extensive shallow root system that can quickly take up any available water
  • California buckwheat is one of the hosts of the parasitic California dodder

Family Rhamnaceae

Family Rhamnaceae Hollyleaf redberry bush
Hollyleaf Redberry

The Buckthorn Family

  • worldwide distribution
  • simple leaves, which can be either alternate and spiraling or opposite
    • stipules are present ( a small leaf-like appendage
  • flowers are radially symmetrical- have 5 (sometimes 4) separate sepals and 5 (sometimes four or none) separate petals, which may be white, yellowish, greenish, pink, or blue
  • fruits are mostly berries, fleshy drupes, and nuts

Chaparral Whitethorn- Ceanothus leucodermis

Other Names- chaparral whitethorn, wild lilac, mountain lilac, California lilac, blueblossum, buckbrush

Luiseno- red root

Traditional Uses-

  • Luiseno used as an ornament for Spring ceremonies
    • historically used for lymphatic cleansing, enlarged spleen, and liver cleansing
    • red-root has been shown to increase platelet counts that chemotherapy may have lowered.
    • the roots were boiled into a tea to treat colds, bronchitis, whooping cough, and tonsilitis

Interesting Information

  • a thorny shrub that grows erect and may reach up to 13 feet (4 m) in height
  • the bark is grey-white, waxy, and slightly hairy
  • stems are spreading and intricately branched
  • oval-shaped evergreen leaves, which are alternately arranged and are up to 1.5 inches (4 cm)- edges of the leaves are smooth or lined with little glandular teeth
    • leaves are covered with a white powder
  • the inflorescence is a long, stalked cluster of flowers in shades of blue, lavender, and white and is very fragrant
  • native to California and Baja California, where grows in the coastal and inland mountain habitats, such as the chaparral, coniferous forest, and oak woodlands
  • important browse for mules, deer, and bighorn sheep who prefer the new growth and shoots
  • a particular favorite of local bees
  • blooms from April to June

Fun Fact- Eastern troops, during the Revolutionary War, would boil the roots of the Ceanothus tree as a substitute for tea.

Hollyleaf Redberry- Rhamnus illicfolia

Other Names-  evergreen buckthorn

Traditional Uses-

  • a decoction of roots was made to be used as an analgesic
  • liver aide, cough-cold remedy, kidney aide, gastrointestinal aide

Interesting Information

  • a shrub that grows up to 13 feet (4 m) in height
  • thick leaves are oval to rounded with oval tips measuring .75 to 1.5 inches (2 to 4 cm) long with the
    • the leaf edges are spiny toothed and fold under, making it concave
  • the inflorescence is a solitary flower or an umbel with up to 4 to 6 flowers
  • the edible fruit is a drupe which is a bright shiny red color when ripe
    • berries are essential food for birds
  • blooms from April-June
  • native to western North America, which grows in a wide variety of habitats, including chaparral and wooded areas

Family Salicaceae

Family Salicaceae arroyo willow southern california naitve plants

The Willow Family

  • deciduous trees and shrubs
  • alternate, simple leaves
  • reduced an inconspicuous unisex flowers- small, apetalous (lacking petals) in catkins (downy flowers which are wind-pollinated)

Arroyo Willow- Salix lasiolepis

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay- a significant plant to the tribe as it is an indicator that freshwater is present
    • branches, twigs, leaves, and bark were used to make several items used in everyday life
    • narrow strips of the inner bark were used to make skirts
  • Luiseno- the inner bark was used for clothing, cords
  • leaves and bark contain the compound salicin, which is the active ingredient of aspirin- brewed into a tea to reduce fevers
  • an infusion of the bark and new leaves or decoction of flowers was used to treat colds

Interesting Information

  • dicot angiosperm
  • winter is deciduous, but some leaves remain
  • distinctive oblong leaves that are dark green and whitish below
    • to distinguish between other willows by looking at the characteristics of the mature leaves
      • the leaf length is 10X the width
      • most expansive toward the tip of the leaf
  • trees, or low-lying, habit spreading, or erect shrubs
  • found by salt marshes and riparian areas
  • catkins or unisex flowers which occur on separate plants
    • wind and insect-pollinated
    • male flowers- yellow
    • female seed producing- green

Fun Fact- The arroyo willow is the host plant for the Lorquin’s admiral, mourning cloak, and the western tiger swallowtail butterflies.

