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"Simple" Plant Key


     The Identification key below is a dichotomous key (two alternative choices are always given from which you choose the appropriate plant characteristic)  Be sure to read both choices before making a decision.

     To use this key, you should have in hand a representative portion of the plant you wish to identify, including both leaves and flowers (not just the flowers or leaves alone).  When you gather samples, you should also make a note as to the plants relative size (is the plant a tall tree, medium sized bushy shrub, or a low matted shrub)  Always start with choice number 1 and move down the key until you have identified your sample.

     (A glossary is available if you need help with the terminology in this key)

Key to the Common Plants of Orange County
1. Plant is grass-like (monocot- leaves are long and slender with parallel veins)


1A. Plant is not grass-like (dicot- have net-veined leaves)


2. Plant has colorful flower (blue, red, orange, purple, white, etc.)


2A. Plant does not have colorful flower (grain-like flower stalks)


3. Plant is tree-like


3A Plant is not tree-like


4. Plant is cactus-like (has spines)


4A. Plant is not cactus-like


5. Plant is vine-like, climbing, or parasitic


5A. Plant is not vine-like, climbing, or parasitic


6. Plant is usually less than 3 feet tall


6A. Plant is usually greater than 3 feet tall


7. Plant has leaves that are toothed, lobed, or divided

CLICK HERE     (Flowers:  red   |   yellow/orange   |   purple/blue   |   white)


Plant has leaves that have smooth edges (margins)

CLICK HERE     (Flowers:  red   |   yellow/orange   |   purple/blue   |   white)

8. Plant has leaves that are toothed, lobed, or divided

CLICK HERE     (Flowers:  red   |   yellow/orange   |   purple/blue   |   white)

8A Plant has leaves that have smooth edges (margins)

CLICK HERE     (Flowers:  red   |   yellow/orange   |   purple/blue   |   white)

Grass-like with colorful flower
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English Plantain

Plantago lanceolata

Perennial plant with basal leaves.  Leaves lanceolate; blades 2 to 8 inches long.  Flowering spike dense, conic to ovoid, 3/4 to 3 inches long.  Common weed in moist places.  Blooms from April to August


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Mariposa Lily

Calochortus plummerae

Flowers lilac to purple; bowl-shaped; erect.  Inner surface of petals densely covered with long, yellow hairs.  Perennial with stems 1 to 2 feet high and basal leaves narrow linear, 8 to 16 inches long and about 1/2 inch wide, withering at flowering time. Found on dry rocky slopes and brushy areas below 5,000 feet elevation.  Blooms from May to July

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Wild Hyacinth (Blue Dick)

Brodiaea pulchella

Stem a slender, smooth scape 1 to 2 feet long.  Leaves 6 to 16 inches long and 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide.  Umbel subtended by 4 ovate, purplish bracts.  Flowers in a dense head-like cluster of 4 to 10 flowers.  Very common plant on dry hills and plains.  

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Common Plantain

Plantago major

Perennial plant with basal leaves and acaulescent or leafless stem.  Leaves ovate, longitudinally ribbed with conspicuous nerves which converge at base and apex.  Flowers in a narrow, dense terminal spike, 2 to 16 inches long.  Common weed of damp places.


Typha angustifolia

Tall perennial 3 to 5 feet tall, much like Cat-Tail. Leaves 1/4 inch wide and convex on the back.  Spikes 3 to 8 inches long with an interval of about 11/2 to 21/2 inches between male and female flowers.  Common marsh plant.  Often found in subalkaline water.

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Yucca (Our Lord's Candle)

yucca whipplei

Leaves dark green in a dense basal rosette.  Blades linear; 1 to 3 feet long, ending in a rigid terminal spine.  A rather stout single flowering stalk 4 to 8 feet tall rises from the center of the rosette.  Flowers creamy white, with segments 1 to 11/1 inches long.  Common plant of spring on dry chaparral slopes.  Sometimes resembles lighted candles on the hillsides.

