Native Ceanothus: Wild Lilac

Do you have a spot that gets no summer water? Is it in full sun or partial shade, with quick drainage, maybe even on a slope? Ceanothus could be the perfect answer to what is often a troublesome spot for gardeners!

Our native wild lilacs range in form from groundcover to large shrub or small tree; deciduous and evergreen; flowers of creamy white to bright cobalt blue. What they all have in common, however, is their need for excellent drainage, lack of summer watering and nutritionally lean soil. Overwatering and overfeeding will shorten the lifespan of your Ceanothus considerably. In their native habitat, they reside in dry forests, dry rocky slopes, and dry wooded canyons.

This is the kind of setting you need to replicate in order to make Ceanothus happiest. But oh so worth the effort! Spring and summer, the slightly fragrant flowers are a magnet for hummingbirds, butterflies and especially bees. Evergreen varieties have the added benefit of providing seeds and cover for songbirds, too!

Here’s a sampling of the Oregon wild lilacs (disclaimer: not all of these are readily available).

Ceanothus cuneatus

Ceanothus cuneatus: Buckbrush

White or light blue flowers are kind of stinky (think daisies) in full bloom, but they’re worth it for attracting pollinators. Try planting it around the edges, away from outdoor dining areas. Small pretty evergreen gray–green leaves and spiny, branching habit.

Grows 6-8’ x 6-8’, best in full sun, hardy Z7.

monarch-caterpillar

Ceanothus integerrimus: Deer Brush

Foamy white or blue flower clusters in the late spring/early summer. Deciduous green leaves. Grows in openings of mixed forests, west and east of the Cascades and in the Columbia Gorge. While it still needs well–drained soil, this one can tolerate a bit more water than some of the others. (Photo credit Franz Xaver).

Grows 12’, full sun, hardy Z6.

Ceanothus prostratus

Ceanothus prostratus: Prostrate Ceanothus or Mahala Mat

Flowers appear in late spring to mid–summer and are light to deep blue clusters about 1” across. Small, thick oval leaves are spiny along their edges, almost like miniature holly leaves. Bright red seed pods.

Grows to about 2" tall, forming mats as large as 6’ across, often rooting from branches that touch the ground. Sun, hardy Z5.

Note: while this is a lovely trailing shrub, it is a challenge to grow west of the Cascades

Ceanothus cuneatus

Ceanothus sanguineus: Redstem Ceanothus, Oregon Tea Tree

Fragrant white flowers in late spring-early summer. Deciduous shrub, with green leaves and striking purplish stems. Not as showy as some other varieties perhaps, but one that is more adaptable, as it is native to areas both east and west of the Cascades. (Photo Credit Walter Siegmund.

Grows 8-10’, sun-pt shade, Z6.

Blue blossom ceanothus (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus) on Point Reyes Fire Lane Trail

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus: Blueblossom

Easily the most popular native Ceanothus, recognized for seas of bright blue flowers that are typically humming with bees when blooming. Evergreen leaves are dark green on the upper surface, lighter green beneath.

Grows natively from mid to southern Oregon and into northern California, west of the Cascades. This is a good choice for gardens providing that there is no irrigation in summer months.

Grows 8-12’ x 8-12’, sun-pt shade, Z7.

Ceanothus velutinus 4687

Ceanothus velutinus: Snowbrush, Mountain Balm

Evergreen leaves carry a distinct resin–like fragrance that can be pleasant in the warmth of summertime, when planted near a patio or other outdoor seating area. The flowers too are fragrant, held in dense clusters of white during the summer.

Grows up to 8’ x 8’, sun-pt shade, Z7.

Find Natives for your garden

We offer a great selection of Northwest Natives from spring through fall. The plants featured are highlighted favorites, but they do not represent ALL of the plants we carry. For a more complete list, see our Northwest Native Plant List.

Natives

Abies: Native Fir

Natives

Acer Circinatum: Vine Maple

Natives

Actaea: Bugbane

Natives

Aquilegia: Columbine

Natives

Arbutus: Pacific Madrone

Natives

Asarum: Wild Ginger

Natives

Asclepias: Milkweed

Natives

Attracting Butterflies

Natives

Camassia: Camas

Natives

Ceanothus: Wild Lilac

Natives

Cornus sericea

Red Twig Dogwood
Natives

Corylus cornuta

Beaked Hazelnut
Natives

Dodecatheon: Shooting Star

Natives

Edible Fruits

Natives

Erigeron: Fleabane

Natives

Eriophyllum: Oregon Sunshine

Natives

Native Ferns

Natives

Fragaria: Wild Strawberry

Natives

Gaultheria shallon: Salal

Natives

Holodiscus: Oceanspray

Natives

Attracting Hummingbirds

Natives

Native Iris

Natives

Lewisia: Bitterroot

Natives

Mahonia: Oregon Grape

Natives

Malus fusca

Western Crabapple
Natives

Osmaronia: Indian Plum

Natives

Penstemon: Beard Tongue

Natives

Philadelphus: Mock Orange

Natives

Physocarpus

Western Ninebark
Natives

Pinus: Native Pine

Natives

Quercus: Garry Oak

Natives

Rhamnus: Cascara

Natives

Ribes: Wild Currant

Natives

Rosa: Wild Rose

Natives

Rubus: Salmonberry

Natives

Sambucus: Elderberry

Natives

Sedum: Stonecrop

Natives

Sidalcea: Checker Mallow

Natives

Sisyrinchium

Blue-eyed Grass
Natives

Solidago: Goldenrod

Natives

Symphoricarpos: Snowberry

Natives

Synthyris: Native Figwort

Natives

Trillium: Wake Robin

Natives

Vaccinium: Huckleberry

Natives

Vancouveria: Inside-out Flower

Natives

Viburnum trilobum

Cranberrybush
Natives

Viola: Violet

Natives

Winter Interest