Not-So-Local Natives

Lately there has been a clamoring for a new feature on the Rambler.

OK it’s not quite a clamoring, more like a persistent murmur.

Or I may just be having those auditory hallucinations again from inhaling too much Perlite.  Either way I am introducing a new feature where we will explore some California native plants which will do great in your home garden, though they are not necessarily from our local floristic province.

Our inaugural plant (plant family actually, I love ’em all) is the Barberry.

Berberis aquifolium

Berberis aquifolium

The family is Berberidaceae, and the genus is either mahonia or berberis, depending on who you talk to.  They are evergreen ground covers and small-to-medium shrubs with showy leaves, bright flowers and delectable berries.

Aquifolium fruits

Aquifolium fruits

Berries supposedly make a pretty nice jam if you can get them before the birds go nuts.  In the winter many of the leaves will turn shades of red, orange and yellow.

Berberis compacta

Berberis compacta

A quick glance at the Calflora maps show that there have been no recent sightings of Barberries anywhere in Ventura County.  They are however common understory plants on forested slopes under 7000′ north to Idaho.

Barberries all feature pinnately compound leaves with sharp spiny leaflets similar to oak leaves.


Leaf color is flat or shiny green which may turn a lovely red/orange in drought and fall off before being replaced in fall.  Flowers arrive on 1-6 inch long spikes in a veritable fountain of yellow.


By early summer these flowers have become luscious black or purple berries which are actually kind of tasty if you can get to them before the birds do.  The berries are popular with mockingbirds, cedar waxwings and phainopeplas.


Flora Gardens here in town will order them for you if you ask nicely.  Theodore Payne in Sunland usually has a nice variety, and the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden usually keeps some on hand.

Berberis pinnata flower

Berberis pinnata flower

I love them under oaks as they require little to no summer water and slowly spread by underground rhizomes.  They can take a while to get established, during which time you may note little to no growth.

Nevin's barberry

Nevin’s barberry

But within a couple of years you will have a nice dense tangle which makes a great habitat for all your garden critters.  They are generally disease and pest free and don’t mind being cut to the ground to encourage fresh growth once established.

Full sized Berberis aquifolium

Full sized Berberis aquifolium



This entry was posted in Flowers, Native Plants, Other Locations, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Not-So-Local Natives

  1. john pavelko says:

    Good write up Ron…jp

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