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Typha latifolia

Leaves perennial with thick, spongy stems 3 to 8 feet high.  Leaves long linear, 5/16 to 5/8 inches wide, flat and sheathing at the base.  Flowers numerous in a cylindrical terminal spike 4 to 7 inches long and up to 11/4 inches thick.  Spike re-brown at maturity.  Common marsh plant.
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 Blue-eyed Grass

Sisyrinchium bellum

Grass-like, glaucous perennial 4 to 16 inches high, with a more or less winged stem.  Leaves mostly basal and grass-like; up to 3/16 inch wide.  flowers subtended by a long leaf-like bract.  Perianth segments blue-violet; about 1/2 inch long with an emarginate apex and a pointed or mucro tip.  Rather common plant in grassy areas throughout the chaparral.

Dsc00627.jpg (62139 bytes) Pampas Grass    
Grass-like with "grain-like" flower stalk
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Ripgut Brome

Bromus diandrus
Erect tall grass with real long dense flowers that hang to side.  Flower change purple, branches whorled.

Dsc00224.jpg (107318 bytes) Bunchgrass
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Foxtail Barley

Hordeum leporinum

 Compressed flower flat if look close.  Flowers sessile on spike.

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California Brome

Bromus carinatus

Erect grass near water with long grass flower.  1 to 5 flowers stacked on top of the other with long spikes from each other

Red Fescue grass

Gramineai Festuca Rubra

Grass-like; whisps of soft hair like leaves and feathery at top.  

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Fountain Grass

Pennisetum setaceum


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Rabbit's Foot grass

Polypogon monospeliensis

Short grass with furry top 6 to 18 inches high.  Single blade or leaf at base of soft dense flower head.  Joints on stem./

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Wild Oats

Avena Fatua

1 to 3 1/2 feet high; loose and open arrangement of single spikelets, in a panicle.  



Red Brome

Bromus rubens

6 to 18 inches high with spikelets appearing like a broom with many hairs.  11/2 to 3 inches with tiny flowers

Creeping Bent Grass

Agrostis stolonifera

Soft Chess

Bromus hordeaceus

California oatgrass

Bromus carnata var. carnata

Common Tule
Scirpus acutus var. occidentalis

Slender Wild Oat

Avena barbata 



Close-up of spikelets.

Plant is tree-like
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Coast Live Oak

Quercus agrifolia

Broad topped evergreen tree.  Leaves convex on upper surface, oval to elliptic, usually sharp or spiny toothed; mostly 1 to 2 inches long.  Very common tree of the coast ranges.  

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Blue Elderberry

Sambucul mexicana

Tree or tall shrub, 6 to 25 feet tall.  Leaves pinnate compound with mostly 5 leaflets.  Leaflets ovate, finely toothed with an acuminate apex.  Flowers in a flat topped spreading inflorescence 11/2 to 4 inches across.  Individual flowers small.  Sepals 5; stamens 5.  Corolla 5 lobed. Fruit a blue berry with a whitish covering or "bloom".  Common tree in canyons and valleys.

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Tree Tobacco 

Nicotiana glauca

Shrub or small tree, 6 to 25 feet tall with drooping branches.  leaves glabrous, entire, ovate or ovate-lanceolate; 1 to 3 inches long, long petioled. Flowers pale yellow, long tubular, contracted at the throat; about 11/2 inches long.  Common shrub in waste places.

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Arroyo Willow

Salix lasiolepis

Low spreading tree 6 to 30 feet tall with somewhat drooping branches.  Leaves lanceolate, 21/2 to 4 inches long.  Common tree along stream banks and in dry stream beds.  Catkins appear in early spring before the leaves;  February to April.

