This Drought-Tolerant Plant Is Eye-Catching And Easy To Grow


My amole (Beschorneria yuccoides) is blooming and as it is adjacent to the sidewalk, passersby stop and stare. There really is no parallel to amole in the plant kingdom and it is seldom seen – although it is ridiculously easy to grow, being stoutly drought tolerant.

The flower is incredibly unique and evokes Audrey, the carnivorous plant in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Each flower stalk can grow up to six feet in length with small pendant flower clusters appearing every few inches as each section of the stalk opens up. Although related to yuccas and agaves, amole foliage is soft and smooth. And although it produces pups like agaves do, it is not monocarpic; that is, it does not die after flowering but persists for years.

In the language of the Aztecs, “amole” means detergent or soap and refers to the fact that this plant’s roots, in the manner of agave and yucca roots generally, have cleansing properties. San Marcos Growers has four types of Beschorneria in stock; to find a nursery near you that carries their plants, go to and click on “Retail Locator” on the left margin of the home page.

A reader sent me a photo of a black calla lily (Arum palaestinum) requesting its identity. Black calla lily has the same scape (curvaceous bract) and spadix (vertical stalk that holds many minute flowers) of the familiar white calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica), except in black. It is native to Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. It grows from a tuber as does Italian arum (Arum italicum), a stunning plant where foliage venation is outlined in white on leaf surfaces with bright orange fruit clusters resembling small ears of corn appearing after leaves have withered in summer’s heat. Both of these plants are best grown in partial shade.

Forever in search of plants to grow in that parkway strip between sidewalk and street, I came upon an ornamental grass flowering heavily in just such a spot in Beverly Hills. I have since learned this attractive grass is known as feathertop (Pennisetum villosum), and it has been adorned with thick, white bottlebrush flowers. Although it won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, I am not sure if feathertop was planted where I saw it growing or if it blew in as a volunteer.

Interestingly enough, this species is classified as invasive by the California Invasive Plant Council although in more than four decades of plant watching in Southern California, I have never seen it until now, whether in cultivated gardens or wilderness settings. I should also point out that whereas feathertop normally grows to a height of one to two feet, it was completely flattened in the parkway strip where it grew, evidence that it was being regularly trampled but took such abuse in stride and just kept on flowering. Feathertop spreads by both seed and rhizomes and its flowers are prized for vase arrangements.

Last month, I asked for locations of notable oak trees and was informed by John Spaulding of notable specimens in Woodland Hills, one at the corner of Fenwood Avenue and Dolorosa Street and another at the terminus of Venture Boulevard near Valley Circle Boulevard.

Lieu Au wrote me about the Pechanga oak, south of Temecula, whose age is estimated at between 1,000 and 2,000 years old. It is the oldest coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) in the western hemisphere and continues to produce a crop of acorns every two to three years. Finally, Mark Patterson’s property in Newbury Park is adjacent to a coastal live oak with a girth of 15 feet that appears to be two to three hundred years old. The oak is growing within the 12,700 acres of the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency.

“Botany Blitz,” a special event being sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society in conjunction with the UC Irvine Herbarium, will be held on Sunday, April 16th, in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Trabuco Canyon. Volunteer participants will be divided into teams, each surveying a different area of the park for the purpose of identifying the native plants in that area. Each team will be led by a botanist but anyone can participate, regardless of their level of native plant knowledge. You must register and sign a liability release by April 9th and can do this online at

The 20th annual Native Plant Garden Tour, sponsored by the Theodore Payne Foundation, will be held on April 15th and 16th, featuring 37 gardens in the Los Angeles area. For details about the tour and ticket purchase, visit

The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) has removed mandatory emergency restrictions on water use for seven million customers. These restrictions applied to all of Los Angeles as well as to many other cities from Oxnard to Fontana. However, MWD advises that we check with our individual water agency to ascertain which water use restrictions may still be in place since each agency can determine its own policy regarding such restrictions.

California native of the week: Lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia) and sugar bush (Rhus ovata) are so closely related that it makes sense to mention them together. Both are showing pinkish-white flowers now which, at peak bloom, may practically obscure the plants’ foliage. Both plants are adaptable to a wide variety or soil types, as long as drainage is adequate, and may grow in full sun to somewhat shady exposures. They make excellent screens and may be trimmed into formal hedges as well, although their ultimate height is unpredictable, as it ranges from three to ten feet. It is not always easy to tell these plants apart although sugar bush has leaves that are slightly folded or taco shaped. The fruit of lemonade berry is larger than that of sugar bush and makes a rejuvenating drink when seeped in water. These plants can both live for many decades and, should they begin to look piqued, a hard pruning almost down to the ground can bring about renewed and explosive growth. When pruning, wear gloves and long sleeves due to their dermatitic sap. After all, poison ivy and poison oak are relatives of these two natives.


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