Go Native with Plants in Honor of Thanksgiving

Despite rumors that Thanksgiving is only a time to stuff
ourselves (and a turkey), gather with family and watch a little
football (OK, a lot of football), there is a true meaning behind
the holiday. Thanksgiving commemorates the pilgrims of Plymouth,
Mass., a resilient lot of 101 who crowded the Mayflower for the
66-day voyage from England back in 1620.
Despite rumors that Thanksgiving is only a time to stuff ourselves (and a turkey), gather with family and watch a little football (OK, a lot of football), there is a true meaning behind the holiday. Thanksgiving commemorates the pilgrims of Plymouth, Mass., a resilient lot of 101 who crowded the Mayflower for the 66-day voyage from England back in 1620.

Unfortunately, the pilgrims weren’t exactly hunters, fishermen or gardeners, and more than half died the first winter. The first Thanksgiving celebrated a substantial harvest that was greatly aided by the Native Americans, who helped them learn how to survive.

OK, what does all this have to do with a garden column? Well, reflection on history inspires a Thanksgiving column devoted to the other native Americans – specifically, native plants.

You may have read that the city of San Jose is in a controversy with Caltrans over a new landscape plan near Mineta San Jose International Airport. It seems that some innovative thinkers believe native plants might be better than the standard Algerian ivy that the state usually uses.

Simply put, native plants are popular because they not only are different from standard landscape plants, but they readily can survive on their own once established without supplemental water. This latter fact would come in really handy along a freeway where sprinklers wouldn’t have to be running all the time.

Local mainstays of drought-tolerant native plants are ceanothus and manzanita. Both are versatile species that offer everything from groundcover varieties to large bushes and even trees.

Ceanothus, commonly known as wild lilac, is usually distinguished by dark green leaves and puffy-blue flowers. Ceanuthus horizontalis, also known as Carmel Creeper, is a popular groundcover, and “Julia Phelps” is a common larger variety.

Manzanita, known in Latin terms as Arctostaphylos, is another large group of Western natives ranging in size from creepers to full-size shrubs and small trees. Arctostaphylos densiflora is popular locally for its 30-inch mounds that spread as much as 7 feet.

Other California natives or drought-tolerant plants include everything from cistus (rock rose) to oleanders, photonia, pittisporum, plumbago, pyracantha, rosemary and xylosma. While some of these names may sound foreign to you, I’m sure you’ll be familiar with some if you see them.

That said, consider that you can plant small areas with these native, drought-tolerant plants. For instance, they would be perfect in areas like steep hillsides where it’s practically impossible to irrigate.

Consider going native in honor of Thanksgiving. You may be thanking yourself come summer when your water bill arrives.

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