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Western Sycamore 

Platanus racemosa

Tall tree with mottled grey and brown bark.  Bark is smooth and peels or exfoliates, producing a camouflaged appearance.  Young twigs tomentose.  Leaves large, deeply 5 lobed, tomentose beneath; 6 to 10 inches across.  flowers unisexual in globose heads forming little spiny balls in fruit.  Balls about 1 inch across hanging from tree in strings of 3 or 4.  common tree in moister areas such as along stream



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Monterey Pine Dsc00612.jpg (60616 bytes) California Pepper Tree
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Baccharis viminea

Willow-like shrub or small tree, 6 to 12 feet high; glabrous or slightly resinous.  Leaves linear lanceolate, 1 to 4 inches long; dentate or entire.  Heads in compact terminal clusters at ends of branches.  Heads 3/16 inch high; whitish.  Involucral bracts imbrimcated and slightly papery or scarious.  very common plant in moist places, particularly along stream banks and in dry stream beds.

Dsc00620.jpg (63154 bytes) Tamarisk

Big Leaf Maple

Acer macrophylum

Tree, 15 to 100 feet tall.  Leaves large, 4 to 10 inches across, deeply 3 to 5 parted.  Lobes irregularly toothed.  Leaves green above, and paler beneath.  Flowers small, greenish, in drooping clusters.  Fruit a samara with 3/4 to 11/2 inch wings.  Main body of fruit hairy and tawny.  Common tree in canyons and along stream banks.

(photo by Hewlett/Cal Photos)





Populus fremontii

Tree 35 to 90 feet tall.  Leaves deciduous, deltoid, 11/4 to 2 3/4 inches long; coarsely serrate.  Tree commonly found in moist areas along dry stream beds

(photo by Weber/Cal Photos)





Black Cottonwood

Populus trichocarpa

Tree 100 to 180 feet tall.  Leaves serrate, with acuminate apex; 11/4 to 2 3/4 inches long.  Common along streams.  

(photo by Brousseau/Cal Photos)



Torrey Pine   

Pinus torreyana  

Needles in fascicles of five. Note male strobili.

Plant is cactus-like
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Coast Cholla

Opuntia prolifera

Erect plant with 1 to several fleshy cylindrical jointed trunks 3 to 6 feet tall; densely covered with hooked yellow spines 3/8 to 3/4 inch long.  Joints easily detached and often found lying on ground.  Spines extremely painful if caught in skin and difficult to extract because of the minute hook on tip.  Flowers showy, rose-red, with many imbricated waxy petals slightly more than 1/4 inch long.  Sepals indistinguishable from petals.  Stamen numerous.  Common on dry slopes fairly near the coast.

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Prickly Pear Cactus

Opuntia littoralis

Erect plant up to 5 feet high, spreading to form extensive masses.  Joints flattened with spines coming from specialized points called areoles.  Flowers pale yellow; showy, with many imbricated waxy petals 11/2 to 2 inches long.  Stamens many.  Fruit pear-shaped; 2 to 21/2 inches long at maturity; reddish purple. Fruits edible.  common in dry washes.  

Opuntia littoralis (coastal prickly-pear) is similar i appearance but occurs along the immediate coast

Plant is vine-like

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Witch's Hair


Stems orange, hair-like, waxy; twining over other vegetation, sometimes forming dense colorful tangled masses.  Leaves reduced to scales and not conspicuous.  Flowers small and white, waxy, occurring in clusters.  It is mostly found on the common chaparral shrubs including sugar bush, gooseberry, monkey flower, encelia, and nightshade.  

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Wild Cucumber (Manroot)

Marah macrocarpus

Climbing, trailing plant with tendrils.  Leaves heart-shaped; 5 to 7 lobed; 2 to 4 inches across.  Flowers unisexual; small in axils of the leaves.  female flowers with a 5-lobed white corolla.  Fruit a green, prickly, ovoid gourd 3 to 5 inches long and 2 to 31/2 inches across.  Common plan t of early spring along roadsides and dry areas of the chaparral.


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Phoradendron villosum

Stem woody, brittle, penetrating into host.  Leaves entire; thick, ovate with obtuse apex. Flowers unisexual, dioecious, inconspicuous.  Fruit a white berry 3/16 inch in diameter.  It is mostly parasitic on oak.  Mistletoe blooms in late fall or winter and can be seen as a dense, straggly cluster among the upper branches of the host.

