Carpenteria californica, commonly called ‘bush anemone’ or ‘tree anemone’, is a rarer breed of California native, endemic to only seven sites across the Fresno and Madera County foothills. Today it’s prized many Bay-area gardens for its tropical-looking, fragrant flowers. The ‘Elizabeth’ cultivar is a particular favorite due to its high drought tolerance and prolific blossoms.
Interestingly, ‘Elizabeth’ is named in honor of one of California’s most renowned botanists of the 20th century, Elizabeth McClintock. Dr. McCLintock contributed to public horticulture through involvement with the San Francisco Academy of Sciences, Pacific Horticulture, and the California Native Plant Society, among many others over her highly distinguished career.
Carpenteria californica offers abundant flowers from May to July. Bright yellow stamens stand out against petite white, cuplike blossoms. While other members of the species have flowers that open gradually, ‘Elizabeth’ opens up all at once, in masses of up to 20 in each cluster. Their lovely shape calls to mind Japanese anemones, single-form camellias, and tropical exotics.
Ovate leaves are approximately five inches in length, glossy and dark green. While pretty, foliage is quite bitter to the taste – a natural deterrent from deer and gophers who may be searching for snacks in your landscape.
Pretty purplish-colored bark shreds away to reveal a pale yellow brown color underneath in the fall.
Soil and Water Requirements
A primary benefit of native plants like Carpenteria californica is their inherent ability to flourish naturally without needing outside maintenance. With this in mind, plant in light, well-drained soil. In very hot areas, plantings will benefit from partial shade in the afternoon.
While occasional deep watering in summer time helps promote growth, abstain from overwatering. It’s much easier to kill the plant with too much moisture than it is to harm it from too little. Drip irrigation is preferable to avoid creating fungal problems for the foliage. Once established, bush anemone is highly drought tolerant and can be said to thrive on neglect.
Bush anemone does not require pruning, but they can be cut back after flowering to preserve a rounded, bushy form.
Plant Features and Uses
- Pleasing fragrance
- Attracts butterflies
- Deer resistant
- Suitable for cutting gardens and natural landscapes
- Drought tolerant and hardy
- Companion plantings: Manzanita, Heuchera, Ceanothus, Mimulus, native oaks (is resistant to oak root fungus)
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