Plants for Native Habitats in Southern California

By working with numerous schools and community groups to create Schoolyard Habitats and phenology gardens, we have learned a lot about the species of native plants that are great for native habitats and outdoor classrooms. Below, we share our favorite plants for native habitats.

Toyon
Toyon is our favorite plant to study phenology. It’s a hardy shrub that can grow to the size of a small tree or hedge. Phenophases are easy to differentiate and observe. The Chumash, a Native American tribe from Southern California, named this plant Toyon and this continues to be its common name today. Toyon is used in a variety of ways by the Chumash. Toyon was once called Christmas berry or holly berry due to its holly-like leaves and beautiful red berries which are plentiful during the holiday season. It is believed that Hollywood was named after toyon, because the species once thrived where the city now stands. Learn more about toyon with Nature's Notebook.
California fuchsia
California fuchsia, or hummingbird trumpet, is a beautiful native plant that attracts pollinators like hummingbirds and bees. The trumpet-like flowers bloom in late summer or early fall, providing food and color to a native habitat after many plants have finished for the year. This plant is hardy and does well in many environments with well drained soil. Learn more about California fuchsia with Nature's Notebook.
Elderberry
Elderberry is a great plant for a native habitats in Southern California. It produces shade, attracts wildlife and looks great year-round. This plant has a variety of uses to the Chumash, a Native American tribe from Southern California. The Chumash use elderberry to make musical instruments called clapper sticks, and the straight branches can be used as fire starters or drills. The ripe fruit are edible and are often made into wine, jelly and syrup. Learn more about elderberry with Nature's Notebook.
whitesage
Make sure to plant white sage in full sun with well drained soil. A healthy white sage plant will quickly grow and fill all the space you allow it. White sage attracts pollinators, especially bees, and smells wonderful when leaves are crushed or rubbed. Leaves are gathered to create ‘smudge sticks’, which are burned to produce a lovely incense. Learn more about white sage with Nature's Notebook.
Hollyleaf cherry
Hollyleaf cherry has done very well in our Schoolyard Habitats and phenology gardens. In fact, a number of schools already had hollyleaf cherry trees on campus before we got there. This tree grows quickly, and produces hundreds of beautiful cherries each summer. The cherries are edible, but are generally bitter and contain a large pit. Native mammals like coyote love the cherries produced by this tree. Great for shade or planted as a screen, hollyleaf cherry is also great for education. The Chumash, a Native American tribe from Southern California, would collect the fruit each year, and we are told that it was more prized per pound than oak acorns. This is also a great plant to study phenology because the phenophases are easily distinguishable. Learn more about hollyleaf cherry with Nature's Notebook.
Coastal sagebrush
Coastal sagebrush is ubiquitous in our local coastal sage scrub habitats. The plant has a very pungent smell of sage, especially when it becomes wet after a rain. The Chumash, a Native American tribe from Southern California, used this plant as bedding and flooring to repeal insects from their living spaces, and to relieve headaches. Coastal sagebrush is great in a native habitat because it encourages students to use their senses, and it has many cultural uses. Learn more about coastal sage brush with Nature's Notebook.
yarrow
Multiple species or varieties of yarrow can often be found in native plant nurseries and most will do well in a native habitat. We have had success with yarrow in habitats with sandy to clay soil, in the shade or in full sun. Yarrow produces beautiful flowers and it can spread quickly. Don’t be afraid to buy these in small sizes at the nursery. Learn more about yarrow with Nature's Notebook.
California wild rose
California wild rose produces beautiful, fragrant pink flowers from May to August. In the fall, the flowers give way to large red fruits, known as rose hips, which have a high vitamin content. Native animals forage on California rose when most other plants are no longer producing food. California wild rose is used in a variety of ways, including teas and jams. It is often used in native gardens and attracts several species of native wildlife. Learn more about California wild rose with Nature's Notebook.
lemonade berry
As the name suggests, the fruit of the lemonade berry plant is used by the Chumash, a Native American tribe from Southern California, to create a sour tea similar to lemonade. The plant reaches the size of a large shrub and can be used as a screen or hedge. This plant is great because it is hardy, provides habitat for native animals, has cultural uses and its phenophases are easy to distinguish. Learn more about lemonade berry with Nature's Notebook.
pink-flowering currant
This currant brightens our day when we hike along our Southern California trails in early spring. An edible, albeit bitter fruit is produced from pink-flowering currant. This is a great plant to provide color and food for the birds in your native habitat. Many cultivars have been created in the nursery industry for this beautiful plant. Learn more about pink-flowering currant with Nature's Notebook.

*Other plants to consider for Southern California habitats:

* Chumash plant uses are described in Chumash Ethobotany: Plant Knowledge Among the Chumash People of Southern California by Jan Timbrook, 2007.

 

Monitor the phenology of each of these species with Nature's Notebook

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