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Convolvulus arvensis

Prostrate, twining plant with triangular or sagittate leaves.  Leaves 1/2 to 11/2 inches long with rounded apex.  Flowers in leaf axils on short, slender peduncles.  Corolla 5-lobed; funnelform; pleated; white to pale pink.  Flowers subtended by 2 small linear bracts about 1/4 or more inches below the flower.  Very common, troublesome weed of lawn and garden.



Clematis lasiantha

Climbing woody perennial with pubescent stems.  Leaves opposite, compound.  Leaflets 3; ovate; broadly toothed or lobed.  Flowers showy with 4 to 5 white, pubescent sepals 1/2 to 1 inch long.  Stamens numberous. Fruit a tailed achene densely clustered in a powderpuff-like ball.  Common plant in chaparral canyons.

(photo by Hewlett/Cal Photos)



Plant less than 3' tall with leaves that are toothed, lobed, or divided

Red Flowers

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Red-stem Filaree

Erodium cicutarium

Low decumbent annual with slender stems.  Leaves pinnately dissected, first forming a rosette on the ground.  Flowers in terminal umbel with petals 1/4 inch long.  The tips of the sepals are setose or hairy.  A very common weed throughout the area.  



California Wild Rose

Rosa californica

Shrub with stout curved prickles.  Leaves compound with 5 to 7 leaflets.  Leaflets oval, serrate, and pubescent beneath.  Sepals 5, lanceolate.  Petals 5, pink to rose, showy; up to 1 inch long.  Stamens numerous.  Common in moist areas.


(photo by Hewlett/Cal Photos)

Yellow/Orange Flowers

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Pineapple Weed

Matricaria matricarioides

Low annual, erect and glabrous; 4 to 12 inches high.  Leaves pinnatifid into linear divisions.  heads 1 to several, cone-shaped, sometimes hidden among the leaves.  Flowers all disk, yellowish green.  Very common weed of waste places


Xanthium strumarium

Coarse annual 11/2 to 4 feet high with short, stiff appressed hairs giving a scabrous or sandpapery texture.  Leaves alternate, large, deltoid with a truncate base; 1 to 5 inches long and wide on petioles as long as leaf blades.  Leaves dentate or serrate.  Female heads ovoid, becoming a bur 3/4 to 11/2 inches long; with numerous stout prickles and 2 short incurved beaks at the top.  Common weed in waste places.

Encelia Daisy

Encelia californica

Glabrous or sparingly pubescent perennial, woody at the base and growing in bushy clumps 2 to 5 feet high.  Leaves ovate to lanceolate, acute, 1 to 21/2 inches long; 3/8 to 11/4 inches wide; alternate, entire petiolate.  Heads showy, 2 or more inches across.  Rays yellow; disk red-brown.  Very common shrub of chaparral slopes and coastal bluffs.

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Brass Buttons

Cotula coronopifolia

Low, spreading perennial with glabrous and some what fleshy stems.  Leaves alternate, deeply toothed or pinnatifid; 3/4 to 2 3/4 inches long with scarious sheaths.  Heads bright yellow, compact disk flowers.  Very common plant in moist marshy areas, including salt marshes.

California Poppy

Eschscholzia californica

Flowers yellow to orange.  Leaves dissected into linear segments.  Glaucous herb with stems sometimes up to 2 feet long.  Leaves several times dissected into linear segments.  Flowers showy, bright yellow or orange.  Sepals 2; united, falling as the petals enlarge.  Petals 4; 3/4 to 21/2 inches long. Stamens numerous.

(photo by Charles Weber/Cal Photos)



Star Thistle

Centaurea melitensis

Annual 1 to 21/2 feet high with some cottony pubescence, particularly in the inflorescence.  Leaves linear lanceolate, entire above, lobed below; sessile with a decurrent base.  Heads globose, averaging 1/2 inch across.  Involucral bracts ending in a long spine.  flowers bright yellow.  Common plant along roadsides, in fields and in dry disturbed areas.

