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The 13 best Calif. native drought-tolerant plants for your garden

Tidy Tips are spring annuals with yellow and white daisy-like flowers on top of long stalks. Their seeds germinate with winter rain and need no supplemental water.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Tidy Tips are spring annuals with yellow and white daisy-like flowers on top of long stalks. Their seeds germinate with winter rain and need no supplemental water.

With mandatory water cuts hanging over every city and suburb in California, state officials are urging folks to pull out their lawns in favor of drought-tolerant landscaping.

One snag with that plan is that most drought-tolerant plants available at local nurseries are imported from places like South Africa and Australia. Ecologists say those plants aren't as inviting for California's animals, insects and birds as native plants.

If you're looking for your yard to be an oasis for local fauna, here are 13 drought-tolerant California plants to consider.

Source: Theodore Payne Foundation's California Native Plant Database. Photos by Maya Sugarman.

1. California Yarrow

Aromatic, feathery fern-like leaves grow to 6 inches in height. Flat-topped clusters of flowers rise to 2 feet. Good cut flower in a meadow planting or as a lawn substitute.

Photo: Ken Gilliland, Courtesy of Theodore Payne Foundation

2. Arroyo de la Cruz Blue-Eyed Grass

This dwarf selection of blue-eyed grass is about 6 inches tall and has unusually large purple flowers in spring. Will go summer dormant, losing some or all of its leaves, returning with winter rains.

3. Palmer's Indian Mallow

A plant with masses of bright gold flowers in spring and summer. Soft velvety foliage adorns this tough shrub. Takes hot, sunny areas. Rabbits like this one, so caging young plants is recommended. Tolerates a variety of soil types, but does not like frequent summer water.

4. Apricot Mallow

Great in dry garden or on a slope. Orange flowers are stunning when in full bloom. OK to cut back in fall. Excellent butterfly plant.

5. California Mountain Lilac

One of the most popular lilacs thanks to its reliability and tolerance of many conditions. Showy cobalt blue flowers. A great bloomer and looks good all year. Tolerates heavy soils. Excellent with oaks and pines.

6. Channel Island Bush Poppy

One of Theodore Payne Native Plant Nursery's most popular native shrubs. Beautiful, bright yellow flowers contrast with blue-gray foliage. Heavy bloom in season. Rare in nature. Limited distribution.

7. Lester Rowntree Manzanita

A beautiful manzanita with blue-green leaves, red-brown bark and dark pink flowers. Perfect as a hedge for dry garden or slope. Clusters of urn-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds in winter.

8. Point Sal Purple Sage

Beautiful and tough groundcover for hot dry areas. Does best with infrequent deep soakings –especially inland. Highly recommended for erosion control and bird habitat.

9. Santa Cruz Island Ironwood

Year-round interest. Attractive bark, fern-like foliage. White flower clusters in summer, aging to orange-rust in summer. Prefers good drainage. Beautiful in groves. Rare, threatened by grazing.

10. White Sage

Important Native American ceremonial plant. Flower stalks are tall and arching, up to 6 feet long. Striking white foliage and beautiful structural form. A local native. Tolerates heavy soil. Bees love it.

11. Tidy Tips

A spring annual with yellow and white daisy-like flowers on top of long stalks. Seeds germinate with winter rain and need no supplemental water. If transplanted from seedlings, plants should be watered occasionally.

12. Lupine

Very desirable for its long period of bloom, which continues from early fall to late spring. Of rather spreading habit 3 to 5 feet high with light green foliage; flowers light blue or lavender. Very valuable for covering dry slopes.

13. Canyon Grey California Sagebrush

Dense silvery mat of soft, aromatic foliage. Trim once a year. Excellent for erosion control or parkway plantings. Tolerates clay soils.

This is the first of a two-part series on California native plants. Read the second story and find more about replacing your lawn here.