Cold weather has destroyed citrus and other agricultural crops across California. Frost damaged plants can be seen in most residential yards. But if you look past the destruction, there is something important to note: the native plants are fine.
When I began to investigate the damage in our yard, I was struck by the resilience of the native plants. Not only had they survived the frosty cold, but some, like the white flowering currant (Ribes indecorum), were blooming and happy.
In this photo you can see the cascading white currant flowers, while the blackened foliage at the bottom of the picture is one of many frost damaged spider plants (Chlorophytum).
On January 13, 2007, Los Angeles recorded its lowest winter temperature. In Woodland Hills, we had several nights between 26 - 30˚F. On the morning of the 13th there was a quarter inch layer of ice across our bird bath. I removed the layer of ice and put it on the ground. Throughout the day, the ice never melted; unheard of in sunny California.
Not only was the disk of ice still on the ground the next morning, the water in the two-inch-deep bird bath was frozen solid. The band-tailed pigeons were walking on their own ice rink, quite mystified.
Throughout the yard, even in protected areas, exotic species, like the Mexican agave (Agave attenuata), were drooping with frost damage. While only two feet away, the newly planted native Channel Island tree poppy (Dendromecon harfordii) was unscathed.
On the exposed hillside, the California holly or toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) thrived, unconcerned with the bitter temperatures.
Even in the more protected front of the house, it was quite obvious that the brilliant green foliage of the “Yankee point” California lilac (Ceanothus gloriosus horizontalis) was unharmed by the frost while the African daisy (Osteospermum fruticosum) turned yellow and wilted.
If creating habitat around your home for native animals isn’t enough of a reason to change your landscaping over to natives, consider the changing weather. Native plants are not only more adapted to the dry hot California summers and require less water, they also are more resilient to freezing cold.
Be water wise, habitat wise and climate wise, plant natives.