(photo by Charles Weber/Cal Photos)




Taraxacum officinale

Glabrous herb with leaves all basal and more or less flat on the soil.  Leaves deeply pinnatifid or toothed, 2 to 12 inches long.  Heads terminal on a reddish hollow scape 2 to 8 inches high.  Heads 3/4 to 2 inches across; rays bright yellow.  Achenes long beaked with a tuft of capillary hairs at the summit.  Very common weed of lawn and waste places.

(photo by Brousseau and Charles Weber/Cal Photos)



Mountain Dandylion

Agoseris retrorsa


Purple/Blue Flowers

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Bush Lupine

Lupinus albifrons

Low shrub, woody at the base.  Leaves palmate compound with 5 to 11 leaflets.  Herbage silky pubescent.  Leaflets 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide, oblanceolate.  Flowers in racemes 4 to 12 inches long.  Petals mostly red or blue-violet, 1/2 to 3/4 inches long.

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Black Sage

Salvia mellifera

Shrub 3 to 6 feet tall.  Leaves elliptical, crenulate, green above, slightly tomentose and lighter beneath.  Flowers in compact whorls, averaging 3/4 to 11/4 inch in diameter.  Flowers 2-lipped, pale blue to white, 1/2 inch long.  Very common shrub of dry slopes with a strong odor when leaves are crushed.

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Italian Thistle

Carduus pycnocephalus

Annual with prickly stem and leaves; 1 to 6 feet tall.  Leaves are pinnatifid with spine tipped teeth; 4 to 5 inches long and 3 inches wide.  Leaves are greenish and slightly woolly above and densely white woolly beneath.  Leaves extend down the stem forming a spinose wing.  Heads are rose-purple, about 1/2 inch wide and occur in clusters of 2 to 5 at the ends of the stem.  

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Milk Thistle

Silybum marianum

Tall, stout herb 3 to 6 feet tall.  Leaves large, green with white mottling on the veins; sinuate dentate with spinose teeth.  Leaves clasping with an auriculate base but leaves not decurrent down the stem.  Heads large and globose, 1 to 2 inches across.  Involucral bracts broad at the base and spine tipped.  Flowers red-violet to purple.  Common plant in waste places, fields, and along roadsides.

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Phacelia parryi

Erect annual 4 to 16 inches high;  hispid and glandular pubescent.  Leaves ovate, 1/2 to 2 inches long, dentate; petiolate below but sessile above.  Flowers in a loose coiled inflorescence.  Corolla dark blue to purple with a pale center; rotate; 3/8 to 3/4 inch long. Stamens well exerted.  Common on dry slopes, particularly after burns.  


wild artichoke.jpg (62051 bytes) Wild Artichoke


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Limonium sinuatum

White Flowers

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Poison Oak  

Rhus diversiloba

Shrub with stems 3 to 6 feet tall. Flowers small and inconspicuous. Leaves 3-foliate.  Leaflets ovate to roundish, shining green above; turning dark red in the fall.  A very common plant of shaded, moist areas.  Plant secretes a non-volatile juice which is a STRONG SKIN IRRITANT CAUSING SEVERE BLISTERING AND ITCHING.

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Convolvulus arvensis

Prostrate, twining plant with triangular or sagittate leaves.  Leaves 1/2 to 11/2 inches long with rounded apex.  Flowers in leaf axils on short, slender peduncles.  Corolla 5-lobed; funnelform; pleated; white to pale pink.  Flowers subtended by 2 small linear bracts about 1/4 or more inches below the flower.  Very common, troublesome weed of lawn and garden.



Achillea millefolium

Perennial weed 1 to 31/2 feet high.  Leaves pinnately dissected into very fine fern-like divisions.  Heads small and numerous in a flat-topped inflorescence.  Involucral bracts soft pubescent and distinctly imbricated.  Rays white; 5 in number; about 1/16 inch long.  Common weed of summer.

