Resources – Native Plants

See also Zines & Blogs, Organizations, Botanic Gardens, and Nurseries for links to native plant sites.

The Audubon Society has lots of resources on their website plus a searchable Native Plants by zip-code database for finding native plants in your area.

Following is a list of our favorite books on gardening with California native plants:

Books on California Native Plants

[Click titles or covers to jump to]

California Native PlantsCalifornia Native Plants for the Garden

by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien

California Native Plants for the Garden is a compilation of the best natives from none other than Carol Bornstein (Santa Barbara Botanic Garden), David Fross (Native Sons), and Bart O’Brien (Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden). If you've ever taken a workshop with any of these experts, you know their knowledge of native plants knows no bounds; this is a book not to be missed.

Description: Featuring more than 500 plants and illustrated with 450 color photos, California Native Plants for the Garden is a comprehensive resource that will appeal to every gardener who has an interest in California’s unique flora. Authored by three of the state’s most experienced native plant horticulturalists, this beautiful reference book describes the best California species for gardens and provides detailed advice on their cultivation, from landscape design and installation to watering, pruning, and pest control. Regardless of where you live or your level of horticultural expertise, California Native Plants for the Garden will help you succeed in growing California’s remarkable plants.

Published by Cachuma Press, this book is available from in hardcover and paperback. Page samples are available online at Native Sons.

Ceanothus coverCeanothus

by David Fross and Dieter Wilken

Ceanothus by David Fross and Dieter Wilken is acomplete horticultural and botanical treatment of the genus aimed at both gardeners and botanists. This book finally gives Ceanothus — with so many plants that tolerate sun and shade, thrive in arid conditions, and bear a profusion of beautiful, fragrant flowers — the recognition it deserves.

Though it has an unrivaled range of blue flowers and includes plants suitable for many gardening and landscaping situations, this North American native genus has long been underutilized. Its species range from Canada south through southern Mexico and from coast to coast, and there are forms from ground-hugging mats through shrubs to trees.

Native Treasures coverNative Treasures

by Nevin Smith

Native Treasures is a new book (April 2006) from horticulturist Nevin Smith. Nevin has spent his life growing plants and exploring the wild California landscape and he shares his years of experience growing native California plants in this lively, informative book. This delightful paean to California and its plants discusses and details a choice assortment of native trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and annuals – all illustrated by superb color photographs.

Rather than being a systematic “how-to” manual, Native Treasures combines Smith’s personal thoughts, sometimes maverick opinions, and matchless expertise with practical advice on selected groups of native plants and their culture. The author explains how California’s diverse terrain, climate, and geology support a wealth of plant species – more than 6000 – and offers suggestions for designing with most of the major natives in cultivation, as well as with some more obscure but garden-worthy groups.

With an engaging narrative and a wealth of illustrations, this ode to beauty and diversity celebrates California’s rich store of native plants and encourages readers to visit them in their native haunts and invite them into their gardens.

Jepson ManualThe Jepson Manual

Not exactly bedtime reading material, The Jepson Manual serves as a valuable reference book for the serious native plant enthusiast. Botanists use it to “key out” a plant specimen (we use it for further information on plants we assume were correctly labeled at the nursery!). If you plan on using it for identification, look for classes that teach botany in conjunction with the Jepson Manual at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (Education division).

Description: With contributions from two hundred botanists across North America, this is the most comprehensive resource and identification guide to nearly 8,000 varieties of native and naturalized California plants. The means to identify plants (using key traits and illustrations) is accompanied by special information such as horticultural requirements, endangerment, toxicity, weed status, and notes on the management of sensitive species. Identification keys have been designed for ease of use, and terms have been simplified and illustrated, making the new Manual the most authoritative field guide for the expert and amateur alike.

Current edition dates from 1993; a project to produce a second edition is underway at UC Berkeley.

Other Books

California Native Trees & Shrubs (For Garden & Environmental Use in Southern California) by Lens & Dourley is one of our favorite books as it's easy to read and very local to the Los Angeles area. The original is out of print, but it has been rereleased by Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.

Other favorite resources, which are currently and sadly out of print, include:

Landscape Plants for Western Regions by Bob Perry (out of print)

An Illustrated Manual of California Shrubs by Howard McMinn

Complete Garden Guide to the Native Perennials of California by Glenn Keator

Complete Garden Guide to the Native Shrubs of California by Glenn Keator

Reader Recommended:

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas Tallomy (Timber Press). “Tallomy is a professor of entomology and department chair at the the University of Delaware and has done a lot of research on the relationships between native plants and native animals and insects. It is quite a different view of just how important locally native plants are to native birds and the insects they need for survival.”

Growing Native

The Growing Native website is well worth exploring. Originally offered as a newsletter, published by Louise Lacey, the articles from Growing Native are being updated and republished in PDF form as how-to guides. The first four guides cover the Basics of growing natives, Perennials, Shrubs, plus Wildlife and Inspiration; you can buy them with a simple click thru Paypal.

Books on Plant Propagation

Seed Propagation of Native California Plants by Dara E. Emery is required reading for native plant propagators. (Try the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Garden Shop for a copy, as SBBG are the publisher. Their well-stocked book store is really worth a visit too.) You may also find Dara Emery's book in stock at The Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley – click here to read a review.

Native Treasures by Nevin Smith (featured above) also includes information on propagating the species covered.

Online Plant Databases


The Calflora Database is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing information about California plant biodiversity for use in Education, Research and Conservation through a full-featured online digital database. Registration is currently free for personal use. Calflora also has a new web application called What Grows Here which can show a user what wild plants have been observed near any location in the state, via several geographic abstractions: zip code, watershed, nearby park or watershed, etc. For instance, here are 170 plants observed near Chatsworth in northwest Los Angeles Co.

Hartman Multimedia

Steve Hartman (of CNPS fame) provides an impressive collection of natural history information on Windows-compatible CD-ROMs. Products cover the wildflowers of California, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Anza-Borrego, Sierras, and plant communities of California.

Natural Areas of Southern California: An exciting new addition to Hartman Multimedia's site is a compilation of the Inventory of California Natural Areas. (This project began when in 1969 a group of concerned scientists and laymen formed the organization that was to become the California Natural Areas Coordinating Council whose purpose it was to inventory the natural areas of the state and to seek means of protecting them.) Over 1,500 discrete areas were named, categorized, located and described. These descriptions were then published in a limited edition multi-volume set of green binders. Thanks to Steve Hartman, you can now access online the text descriptions of 11 southern California counties: Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. This is a goldmine of hard-to-find information accompanied by Map and Satellite links for each area.

Native and Introduced Plants of Southern California

A collection of online field guides and commentary from Tom Chester and Jane Strong. Dig deep into this site and you'll find detailed lists of plants you can find along many popular Southern California hiking trails (especially in the San Gabriel Mountains) with a heavy botanical bent (often referencing the Jepson Manual).

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