Home & Garden Garden 20 Drought-Tolerant California Native Plants: Shrubs, Flowers, and More By Katherine Gallagher Katherine Gallagher Writer Chapman University Katherine Gallagher is a writer and sustainability expert. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Chapman University and a Sustainable Tourism certificate from the GSTC. Learn about our editorial process Published August 29, 2021 Share Twitter Pinterest Email Sumiko Scott / Getty Images Home & Garden Planting Guides Indoor Gardening Urban Farms Insects If you live in California, you know that state residents are always looking for ways to save water. One of the best ways to conserve this precious resource is by choosing native plants that are already equipped to handle the state’s drier climate. Native plants often need minimal irrigation once established (beyond normal rainfall) since many of them are drought-tolerant by nature. According to the California Department of Water Resources, a garden that incorporates drought-tolerant native plants can use 85% less water every year than a traditional landscape. What’s more, native plants are already adapted to resist the region’s pests and diseases, meaning fewer pesticides and lower maintenance. Native plants also create functioning ecosystems within your garden, as they attract the native insects and wildlife that naturally depend upon them. Here are 20 California native plants to consider while planting your garden. Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database. 1 of 20 Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri) Sundry Photography / Getty Images Native to Southern California, the Matilija poppy is often found thriving in areas recently burned due to wildfires. The white, crepe paper petals and circular, bright yellow centers bloom in the spring and summer. These plants are aggressive spreaders, so be sure to incorporate them into spots with plenty of room to run if you don’t want to spend time pulling shoots to prevent excess growth. USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 10.Sun Exposure: Full sun.Soil Needs: Well-draining. 2 of 20 California Wild Rose (Rosa californica) Hal Beral / Getty Images Found throughout the state in areas with excess moisture and natural waterways, the California wild rose is a beautiful addition to any landscape. They are easy to grow, require very little water, and grow quickly, while their soft pink blossoms and light fragrance bloom during the spring and stay through summer. USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9.Sun Exposure: Part shade.Soil Needs: Moist. 3 of 20 Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) Sundry Photography / Getty Images Although the Western redbud is native to all parts of the state, it grows best in inland Northern California. These plants can be pruned both as a shrub and as a tree, growing about 10 to 20 feet in height, with light green leaves and turning dark towards the spring. Western redbuds sprout abundant pink flowers in large clusters, providing a nice pop of color wherever it grows. USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 9.Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade.Soil Needs: Well-draining. 4 of 20 California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) Michael Reining / 500px / Getty Images Vibrant orange and incredibly easy to grow, California’s state flower is about as drought-tolerant as they come. The California poppy also reseeds itself to come back stronger every year, blooming in the spring and often lasting all the way through the summer in the cooler northern parts of the state. USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 10.Sun Exposure: Full sun.Soil Needs: Sandy, well-draining soil. 5 of 20 Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia) Heather Broccard-Bell / Getty Images Known for its leathery leaves and small red fruits that attract birds and other wildlife, the lemonade berry grows upright as either a shrub or small tree. They prefer coastal and beach areas, but will also thrive in higher elevations. Growing lemonade berry plants will greatly benefit your local fauna, as many birds, small mammals, and insects rely on their fruit as a food source. USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11.Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.Soil Needs: Sandy or loamy, well-draining. 6 of 20 California Lilac (Ceanothus spp) Andrea Edwards / EyeEm / Getty Images Part of the buckthorn family, California lilac plants sprout dense clusters of blue, white, or pink flowers that butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other wildlife love. They prefer areas with a lot of sun and natural light, though they’ll need a bit of afternoon shade in hotter regions. These plants are also susceptible to rot if they’re planted in lower spots that attract more moisture. USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10.Sun Exposure: Full sun.Soil Needs: Well-draining. 7 of 20 Parry Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita) Jennifer Gauld / Getty Images With its oval-shaped, bright green leaves and distinct red bark, Parry manzanita are some of the most unique native plants in the state. They grow upward like a tree, though they only reach about 6 feet tall, and produce fewer flowers than other species of manzanita. These evergreen shrubs are valuable all year round, with hummingbirds attracted to its flowers from winter to spring and birds attracted to its fruit in the fall and summer. USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10.Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade. Soil Needs: Well-draining. 8 of 20 Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) dvulikaia / Getty Images A perennial shrub that’s often grown as a screening plant or for shade, the toyon can handle a wide range of soil types and is extremely drought resistant. Also known as Christmas berry or California holly, this hardy plant produces acidic berries that are consumed by native birds and even mammals like coyotes and bears. USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11.Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.Soil Needs: Clay, well-draining. 9 of 20 Redtwig Dogwood (Cornus sericea) ElrondPeredhil / Getty Images Redtwig dogwood, otherwise known as American dogwood and western dogwood, is a deciduous shrub that spreads rapidly and can often be found in areas with damp soil. Growing these plants in full sun will cause their branches and twigs to turn dark red, a nice contrast against their dark green, waxy leaves. In the summer, they bloom with slightly fragrant white flowers that turn into white berries. USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9.Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.Soil Needs: Moist. 10 of 20 California cholla (Cylindropuntia californica) Westend61 / Getty Images A species of cactus native to Southern California and Baja, the California cholla can grow up to nearly 9 feet tall with spines up to 1.18 inches long. They produce yellow flowers tinged with white or pink and leathery fruit from April to July, though they last for only a few days. USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11.Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.Soil Needs: Gritty, well-draining. 11 of 20 Hoary California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum) Sundry Photography / Getty Images The perennial hoary California fuchsia is native to the state’s foothills and coastal areas. These plants are special not just for their striking red flowers, but also for the fact that they tend to be the last native species flowering at the height of summertime. If you’re planting them in the cooler parts of the state up north, they will likely require no additional watering outside of normal rainfall. USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10.Sun Exposure: Full sun.Soil Needs: Well-draining. 12 of 20 Chalk Liveforever (Dudleya pulverulenta) devonanne / Getty Images A perfect choice for parts of California that are particularly susceptible to drought, the chalk liveforever is a succulent plant with sharply pointed rosettes that fade from pale green to white. These evergreen plants send up flower spikes in the spring and summer, as well as small reddish flowers that attract hummingbirds. USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 12.Sun Exposure: Full sun to indirect light.Soil Needs: Sandy, well-drained. 13 of 20 Blue Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp caerulea) Sundry Photography / Getty Images Also known as Mexican elderberry or Tapiro, the blue elderberry plant grows fast and can handle many different soil and drought conditions once established. It can be shaped into both a tree or shrub, reaching heights of up to 30 feet. Its purple berries that pop out in the fall are one of the most important sources of food for California’s wild birds. USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 10.Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.Soil Needs: Moderate to good drainage. 14 of 20 Shaw’s Agave (Agave shawii) Elvira Laskowski / Getty Images Popular for rocky flower beds or containers alongside other succulents, Shaw’s agave plants grow sharp green blades with pinkish teeth. They are mostly found along the Pacific coast of Baja in Mexico, but are also native to the coastal environments in Southern California near San Diego. They grow very slowly, and after reaching maturity flower individual rosettes, the mother plant dies leaving behind small offset plants. USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10.Sun Exposure: Full sun.Soil Needs: Sandy, well-draining. 15 of 20 Desert Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) Sundry Photography / Getty Images Blooming in early spring and dry-growing once established, the desert mallow is a small evergreen shrub whose flowers range from apricot-orange to bright red. It grows almost primarily in central and southern California, preferring the inland regions rather than the coast. Mature plants only reach about 3 feet in height and spread anywhere from 2 to 4 feet across. USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9.Sun Exposure: Full sun.Soil Needs: Dry, Well-draining. 16 of 20 San Miguel Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens) Nature, food, landscape, travel / Getty Images These rare plants are also known as red-flowered buckwheat due to their stout clusters of flowers ranging from pink to red and sometimes white. They’re originally endemic to the northern Channel Islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz, but are now more widely found on the California mainland. USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10.Sun Exposure: Full sun.Soil Needs: Well-draining. 17 of 20 Bush Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus) Gerald Corsi / Getty Images The bush monkeyflower grows tubular, long-petaled flowers in a variety of shades (though the most common is light orange). Their sticky leaves, which they use both to deter insects and help retain water in hot environments, have earned them the nickname “sticky monkey flower.” USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 6.Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.Soil Needs: Well-draining. 18 of 20 Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) Hal Beral / Getty Images As the name suggests, the hummingbird sage is a favorite of pollinators thanks to its fruity-smelling flowers that bloom from March to May. Colors are typically dark purple to bright pink, while the entire plant is covered in silky hairs making it soft to the touch. They’re found mainly along the southern and central coasts of California, and very rarely near the San Francisco Bay Area and Lake Tahoe. USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 11.Sun Exposure: Morning sun to shade.Soil Needs: Deep, well-draining. 19 of 20 Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata) Iva Vagnerova / Getty Images More commonly known as the bluehead gilia or blue field gilia, the globe gilia is found in practically every corner of California. It is an annual herb that grows blue, pink, white, or lavender spherical clusters of 50 to 100 blossoms, and is often seen mixed in with wildflowers due to its adaptability USDA Growing Zones: 1 to 10.Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.Soil Needs: Broad range of conditions. 20 of 20 Catalina Mariposa Lily (Calochortus catalinae) Noah Elhardt / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5 Native to Southern California, the Catalina mariposa lily is commonly found on the Channel Islands off the coast blooming from March to June. This plant almost never needs additional watering and is typically whitish-pink in color with a dark red base and orange center. USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10.Sun Exposure: Full sun.Soil Needs: Dry, well-draining. To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center.