Spiny Clotbur

Xanthium spinosum

Much branced and bushy annual 1 to 31/2 feet high.  Stems bearing numerous stout yellow 3-pronged spines in the leaf axils.  Leaves green above, silvery beneath; lanceolate, entire or 3 to 5 lobed; 1 to 3 inches long.  Flowers in unisexual heads; in terminal and axillary clusters.  Fruit in a bur.  Common weed of late summer in fields and waste places.

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Australian Saltbush

Atriplex semibaccata

Prostrate perennial, scurfy or mealy when young.  Leaves numerous, mostly less than 1 inch long, oblong, toothed, or entire.  Flowers in the axils and terminal.  Fruits slightly fleshy, often red at maturity; 1/4 inch long or less; rhombic.  Weed of alkaline soils. 

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Marrubium vulgare

Flowers white.  Calyx with 10 spiny teeth.  Leaves roundish.  Perennial herb 8 to 24 inches high with square stem but no mint odor.  Herbage densely white woolly, particularly when young.  Common weed in waste places and old fields.  the dried, sharp toothed calyx becomes a bur.

Plant is less than 3' tall with leaves that have smooth edges (margins)

Red Flowers

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Indian Paintbrush

Castilleja stenantha

Pubescent annual; 1 to 5 feet high.  Leaves 3/4 to 3 inches long; linear-lanceolate with entire margins.  Flowers dull red-yellow, 1 to 11/4 inches long.  Sepals and bracts red-tipped.  Bracts entire.  Fruit a capsule 1/2 inch in diameter.  Frequent in wet places.

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Red Bush Monkey Flower

Mimulus puniceus

Erect shrub wigh glabrous to slightly pubescent herbage.  Leaves linear-lanceolate, 1 to 3 inches long; entire to finely toothed.  Flowers are brick red, 1 to 2 inches long.  

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Sea Fig

Mesembryanthemum chilense

Succulent perennial forming extensive mats over dunes and other areas.  Leaves thick, 3-sided, 21/2 to 4 inches long.  Flowers rose-violet with numerous petals and stamens; 1 to 2 inches across.  Petals linear.  Common on dunes and bluffs along the coast.

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Sea Lettuce

Dudleya caespitosa

Stout succulent perennial, 4 to 14 inches high with leaves in a basal rosette.  Leaves are thick, green; 2 to 8 inches long; oblong lanceolate.  Flowers are yellow to orange-red.  Flowers occur on branches up to 4 inches long with up to 14 flowers.

Chalk Live-forever

Dudleya pulverulenta

Robust plant densely covered with a white chalky powder.  Basal leaves thick and large, in a rosette several inches across; spathulate-ovate; 3 to 10 inches long.  Upper leaves much reduced, scale-like and clasping.  Flowers in coiled racemes on terminal branches of an elongate flowering stem 10 to 16 inches high.  Petals red; 1/2 to 3/4 inch long; slightly fused at base and erect, not spreading at maturity. Fairly common on sides of rocky cliffs and canyons

(photo by Dougherty/Cal Photos)

Windmill Pink

Silene gallica

Erect annual, glandular hirsute, with stem 4 to 16 inches high.  Leaves opposite, oblanceolate with a mucronate tip.  Flowers in a one-sided inflorescence.  Calyx urn-shaped; villous; 5-toothed, 10 nerved; becoming inflated in age; 1/4 to 3/8 inch long; constricted at top.  Petals 5, clawed, pink to white, twisted slightly, resembling a windmill.  Stamens 10.  Common weed in lawn and garden.

