What better way to start off your day than with a dose of oxymoron. For years the identification of our local ceanothus (no it’s not ceanothuses or ceanothi) has driven me literally batty. Queries to local experts were of limited benefit. My favorite online references also failed, seemingly mocking my exasperation. Well as my great uncle Ignatius used to say, if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.
OK so believe it or not we have six (6!) local ceanothus. If you call it California Lilac you are banned from the blog for one month.
Let’s get the rare (for down here) one out the way first. Ceanothus leucodermis, or White thorn ceanothus:
Generally found only at elevation. Aside from a stray on Matilija (just before the first stream crossing) and a couple up Sisar, this one is very common on Howard Creek, and downright ubiquitous on Potrero John. The flowers can be anywhere in the violet to purple range, and the branches… you guessed it.. whitish and pointy sharp. Late bloomers too, generally May.
That leaves 5. Let’s do the easy ones. Ceanothus spinosus is very common round these parts, can even be found by the coast.
The new and young bark is quite green, turning brown as it ages. As the species name implies, the branches that hold the inflorescences can be quite spiny. The flowers are a very light lavender. The leaves are shiny green and alternate, generally ovate.
You can find them on literally any local trail. Cozy Dell and Kennedy Ridge are dominated by Green Bark.
Next up is my all-time favorite local, Ceanothus oliganthus, or hairy ceanothus.
Lovers of part shade and canyon areas, the rich vibrant purple is starting to light up our hillsides. Best spots for these beauties are Rice Canyon and Chaparral Crest trails at the Ventura River Preserve, up Gridley in the shady areas near the trough and Matilija Canyon. The leaves of oliganthus are dark, shiny, distinctly veined and most importantly SOFT.
Unlike the other ceanothus and most evergreen shrubs in our area who sport tough, stiff leaves to survive the long dry summers, hairy ceanothus has malleable leaves in an alternate arrangement, slight fuzzy on the underside.
Finally to my bugaboo, the white flowered ceanothus. There’s three of them and differentiating them would bring me to tears at one point. But no more.
Ceanothus megacarpus or big pod ceanothus has darn big seed pods, the biggest of the six, but that’s only helpful a few months a year until they fall off.
The key to identifying these the rest of the year is the alternate leaf arrangement. The final two white-flowered ceanothus both have opposite leaves. These are currently putting on a spectacular show along Route 150 to Santa Barbara, up Laguna Ridge, and there are quite a few up Pratt Trail.
That leaves us with the final two white flowered, opposite-leaved ceanothus. Crassifolius, or hoary-leaved ceanothus is found on the Ventura River Preserve on the parking lot side of the river, up Gridley, Horn Canyon, and some up Pratt.
The leaves are opposite-arranged, with distinctive small teeth while otherwise large and ovate shaped. The undersides are “hoary”, as in very whitish or frosted looking.
Last but not least is Ceanothus cuneatus, or buckbrush.
Also with opposite-arranged leaves these are much smaller than crassifolius, and “wedge-shaped” as this ceanothus is also known. They are currently in bloom all over the Ventura River Preserve on the OTHER side of the river. East side of river, crassifolius, west side, cuneatus, no strays as far as I know, pretty interesting I think. I believe there are some on the Thacher trails as well.
OK let’s summarize
NAME BLOOM COLOR LEAVES LOCATION
Leucodermis Lavender Alternate Potrero John
Spinosus Light lavender Alternate Kennedy ridge
Oliganthus Purple Alternate Matilija,Rice,Sisar
Megacarpus White Alternate Laguna, Rte 150
Crassifolius White Opposite Gridley, Horn
Cuneatus White Opposite Wills Canyon
Would love to hear comments, questions, disputes, insults regarding this list… I know we have subspecies of some of these, but did I miss anything entirely?