Family Scrophulariaceae

Family Scrophulariaceae california figwort plant temecula

The Figwort Family

  • annual and perennial herb
  • cosmopolitan distribution, with the majority, found in the temperate regions
  • bilateral flowers
  • the family includes some medicinal plants- figworts and mulleins

California Figwort- Scrophularia californica

Other Names- California bee plant

Traditional Uses-

  • Native Americans in Baja California would make tea from the root to help relieve fevers
    • The Ohlone of the north and central coast of California used as a poultice to treat infections and sores

Interesting Information

  • herbaceous branching perennial, which may be up to 6 feet ( 2 m) in height
  • oval  to triangular bright green leaves with an opposite formation
    • the leaf base is  heart-shaped or truncated, with the margins being toothed
  • tiny red flowers (1/4 inch or .6 cm) bloom in compound clusters from the top of the stems
    • clusters exist in V-shaped nodes creating a zig-zag shape
    • bisexual bilateral flowers, with two petals up and three petals down
  • blooms from February to July

Fun Fact- The California figwort plant is the host to the variable checkerspot butterfly. Bee plants contain a type of glycoside that is toxic to vertebrates. The caterpillars are able to sequester this compound and because of this, the larvae are protected from bird predators. The glycoside is carried unto the adult stage, therefore the adult butterfly is protected from predators as well.

Family Rosaceae

Family rosaceae small california wild rose

The Rose Family

  • herbs, shrubs, and trees
  • cosmopolitan distribution
  • most are deciduous, with some being evergreen
  • leaves are generally arranged spirally but are opposite in some
  • radially symmetrical showy flowers
  • valuable economically significant products- almonds, apples, berries, pears, apricots, plums, peaches, strawberries: as well as ornamental trees and bushes (rose, firethorns, hawthorns)

Chamise- Adenostoma fasciculatum

Other Names- greasewood

Kumeyaay- Lipshii 

Luiseno- U’ut

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay- would make arrow points by heating chamise points over coals to make the ‘hard as iron
    • the raw material for shelters
    • used medicinally
    • charcoal from a chamise fire was used in tattoos
  • Luiseno and Kumeyaay would make arrow foreshafts with dried greenwood branches from the plant
    • baskets from the branches
    • use the seed and fruit as a food source

Interesting Information-

  • dicot angiosperm
  • leaves are small, thick, and waxy, which help slow water loss
    • resinous flammable leaves, hence the name Greasewood
  • extensive root system which can go down to 25 feet (7.6 m) and has access to subsurface water sources
  • chamise stems arise from a burl ( a large, subsurface woody mass)
  • two types of seeds
    • next season germination
    • needs heat or fire- the seeds build up in the soil and will sprout after a fire
    • chamise is the only chaparral plant with both strategies of germination
  • bisexual radially symmetrical flowers with five petals and five to numerous amounts of spirally arranged stamens
  • dominant species in chaparral-it’s multiple branches intertwine with neighboring species, which helps make the impenetrable chaparral thicket

California Wildrose- Rosa californica

Kumeyaay- Kwa” ak

Luiseno- Ushia

Traditional Uses-

  • Kumeyaay would use the flower petals, and rose hips were used as food and to make tea. An infusion of the petals was given to babies for fevers.

