Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Ushering in the autumn season is California fuchsia, or Epilobium canum. When so many other native perennials are already withering or dormant, E. canum explodes into garish brilliance, awakening thoughts of, dare I say, pumpkin spice. Hummingbirds take advantage of blooms full of nectar, so of course I will ask, what's not to love?
There are not too many negatives here. As with many herbaceous perennials, E. canum will die back to the ground where winters are sufficiently cold. That was the case in Sonoma County where I worked, and thankfully it would spring up year after year. In Southern California, it may stay green or semi-evergreen, so know before making the decision how it will perform in your project's region. It does readily recede and expand by underground rhizomes, so over a few years it may look weedy. For cottage gardens or native landscapes, that might be a good thing. This is not for a tightly controlled garden without committing to more weeding of unwanted sprouts or occasional lifting and dividing for thinning or containing. I have not grown it in containers, but I suspect it will perform well; look for tidier compact cultivars when available, or even a different species altogether, such as Epilobium septentrionale 'Wayne's Silver' I found at the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden.
For designers interested in creating a native perennial border, E. canum compliments California's native grasses, and its bloom time overlaps with late summer flowering Solidago velutina ssp. californica and Aster chilensis 'Purple Haze', but all this color will either clash or splash. If the color is too strong, look for Epilobium canum 'Marin Pink' (last photo below) for a soft pastel. These are only examples to highlight their use when other plants are finished for the season. For more ideas and cultivars, see Bart O'Brien's overview in Pacific Horticulture.
Finding it at West Valley College may be a challenge. New installations have disappeared, but I found it pop up in other places. Elusive. In my own garden, E. canum 'Catalina' was planted near our mailbox but has slowly migrated toward our front entry walk where it is beginning to blend with another fine native, Romneya coulteri.
West Valley College Campus Location: Epilobium canum
Student Services Center at Campus Center Walk
Long: 122° 0'41.90"W
University of California, Davis
Botanical Name: Epilobium canum (syn. Zauschneria californica; Epilobium californica)
Epilobium: Greek, epi and lobos, for "upon pod" to describe the corolla at the tip of the ovary.
Canum: Off white or ash color, probably regarding foliage color
Common Name: California fuchsia
Family Name: Onagraceae
Origin: Native; throughout California's foothills and coastal range, western United States, northern Mexico
Positioning: Middle ground, foreground, slopes
Garden Themes: Native, pollinator, cottage, hummingbird, chaparral
Uses: Mass, border, specimen, slope stabilization/erosion control, revegetation, green stormwater infrastructure, ground cover, accent
Type: Herbaceous perennial (evergreen to semi-evergreen with woody base)
Form: Erect, upright when blooming, mat, mound otherwise
Size: Highly variable based on cultivars: 6" to 4' tall and spreading
Outstanding Feature(s): Flower, foliage
Stems: Red when young, pubescent, turning light brown at maturity, exfoliating
Margin: Entire, serrate
Color: Gray-green, silver
Flower: Summer to autumn. Showy, prolific, tubular with protruding stamens; orange to red-orange (pink cultivar).
Fruit: Autumn. Inconspicuous capsule. May readily reseed.
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: 2-11, 14-24
USDA Zones: 8-11
Light: Full sun
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Low
Texture: Sand, clay
Moisture Retention: Well-drained. Accepts periods of dryness or sogginess.
pH: Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline
Tolerances: Drought, serpentine soil, deer
Problems: Under right conditions, may proliferate by seed or rhizome
Branch Strength: Weak
Insects: Leafhoppers, caterpillars, mealybugs
Disease: Not observed at time of posting
citations & attributions
Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.
Calscape. "California Fuchsia." California Native Plant Society, Sacramento. Accessed on October 11, 2021, from https://calscape.org/Epilobium-canum-(California-Fuchsia).
O'Brien, B. "Enjoying Zauchnerias." Pacific Horticulture, Berkeley. Accessed on October 11, 2021, from https://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/enjoying-zauschnerias/.
Taxon Report. "Epilobium canum (Greene) P. H. Raven." Calflora, Berkeley. Accessed on October 8, 2021, from https://www.calflora.org/app/taxon?crn=2984.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on October 11, 2021, from https://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS/Download_WUCOLS_IV_List/.
'Marin Pink' photo: "H20121006-5803—Epilobium canum 'Marin's Pink'—RPBG" by John Rusk is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).
All other photos by TELCS.