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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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May 06

Native Surprise

Posted on May 6, 2016 at 8:08 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

The never-ending task of weeding can often reveal surprises brought to us by native plants. This week offered such a surprise as I attempted to eliminate a few weeds from a rocked-in planter by the front of the house.

five spot
  Five spot (Nemophila maculata)
The area had already been weeded of unwanted vegetation a few weeks prior. A few errant stragglers caused me to stop and eliminate those that popped up since. There in the midst of the planter stood a beautiful, pansy-sized flower. Its delicate beauty was something to behold. The white, cup-shaped flower carried a dot of purple toward the outer edge of each of its five petals. I had cleared other similar fern-like vegetation from this area, not realizing the gift this native annual was going to share with me and anyone approaching the front entrance to the house!

The common name for this native is five spot, otherwise known as Nemophila maculata in the botanical world. It is easy to grow from seed and will reseed itself the following year. The plant loves the sun although will grow in shade, tolerates all types of soil, is a heavy bloomer, grows a mere 12 inches tall (making it attractive to grow in hanging containers), and it is a California native for those wanting to go native!

Poppy and root
California poppy and root
And speaking of natives, I would be remiss if I didn't mention our state flower, the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). These colorful orange flowers line the entrance to my house and each year find new nooks and crannies to seed. Some of these poppies are annuals; however, the first year I pulled on the spent plant at the end of the season I learned that's not always the case. The root system was thick and extended into the ground more than a foot. This condition is not typical of an annual and research revealed this native can also be perennial!

Native wildflowers are a treat to find in meadows, and I am learning to appreciate them in the garden as well. If you are inclined to try native flora in your garden, remember to treat them to their own hydrozone. Native plants typically do not require the attention we lavish on our ornamentals. Mix these wildflowers with some of the native grasses such as Muhlenbergia rigens (deer grass), or one of my favorite natives: purple needle grass (Nassella pulchra), or add the sweet blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) for contrasting colors.

Extending a happy May Day and happy Mother's Day!


Donald Gregory
May 6, 2016 at 5:06 PM
Five spot looks like a great plant for my railroad tie stairway. Is it deer resistant? Don G.
Charlene Burgi
May 10, 2016 at 8:36 AM
I don't have an answer except to say the plant is exposed to the deer and rabbits here and so far it is still standing! It may be one of those trial and error plantings. Luckily it is an annual and the price of the seed should be nominal. And, the bottom line, deer don't read books!

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