Theodore Payne California Native Plant Database




Aromatic Plants

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One of the most striking characteristics of our native floa is their fragrance. Anyone who has been on a hike through our chaparral knows the sweet scent of California lilac in spring or the scent of sage and sagebrush on a warm summer day. Oils in the plant's leaves provide protection in our Mediterranean climate and stimulate our senses as a bonus. But fragrance is not limited to foliage the California flora. Many of our flowers also have wonderful smells as well. Try some of the following native plants in your Fragrance Garden.

PLANTS WITH FRAGRANT FOLIAGE

Shrubs and Perennials
Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) 18”H x 2-3’W (spreads by rhizomes), can be used as a lawn substitute, tolerates mild foot traffic and occasional mowing.
Anemopsis californica (Yerba Mansa) 6”H x spreading, water-loving medicinal plant with strongly scented leaves and interesting white flowers.
Artemisia species (CA Sagebrush) sizes vary by species/cultivar, all are fragrant. If you hike in southern CA, you know this familiar smell!
Asarum caudatum (Wild Ginger) 6”H x 2-3”W, broad-leaved water-loving perennial for shady spots. Leaves are fragrant when crushed.
Calycanthus occidentalis (Spice Bush) 9’H x 9’W, beautiful fragrant dark red flowers in spring. Give sun on coast and shade inland. Winter deciduous
Chrysothamnus nauseosus (Rubber Rabbitbrush), 2-4’H x 3’W, desert native, also great for butterflies!
Encelia californica (CA Bush Sunflower) 3-4’H x 3-4’W, yellow-flowering local native with subtly spicy foliage. Takes full sun.
Gnaphalium californicum (CaliforniaEverlasting) 2-3’H x 1’W, sticky bright green leaves smell like maple syrup. Scent fills the air on warm spring days.
Hyptis emoryi (Desert Lavender), 4-6’H x 5’W, drought-tolerant desert native with aromatic grey-green leaves and lavender flowers.
Lepechinia fragrans (Pitcher Sage) 4-6’H x 4-6’W, technically not a “sage”, the large leaves are very fragrant. Tolerates heavy soils, sun or light shade and is drought-tolerant.
Mentha arvensis (Mint) 6”H x spreading, likes water and spreads by underground roots. Can be used to flavor foods and drinks.
Monardella species (Coyote Mint) 2’H x 2-3’W, strong mint fragrance when leaves are touched. Large purple flowers bloom in summer and attract butterflies.
Pycnanthemum californicum (Mint) 6”H x spreading, likes shade and water, spreads by underground roots. Lovely mint fragrance, can be used to flavor foods and drinks.
Ribes viburnifolium (Catalina Perfume, Evergreen Currant) 2’H x 5’W, an attractive drought-tolerant groundcover for shade and under oaks. Leaves are fragrant when crushed
Salvia species (Sages) sizes vary by species/cultivar, all are strongly fragrant and extremely drought-tolerant.
Satureja douglasii (Yerba Buena) 6”H x spreading, likes some shade and water, leaves smell minty.
Trichostema lanatum (Wooly Blue Curls) 3-4’H x 3-4’W, leaves smell like “Juicy-Fruit” and can be used to make tea. No summer water once established.
Trees
Calocedrus decurrens (Incense Cedar) 70-90’H x 20’W, large, aromatic tree. Evergreen.
Cupressus species (Cypress) size varies with species. Evergreen.
Lyonothamnus floribundus, Ironwood
Pinus species (Pine) size varies with species. Evergreen.
Umbellularia californica (CA Bay Laurel) 75’H x 60’W, beautiful aromatic tree, leaves are pungent and can be used in cooking. Evergreen.


PLANTS WITH FRAGRANT FLOWERS

Shrubs and Perennials
Calycanthus occidentalis (Spice Bush) 9’H x 9’W, beautiful fragrant dark red flowers in spring. Give sun on coast and shade inland. Winter deciduous.
Carpenteria californica (Bush Anemone) 3-8’H x 6-8’W, good for dry shady spots but flowers better with partial sun. Fragrant spring flowers are white with yellow centers. Evergreen.
Ceanothus species (CA Lilac) size varies by species/cultivar, lightly scented blue flowers cover these plants in spring. Some species/cultivars flower white. Evergreen.
Datura wrightii (Jimson Weed) 3’H x 5’W, recognized by its large trumpet-like white flowers. Tends to spread vine-like along the ground. Caution: plant is poisonous.
Hyptis emoryi (Desert Lavender) 4-6’H x 5’W, drought-tolerant desert native with aromatic grey-green leaves and lavender flowers. Evergreen.
Keckiella antirrhinoides 4’H x 3’W, yellow flowers are sweetly scented. This seasonal plant goes dormant in summer.
Mahonia species (Barberry) size varies by species/cultivar, clusters of bright yellow flowers in spring are followed by orange/red berries. Good for wild birds. Evergreen.
Oenothera species (Primrose) 6”H x 1-2’W, tolerates a wide range of conditions and will spread or reseed freely if happy. Flowers open in late afternoon.
Penstemon palmeri (Palmer’s Penstemon) 3’H x 2’W, large pale lavender to white flowers on tall upright stems.
Philadelphus lewisii (Mock Orange) 6-10’H x 6-10’W, winter deciduous shrub with citrus-scented flowers in spring. Winter deciduous.
Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy) 8’H x spreading, sometimes called the “fried egg plant” for its spectacular flower, this is a plant that needs a lot of room to grow—can be invasive.
Rosa species (CA Wild Rose) 5’H x spreading, forms thickets in sun or shade, does best with moderate to regular water. Flowers are pink. Winter deciduous.
Verbena lilacina (Lilac Verbena) 2-3’H x 2-3’W, sweet smelling lavender flowers on this almost year-round bloomer. Evergreen. Attracts butterflies!
Trees
Acacia greggii (Catclaw Acacia) 10-15’H x 10-15’W, a desert native with fragrant yellow flowers.
Aesculus californica (California Buckeye) 30’H x 18’W, an interesting specimen tree for its silver bark and ornamental seed pods. Large white flower clusters bloom in spring.
Cercidium floridum (Blue Palo Verde) 20-30’H x 20’W, showy desert tree with green bark and masses of fragrant yellow flowers in spring. Drought-tolerant.
Chilopsis linearis (Desert Willow) 20’H x 15’W, drought-tolerant desert willow with showy pink blossoms in summer. Winter deciduous.
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