(photo by  Webber /Cal Photos)

Coastal Dudleya    

Dudleya lanceolata  


Yellow/Orange Flowers

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Bermuda Buttercup

Oxalis pes-caprae

Glabrous perennial with scaly bulbs and basal leaves.  Petioles 4 to 8 inches long.  Leaves tri-foliate.  Leaflets obcordate-bilobed, up to 1 inch long.  Flowers yellow, showy, 1/2 to 1 inch long.  Petals, sepals, and styles 5; stamens 10, 5 long and 5 short.  Occurs in orchards and fields.  It is rapidly becoming naturalized.

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Scarlet Monkey Flower

Mimulus cardinalis

Glandular, pubescent perennial 8 to 32 inches high.  Leaves ovate, sharply toothed, opposite, sessile; 3/8 to 2 inches long.  Flowers solitary in leaf axils on pedicels 2 to 3 inches long.  Calyx tubular, 3/4 to 1 1/4 inches long.  Corolla 2-lipped, orange-red or scarlet with some yellow; 1 1/2 to 2 inches long.  Inhabitant of moist areas such as stream banks. 

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Bush Monkey Flower

Mimulus longiflous

Shrub 1 to 4 feet high wigh sticky, pubescent herbage.  Leaves lanceolate, 1 to 3 inches long, usually entire and sessile, occasionally with smaller leaves fascicled in the axils.  Flowers solitary in the axils, on pedicels 1/4 inch long.  Calyx 1/4 inch long, ribbed and irregularly toothed.  Corolla salmon-colored or buff; 2 inches long.  Very common shrub on rocky slopes.


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Scarlet Pimpernel (Poor Man's Weather Glass)

Anagallis arvensis

Low , spreading annual with flat lying branched stems.  leaves opposite, sessile, entire, ovate; 1/4 to 3/4 inch long.  flowers pedicelled in leaf axils.  Pedicels about 1/2 inch long.  Corolla 5-parted. salmon colored. 3/8 inch across.  Stamens 5, Common weed, often in moister places


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Amsinckia menziesii

Bristly annual 8 to 32 inches high.  Leaves linear to lanceolate up to 6 inches long.  Flowers in a tightly coiled inflorescence  2  to 8 inches long.  Calyx 5-lobed; 1/4 to 3/8 inch ong; bristly.  Corolla orange-yellow; salverform; 1/8 to 1/4 inch across; 1/4 to 3/8 inch long.  Very common in open grassy places

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Lotus scoparius

Low bushy shrub with straight, spreading branches; 1 1/2 to 4 feet high.  Herbage with a slight pubescence.  Leaves 3-foliate with gland-like stipules.  Leaflets lanceolate entire, 1/4 to 3/8 inch long.  Flowers in sessile umbels, 1 to 5 flowered.  Corolla yellow, tinged with red and drying red; 1/4 to 3/8 inch long.  Pods slightly curved.  Very common plant on dry chaparral slopes.


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Madia gracilis

Fragrant and resinous herb 4 to 40 inches high with sessile, linear leaves.  Leaves 3/8 inch long and 1/4 inch wide, glandular, hairy.  Heads in an open panicle with 8 to 12 yellow rays 1/8 to 1/4 inch long and 15 to 35 disk flowers.  involucral bracts have acuminate tips and completely enclose the ray achenes.  Achenes obovate and mottled.  Pappus none. rather abundant in open places.

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Yellow Sweet Clover

Melilotus indicus

Glabrous plant 8 to 32 inches tall.  Leaves trifoliate with oblanceolate leaflets 3/8 to 1 1/4 inches long.  Leaflets dentate with an obtuse apex.  Stipules present, 1/4 inch long, narrow, sharp pointed.  flowers in a spike-like terminal raceme 3/4 to 4 inches long.  Corolla yellow, 1/8 inch long.  Common plant in waste places.


Dudleya sp.


Ranunculus californicus  
Flowers have numerous stamens and carpels (gynoecium apocarpous).

Beach Evening Primrose Camissonia cheiranthifolia  
Flower close-up. Note retrorse sepals and showy, yellow petals. Ovary is inferior (resembling a pedicel).

