Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sticky Monkeyflower

Orange Bush Monkeyflower

Sticky Monkeyflower: photo by Cliff Hutson
Sticky Monkeyflower: photo by Cliff Hutson

The author Elmore Leonard  gave the advice that a writer should never open with the weather. So, I am not going to talk about the drought in California and how it has played havoc with the list of plants I intended to write about this year. However, one of them has held its own.

Orange Bush Monkeyflower, or Sticky Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus (aka Mimulus aurantiacus), is a plant that is native to California and is found only slightly beyond our borders. It is common in disturbed areas of coastal sage scrub, and also found in the chaparral and live oak woodland communities. It is fairly abundant in my local foothills, so it is a personal favorite when it comes to wildflowers.

Once placed in the Scrophulariaceae (Figwort family), most references now have it in the Phrymaceae (Lopseed family). It is a perennial shrub which flowers March through June. The blossoms are two to three inches long and can be white, yellow, or red; as well as the namesake orange. The name monkeyflower comes from the flowers which, some say, look, like small faces when viewed from the front.  I have never seen a face. May be it is a lack of imagination on my part, but I am willing to take their word for it. The leaves are one to two inches long, dark green with deeply impressed veins, and are sticky to the touch. The stickiness is due to a phenolic resin which helps the plant retain water in dry environments.

The plant is shrubby and may be sprawling, but can grow to four feet tall. It is attractive to bees and hummingbirds; in Southern California, monkeyflower's most frequent visitors are Anna’s hummingbirds and Allen’s hummingbirds. Also, it is a forage source for the larva of Variable Checkerspot and Common Buckeye butterflies.

Birds, bees, and butterflies help make our world function. I am not a gardener, but I am tempted to plant a few of these monkeyflowers at home to help make up for the huge hit these creatures have taken due to changes in their habitats.

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