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California native plants

Native plants offer beauty and numerous environmental benefits

Seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus) is a pollinator-friendly California native. Photo: Courtesy of UC Davis Arboretum
Seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus) is a pollinator-friendly California native. Photo: Courtesy of UC Davis Arboretum
Along with the arrival of our winter rains comes the perfect time to plant native plants – those that occur naturally and were growing here before settlers arrived. There are 8,000 native plants in California, many found nowhere else in the world. Of these, over 1,000 are native to Marin.

Quick look: Easy native plants for Marin gardens

Why grow California native plants?

  • Encourage sustainability
    • Native plants are a key component of an Earth-friendly garden.
  • Conserve water
    • Because they evolved in California’s summer dry climate, most natives prefer little or no supplemental water once established.
  • Reduce maintenance
    • Naturally suited to Marin's climate, soil, insects, and animals
  • Avoid chemicals 
    • No pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers needed.
    • Many natives have developed their own defenses against pests and diseases. Rather than use pesticides, let the plant’s natural defenses and beneficial insects provide protection.
  • Encourage wildlife
    • Attract the insects, birds and other wildlife that co-evolved with native plants and depend on them for survival.
    • Help replace habitat lost to development
    • Create habitat corridors that connect urban landscapes with remaining wildlands
    • Boost wildlife populations by removing invasive, non-native plants.

Ceanothus and California poppies are a striking native plant combination. Photo: Bri Weldon, Creative Commons
Ceanothus and California poppies are a striking native plant combination. Photo: Bri Weldon, Creative Commons

  • Help prevent erosion
    • Native plants connect underground to hold soil in place.
    • When erosion is kept in check, our watershed (and drinking water) is healthier.
  • Protect Marin's precious biodiversity
    • Biodiversity is the variety of living things that naturally co-exist in a specific area.
      • Every area is unique. Marin's blend of native plants, animals, insects, and microorganisms only exists in Marin.
      • Each species in an ecosystem plays a role, even the ones you can only see with a microscope. Some are food for larger organisms. Others help break down dead organisms that return nutrients to soil. Plants play a critical role in an ecosystem. Ecologists call this interconnectedness the "web of life."
      • Landscapes that enhance biodiversity are more resilient to pests, diseases, and even the effects of climate change.
      • Adding native plants creates a functioning ecosystem in your garden.
    • California is the most biodiverse state in the US and among the most biodiverse regions in the world, yet threats loom.
      • 30% of California's native species are threatened with extinction
      • Habitat loss is the primary cause of biodiversity decline.
      • In the next 100 years, climate change is expected to shrink the range of most California endemic plants by up to 80%.

Growing native plants brings the natural environment into the garden. It is the best way to support Marin's unique biodiversity. Photo: Las Pilitas
Growing native plants brings the natural environment into the garden. It is the best way to support Marin's unique biodiversity. Photo: Las Pilitas

  • Create a sense of place and a connection to your natural surroundings
    • Like people, native plants live in communities with a distinct look and feel.
    • Growing plants that naturally exist in your area ups your odds of success. The further you move away from a plant’s comfort zone, the harder it is to grow successfully.
    • The plant communities below are common in Marin County. To see what's growing in your area, enter your zip code here.

What's growing near you?

Oak Woodland

Photo: Courtesy UC Regents
Photo: Courtesy UC Regents
Characterized by oak trees interspersed with other trees and shrubs, plus an understory of grasses and perennials. Much of this plant community has been replaced by weeds. 
Examples: coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), California buckeye (Aesculus California), pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii), coffeeberry (Frangula californica), toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), sticky monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus), and hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea)

Chaparral and Coastal Sage Scrub

Chaparral and Coastal Sage Scrub
Diverse plant community. Grows along coast and on steep chaparral (dense, drought resistant shrubs.) These plants prefer well drained soil and sun. They are adapted to long, dry spells and summer fog. 
Examples: manzanita (Arctostaphylos), California lilac (Ceanothus), California sagebrush (Artemisia). buckwheat (Eriogonum), coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis 'Pigeon Point'), currants (Ribes), sage (Salvia) Photo: Las Pilitas

Mixed Evergreen Forest and Riparian

Photo: Photopea
Photo: Photopea
Includes redwood groves, forested areas, and places with year-round streams and creeks. It is often damp with a thick layer of natural mulch. These plants prefer partial shade and riparian plants (those growing near water) need regular water.
Examples: western sword fern (Polystichum munitum , pink flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). California aster (Symphyotrichum chilensis), douglas iris (Iris douglasiana), and western columbine (Aquilegia formosa).

  • Enjoy spring wildflowers you can grow from seeds
    • There are many annual wildflowers that can be planted from seed, and many will reseed themselves in your garden in future years.
    • Check your local nursery for California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena), mountain garland (Clarkia unguiculata), and tidytips (Layia platiglossa).

Clarkia Amoena is a native annual Easily grown from seed. Photo: Bonnie Marks
Clarkia Amoena is a native annual Easily grown from seed. Photo: Bonnie Marks

Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa) create a cheery Spring show. Photo: Creative Commons
Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa) create a cheery Spring show. Photo: Creative Commons