Interesting Information-

  • deciduous in winter but may go dormant in the summer if not enough water is available
  • native to California, Oregon, and Baja California
  • native to chaparral and woodlands; arid areas, but grow best in canyon and moist places
  • forms a mounding and spreading thicket up to 8 feet (2.5 m) high and 10 feet (3 m) wide of thin, spiny stems
  • fragrant flowers may grow singly or in an inflorescence of several buds
    • an open, flat flower with five petals
  • attracts bees, butterflies, and birds as pollinators

Family Solanaceae

Family Solanaceae Nightshade southern california native plants
San Diego Nightshade

The Nightshade, Potato, and Tobacco Family

  • cosmopolitan distribution of flowering plants- herbs, vines, lianas (long-stemmed woody vine), epiphyte (grows on another plant but is not parasitic), shrubs, and trees
  • they can be annual, biennial, perennial, upright, or spreading
  • leaves are alternate or alternate to opposite
  • flowers are hermaphroditic
  • includes many critical crops- tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, bell peppers; spices, medicinal plants, weeds, and ornamental plants
  • contains alkaloids, primarily anabasine which causes hallucinations, as well as scopolamine, atropine, and nicotine

Sacred Datura- Datura wrightii

Other Names- western jimson weed,  thorn apple, toloache, toluaca, moonflower, devil’s trumpet, angel trumpet

Luiseno- Naktomush

Traditional Uses-

  • Luiseno and Kumeyaay-used for both medicinal and ceremonial purposes
    • ceremonial shamen of both tribes used to induce hallucinations during puberty rites
    • anesthesia & antispasmodic
    • the smoke was inhaled to relieve rheumatism and earaches
    • topically applied on wounds

Interesting Information-

  • native from central Califonia down to northern Mexico, which prefers open, sandy, or disturbed areas
  • sprawling to ascending perennial herbs, which has a sizeable fleshy storage root
  • leaves are green, triangular, and are less than 4.5 inches ( 11.5 cm)
  • though all parts of the plant are highly toxic, it is a popular garden plant
  • large fragrant night-blooming bisexual flower
  • datura comes from the Hindu word “Dhatura,” which means thorn apple
  • dry, prickly fruit
  • can cause death to forage animals or humans
  • blooms from April to October

Fun Fact- The common name ‘western jimsonweed’ comes from the closely related D. stramineae, which was collected at Jamestown Virginia, from where it got its name. In 1676, a group of soldiers ate jimsonweed in their salad and ‘tripped-out” for eleven days afterward. 

Tree Tobacco- Nicotiana glauca 

Other Names- tobacco treemustard tree, juanloco, Palo loco

Luiseno- Pavivut

Traditional Uses-

  • smoked during ceremonial and spiritual purposes
    • very toxic and induces vomiting
    • ingestion creates seizures and possible death
  • administered topically on wounds and as a fumigant for earaches

Interesting Information

  • dicot angiosperm
  • small open tree (less than 20 feet or 6 meters;  rubbery greenish-blue leaves dusted with fine waxy particles (glaucous) and terminal clusters of tubular flowers
  • leaves are oval and less than 8 inches (20 cm) in length with a pointed tip
  • native to South America, but is classified as a weed in California
  • blooms (March- Sept) regularly along roadsides, trails, and disturbed areas
  • first recorded in California in the late 19th century, but not sure how it was introduced

San Diego Nightshade- Solarium xanti var. xanti

Other Names- chaparral nightshade, purple nightshade, xant nightshade

Traditional Uses-

  • used as a dermatological aide

Interesting Information

  • semi-deciduous, perennial herb or subshrub up to 2 feet (60 cm) tall and slightly wider
  • found in chaparral, oak/pine woodlands, and coniferous forests
  • prefers part sun and clay soils
  • lance-shaped to oval leaves up to 2.75 inches (7 cm) long
  • umbrel-shaped inflorescence with many 1-inch (3 cm) lightly fragrant purple flowers with bright yellow stamens
  • the fruit is a green berry- .4 to .6 inches (1 to 1.5 cm) wide
  • cultivated as an ornamental
  • native to the Western United States and Baja California
  • deer resistant due to all parts of the plant being toxic
  • blooms from February to June

