Evergreen and very drought tolerant, Ceanothus are some of our most fragrant and colorful native shrubs. Although some Ceanothus species are called California Lilacs, this genus is neither related to lilacs nor exclusive to California. The genus Ceanothus includes about 55 evergreen and deciduous creepers, shrubs, and small trees growing wild throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico south to Guatemala. However, Ceanothuses are far more diverse in California than anywhere else.

A sure way to kill your ceanothus is to overwater it in the summer! Planting on a slope or atop a mound will help keep its roots happy. But even with the best of care, most Ceanothus species live only 15-20 years. 'Feltleaf Ceanothus' (Ceanothus arboreus, also known as the 'Tree Lilac' or 'Island Mt Lilac'), is the largest species and can live much longer.

Most Ceanothus are frost tender and are mainly grown for their fluffy clusters of white, pink, or blue flowers. A ceanothus in bloom is one of the sure signs that spring is on its way. Indeed, they are an important source of nectar and pollen for early bees. Ceanothus leaves can range from under 1/2" (usually dark and stiff) to over 2 to 3 inches long (larger leaves are often lighter and softer, which deer love). Small birds love the tiny seeds, and these stiff branches provide welcome cover; so Ceanothus is a good plant for drier wildlife habitat landscaping. This plant can be propagated by softwood cuttings in the summer. Ceanothus can deal with sun and drought, but are also happy with a bit of shade.

Locally Native Species

Buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) and deerbrush (Ceanothus integerrimus) are the only two species of Ceanothus that are native to Davis. Four other species are native in other parts of Yolo County: wavyleaf Ceanothus (Ceanothus foliosus), maritime Ceanothus (Ceanothus maritimus), hairyleaf Ceanothus (Ceanothus oliganthus), and Mahala mat (Ceanothus prostratus). However, many other Ceanothus species and cultivars can be grown in Davis.

Buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) in the wild. Photo by queerbychoice.Maritime Ceanothus (Ceanothus maritimus 'Valley Violet') in a garden in Woodland. Photo by queerbychoice.

Visit our Town Flora page for more information about plants that thrive locally.