Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Audio Play Icon Headphones Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Check Icon Print Icon Note Icon Heart Icon Filled Heart Icon Single Arrow Icon Double Arrow Icon Hamburger Icon TV Icon Close Icon Sorted Hamburger/Search Icon

Regional Picks: Deer-Resistant Plants – Northern California

Fine Gardening - Issue 169

1. Bladderpod


Name: Peritoma arborea (syn. Isomeris arborea)

USDA Hardiness Zones: 8 to 11

Size: Mounding to 3 feet

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; wide soil tolerance

Found along the coast, in inland valleys, and in the California deserts, this particularly smelly plant has shown an easy adaptation to home gardens. Bladderpod’s silver and green, three-parted leaves are beautiful in their own right and exude a cloying smell similar to the scent of burnt popcorn. But at the back of beds, this drought-tough subshrub shines with beautiful large clusters of yellow flowers over much of the year. Its odd, inflated fruits, each 1 to 2 inches long, give it its common name. Untouched by any mammal and tolerant of salt and drought, it begs for wider ornamental use.


2. Sticky Monkeyflower

Sticky Monkeyflower

Name: Diplacus aurantiacus (syn. Mimulus aurantiacus)

Zones: 8 to 11

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; wide soil tolerance

Perhaps other than Iris, no California native has received as much attention from hybridizers as the semiwoody, sticky monkeyflower. Pink, red, orange, yellow, and white, and several colors in between are now available as named cultivars. Excellent as a potted plant or in the landscape, the monkeyflower may die back to low branches in strong drought. Strong tip pruning after spring bloom will stimulate a second bloom and keep plants stronger and more compact. Its twiggy branches and resinous leaves offer little for any creature to eat. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bumblebees will crowd each other for access to the large, open blooms.


3. White Sage

White Sage

Name: Salvia apiana

Zones: 8 to 11

Size: 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

It would be hard to find another plant that smells more impressively than white sage. Favored by early Native Americans as incense, its smell is complex and overwhelming to some, including deer. The broad, silver-white leaves are evergreen and are enough to keep any gardener’s interest. In late spring, it is graced by a truly spectacular bloom. Tall, wandlike stalks rise 4 to 6 feet above the foliage bearing many clusters of small white flowers. The wands move with the wind and attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.


4. Laurel Sumac

Laurel Sumac

Name: Malosma laurina (syn. Rhus laurina)

Zones: 8 to 11

Size: 3 to 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun; tolerant of most soils; very drought-tough

Often unnoticed, laurel sumac is a common plant in frost-free areas of Southern California. Its large, slightly folded, narrow leaves are reminiscent of true laurel and have an odd, noxious smell. As a large, coarse, open shrub, it seems a tough fit for residential gardens. But its peculiar beauty and that it can be sheared to any shape make it a recommended choice. Its leaves have two tones—deep green above and pale green beneath. A red midrib and slight red margin enhance the colorful effect. New growth is intensely red. Fist-sized clusters of small white flowers are held aloft like torches in midsummer. Aging to burnt black fruits, they are effective in dried arrangements.


Bruce Reed is horticulturist for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Photos: millettephotomedia.com, Bill Johnson, courtesy of Bruce Reed, Doreen Wynja

View Comments


Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Related Articles

The Latest

Magazine Cover

Take your passion for plants to the next level

Subscribe today and save up to 44%

"As a recently identified gardening nut I have tried all the magazines and this one is head and shoulders above the pack."


View All

We hope you’ve enjoyed your free articles. To keep reading, become a member today.

Get complete site access to decades of expert advice, regional content, and more, plus the print magazine.

Start your FREE trial