Updated: Aug 19
This cheerful cultivar of a native species is on my wish list to personally grow, but so far my success has been limited. My first attempt was only slightly inland from the Sonoma Coast, a climate running counter to its native habitat in the Sierra foothills. That said, Oregon State University, Corvalis, has a specimen on campus at Wilkenson Hall (I would love to know how it is performing).
Since my unsuccessful attempt, I have not found a suitable location, which is why I am intently observing their performance at West Valley College. Planted only a year ago, they bloom prolifically in late spring, early summer, just wen students are ready for a break. C. californica 'Elizabeth' is more compact than the original species, further lending itself to ornamental gardens.
Commonly called bush or tree anemone, their rarity entices desirability, particularly since the large blooms are showy and lend themselves to a sub-tropical effect (unusual for a California native). However, their temperamental performance plagues other green thumbs as well. They may survive a couple years with irrigation, but once established, regularly scheduled irrigation can be a problem, particularly in heavy soils that are so common in the Bay Area. Let's look at their native habitat once again, a tiny spot on the California map where soils are thin, rocky, and fast draining; the weather is hot, dry for long periods. If bush anemones are going to survive in an ornamental landscape, we need to do better at providing similar conditions. For example, C. californica will likely perform better with irregular deep watering once they are established. This means reducing irrigation, which may be difficult if other plants on the same watering line require regular moisture.
Currently, the plants at West Valley College are performing well, although one has since died. As they establish, we can observe their performance over time. Their use as a foundation planting for a new building creates a deep green band, emphasizing the modern architecture with horizontal lines. They are also in the right lighting condition along the north façade. Promising! Should they succeed, they will also act as a deep green background for the plants in front. This is what designers mean when they reference "background planting." If anyone reading this post has had success with this coveted native shrub, I would enjoy hearing from you in the comments below.
Listed as threatened by the State of California.
West Valley College Campus Location: Carpenteria californica 'Elizabeth'
Student Services Center (north facing)
Long: 122° 0'40.94"W
Botanical Name: Carpenteria californica 'Elizabeth'
Carpenteria: Honoree, physician and botanist William Marbury Carpenter
Californica: Native to California
Elizabeth: Honoree, botanist Elizabeth McClintock
Common Name: Bush anemone; tree anemone
Family Name: Hydrangaceae
Origin: Native; Sierra Foothills within Fresno and Madera Counties
Positioning: Oak woodland, chaparral/scrubland, background, hillsides/stream embankments
Garden Themes: Native/Mediterranean/Dry, woodland, bird/butterfly
Uses: Specimen, informal hedge, background, mass, slope stabilization
Type: Evergreen shrub
Form: Round, upright, columnar
Size: 6' tall and 5' wide
Outstanding Feature(s): Flowers
Bark: Gray, thin, peeling
Margin: Entire, but rolled under lengthwise
Color: Dark green
Surface: Smooth, glossy
Flower: Spring to Summer. Showy, large, fragrant, white with prominent yellow stamens. Terminal cluster, or cyme.
Fruit: Summer. Conical, bright green turning brown with red-brown seeds.
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: 7-9, 14-24
USDA Zones: 8-10
Light: Full sun to partial shade (blooms more in sun, but leaves can burn)
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Moderate
Texture: Rocky, loam (native soil is decomposed granite)
Moisture Retention: Well-drained
pH: Highly acidic to highly alkaline
Tolerances: Possibly resistant to oak root fungus
Branch Strength: N/A
Disease: Unknown at time of posting
citations & attributions
Breen, P. "Carpenteria californica." Landscape Plants: Oregon State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Horticulture, Corvalis. Accessed on July 27, 2021, from https://landscapeplants.oregonstate.edu/plants/carpenteria-californica.
California Natural Diversity Database. (July 2021). "Special Vascular Plants, Bryophytes, and Lichens List." California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sacramento. Accessed on July 27, 2021, from https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=109383&inline.
Calflora: Taxon Report. "Carpenteria californica." Calflora, Berkeley. Accessed on July 27, 2021, from https://www.calflora.org/app/taxon?crn=1658.
Calscape. "Bush Anemone." California Native Plant Society, Sacramento. Accessed on July 27, 2021, from https://calscape.org/Carpenteria-californica-(Bush-Anemone).
Jepson eFlora: Taxon page. "Carpenteria californica." The Jepson Herbarium, University of California, Berkeley. Accessed on July 27, 2021, from https://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=17970.
Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.
Products. "Carpenteria californica 'Elizabeth'." San Marcos Growers, Santa Barbara. Accessed on July 27, 2021, from https://www.smgrowers.com/products/plants/plantdisplay.asp?plant_id=355.
UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County. "Carpenteria californica - Bush Anemone." University of California, Sonoma County. Accessed on July 27, 2021, from http://sonomamg.ucanr.edu/Plant_of_the_Month/Carpenteria_californica/.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on July 27, 2021.
All photos by TELCS.