Monday, April 1, 2013

Ceanothus Saga (continued)

After Gary's noble foray into the wilds of Montaña De Oro, the least I could do was to go looking for my own Ceanothus thyrsiflorus.  

As luck would have it, this week I'm actually on a mini-vacation near the small coastal town of Gaulala in northern California.  I know there's a lot of ceanothus growing here, so I went for a walk-about to find whatever varieties of Ceanothus I could locate.  

Luckily, about 50 steps from my rental house there's a glorious Ceanothus--about 2 meters high and full of bumblebees.  This is located about 100 yards from the ocean at 38.74881, -123.51695  

Ceanothus "Dark Star"

This is a nice shot, as you can see the details of the flowers and the leaves (needed to positively identify it).  I wish I could say I worked my way through the Jepson's manual (the authoritative guide to California native plants), but without a hardcopy of that work, I did the best I could by searching for collections of Ceanothus until I found a native plants nursery that had a nearly identical photo.  That's not 100%, but the best I can do until I get to a library. It turns out that this is the variety known as "Dark Star," developed in the 1940s by the nurseryman Ken Taylor.  

While this plant is beautiful, it's not a native Ceanothus thyrsiflorus.  So I kept hunting. 

Finally, I found one in the local library's garden (at Sea Ranch, CA).  As lucky would have it, there was a very nice label, so there's no ambiguity here:  

And here's the closeup and distance shots, just for good measure. 

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus at the Sea Ranch, CA library

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus at the Sea Ranch, CA library

As I wander around this week, I'll take a few more pictures, just to increase my repertory of Ceanothus knowledge.  

For what it's worth, the book Ceanothus, by David Fross and Dieter Wilken, is a comprehensive reference on the plant and contains the following fascinating information:  
Ceanothus thyrisflorus, blueblossom, was the first California species to receive both botanical and horticultural recognition . . . . when it was collected by botanist Adelbert von Chamisso on the Russian ship Rurik’s  expedition to California in 1816. The Royal Horticultural Society received seeds of Ceanothus thyrisflorus from Richard Brinsley Hinds from the 1837 expedition of HMS Sulphur, making it the first California species introduced into European gardens." 

“The intriguing material reaching England from California early in the 19th century persuaded the Royal Horticultural Society to send a young Scotsman, David Douglas to the West Coast in search of ‘any interesting plants or seeds’ he found." 

Douglas’s collections on the west coast included several Ceanothus species, and the Douglas Fir, which he introduced into cultivation in Britain in 1827, and which is perhaps the most famous plant named after him of the total of 240 species of plants which he brought back to England."

(Unfortunately, although the book was scanned by Google, is available in partial-view only at -- for many more details of thyrsiflorus, you can "see in side the book" there.)  


  1. The California Blueblossom is another wild flower that we will always be looking for as we travel around California. Thanks for the good search suggestion Dan. This one got me out of the house and my wife even said "All that time you spend on the computer isn't too bad after all." ;-)

  2. Makes the idea of a trip to California all the more appealing. Anyone involved in this search will no doubt spot the blue blossom where ever our travels take us. What have I learned apart from the actual online search. Always good to have a social network on the ground.

  3. I love Google spelling correction. You may write Gaulala, Google Maps will nevertheless find Gualala.

    What a wonderfull name, by the way. Although it sounds like Spanish, it's actually derived from the Pomoan word for mouth river (as Wikipedia tells us; checkable on page 226 of Samuel Alfred Barrett's The EthnoGeography of the Pomo and Neighboring Indians).