Come May and June of each year clouds of vibrant blue flowers grace the foothills and regale us with their distinctive aroma. Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn Family) Ceanothus, the Wild California Lilac is one of the most fragrant and colorful native shrubs on the West Coast. It is the perfect fragrance to herald the arrival of spring. But what makes this native plant so extraordinary?
This evergreen is an iconic native plant and is almost impossible to grow outside of California, Oregon and Washington. There are about 50-60 species of Ceanothus (see-uh-no-thus).
Ceanothus supports local wildlife by serving as an important food source for deer, its flowers are a nectar source for birds, butterflies and bees. Wild Lilac is also a host plant for the California Tortoiseshell butterfly.
Most Wild Lilac growing in the local foothills of Northern California grow in poor, rocky soil and flourish in drought stricken areas. Drought and cold tolerant these plants prefer dry soil in full sun to achieve the best blooms. Its extensive root system allows it to anchor in dry, rocky slopes.
One thing that makes Ceanothus really special is its nitrogen-fixing ability. Most Ceanothus have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots that help to nitrify the soil, thereby reducing the need for fertilization but also enables them to survive drought and wildfires. Wild Lilac is also considered a pioneer plant because it's among the first to grow back after wildfire.
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