Family Themidaceae

Family Thermidaceae Blue Dick Flowers

The Brodiaea Family

  • perennial herb from corm with cormlets forming at the base of corms or by stolons (a creeping horizontal plant stem)
  • one to 10 leaves linear to narrow-lanceolate
  • the inflorescence is umbel-like

Blue Dicks- Dichelostemma capitatum

Other Names- purplehead, brodiaea, wild hyacinth, congested snakelily

Luiseno- Tokapish

Traditional Uses-

  • Luiseno- the corms were an essential source of starch -traditional gathering sites were visited annually
    • when gathering occurs, it depends on the tribe or the individual family- before flowering, while flowering, or after seeding
  • Kumeyaay- bake the corms as a food source

Interesting Information

  • perennial herb arising from a corm (a short, vertical underground plant stem that serves as a storage mechanism to help survive harsh conditions) and can reach up to 23 inches (60 cm) in height
    • corms may lay dormant underground for up to a decade and will wait for fire or other favorable environmental conditions before breaking ground
  • 2 to 3 leaves that are 4 to 16 inches (10 to 40 cm) long
  • the inflorescence is umbel-like and contains 2 to 15 blue, blue-purple, pink-purple flowers
    • each flower has six lobes and a triangular crown in the center
  • thrive in open and disturbed areas and can be found in a variety of habitats-vernal pools, valley grasslands, scrub, open woodlands
    • a typical ‘post-fire species in the scrub
  • reproduce via seeds and cormlets
  • blooms from March to June

Southern California Native Plant Search

So now that you have become familiar with a few of Southern California’s native plants, do you think you can recognize a few of the endemic plants?

I thought that it would be fun to add a few photos for you to try out your newly acquired knowledge.

temecula chaparral southern california native plants

Here is another one located off the Temecula Creek Inn Trail behind the golf course.

Temecula creek inn trail southern california native plants

If you made it this far, I would thank you with all my heart! Writing about all of these Southern California native plants has been so satisfying! When I started this adventure in March, I was intimidated while hiking and trying to ID the flowers. Now that we are in July, I have improved tremendously. How about you?

Please check back shortly as I am working on a few other Southern California native plant articles if you enjoyed this post. The next one will concentrate on what I saw on the coast at San Onofre State Beach in May after California finally opened the beaches again.

And finally, I wanted to add a few words of encouragement during this unprecedented time in history, as I like to refer to as, Quarantine 2020.

Stay strong and positive, as this will all be over soon. I highly recommend spending time in Nature. It sure helps me stay sane!

Until next time!

-Southern California Native Plant References-

4 Replies to “Southern California Native Plants”

  1. Colleen! This article is great, and I am saving it. My name is Nathan Davila. I am a project manager for a “tree planting program” that SDG&E is currently running. As part of our sustainability goals, we are giving away trees for free across the county.

    It would be nice to talk and potentially collaborate to see if you know of any places throughout the county that has a need for trees. We work closely with many Native American tribes, conservation and non-profit organizations, cities, etc.

  2. Hi, Colleen! This is a great post. We have telegraph weed all over near our house, and also terrible mutant fleas that infest our house all summer, and drive our dog and children to distraction (no conventional medicine seems to work on these fleas, and it freaks me out to pick them out of the children’s hair). I’ve read both here and elsewhere that the Chumash used Telegraph Weed as a flea deterrent (which totally makes sense that the weed is growing where it’s needed), but nowhere have I found HOW they used it. Rub the leaves on the dog/floors, etc.? Make a salve? A wash? A smudge? Any ideas? Thanks!

    1. Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for reaching out. I, too, just did a bit of research, and I can not find how they used it. Maybe a smudge like how California sagebrush was used to clear fleas out of living quarters? You do seem to have some good suggestions. Also, if we could read page 95 on this document, it might help If you find the answer, feel free to come back and tell me! Good luck!

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