Purple/Blue Flowers

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Purple Nightshade

Solanum xantii

Glandular pubescent perennial, slightly shrubby; 1 1/2 to 3 feet tall.  Leaves ovate with wavy margins or slightly toothed; 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches long.  Pedicels usually longer than the peduncles, averaging 3/4 inches long.  Flowers in umbels on peduncles 1/8 to 1/2 inch long.  Calyx shallowly 5-lobed; about 1/8 inch long.  Corolla bright blue to blue-violet; 1/2 to 1 inch across; very shallow lobed and appearing 5-angled.  Fruit a greenish berry about 1/4 inch or slightly more across.  Common plant on dry chaparral slopes.

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Beach Moring Glory

Calystegia soldanella

Prostrate, somewhat fleshy perennial with glabrous stems 4 to 20 inches long.  Leaves kidney shaped, 3/4 to 2 inches wide; not as long as wide.  Flowers large, showy, pale pink to purplish. sepals ovate, 1/2 to 3/4 inch long.  Corolla funnelform; 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 inches long.  Common plant in sand along the coast.

(photo by Brousseau /Cal Photos)






White Flowers

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White Forget-me-not

Crytantha intermedia

Stiff, erect, very bristly annual 6 to 20 inches high.  Leaves linear to lanceolate, 1/2 to 2 inches long.  Flowers in a tightly coiled (scorpioid) spike, 2 to 6 inches long.  Calyx 5- lobed, oblong, 3/16 inch long; bristly hispid.  Corolla white, 1/4 to 1/2 inch across.  Very common plant of dry slopes of the chaparral.

Bur Clover

Medicago polymorpha

Fruit a coiled bur.  Flowers yellow.  Glabrous, flat lying or prostrate annual.  Leaves 3-foliate with laciniate stipules.  Leaflets obovate, 1/4 to 3/4 inch long, minutely toothed.  Fruit a coiled pod about 1/4 inch across, bearing many hooked spines.  

(photo by Hewlett/Cal Photos)


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California Everlasting

Gnaphalium californicum

Stout biennial 1/2 to 3 feet high with green glandular herbage and distinct sweet curry scent.  Lower leaves lanceolate, 1 1/2 to 4 inches long; reduced above.  Heads in a large terminal inflorescence.  Involucral bracts white papery; about 1/4 inch long; obtuse or rounded.  Common in open places of the chaparral.

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Miner's Lettuce

Montia perfoliata

Glabrous annual 4 to 12 inches high.  Leaves mostly basal; these long petioled and obovate.  Cauline leaves 2; opposite, forming a circular disk which completely encircles the stem (perfoliate); 1/2 to 3 inches across.  Flowers in a terminal raceme arising out of the perfoliate leaf.  Petals 5; white, 1/4 inch or less long.  Sepals 5, stamens 5.  Relatively common in the spring in moist shaded spots, particularly under the shade of oaks.

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Wild Celery

Apiastrum angustifolium

Glabrous annual, 2 to 20 inches high.  Leaves finely dissected into filiform divisions.  Flowers white in sessile umbels.  Fruit ellipsoid, up to 1/2 inch long, minutely roughened, without wings or longitudinal ribs.  Occurs in dry sandy valleys and hills. 


Gnaphalium bicolor

Perennial with white woolly stems 1 1/2 to 3 feet high.  Leaves lanceolate, 3/4 to 2 and 3/4 inches long; green, glabrous above, densely white tomentose beneath with crisped margins; clasping by an auriculate base.  Heads in dense terminal clusters.  involucral bracts about 1/4 inch high; ovate, shiny, lustrous.  Rather common plant in dry, open areas of chaparral.

Pearly Everlanting

Anaphalis margaritacea

Erect perennial, distinctly woody at the base.  Stems 3/4 to 3 feet high. Herbage green with a slight amount of wool, becoming slightly rusty in age.  Leaves lanceolate to linear-lanceolate, 3/4 to 3 inches long; usually narrower and shorter above; sessile, entire and more or less revolute.  Involucral bracts pearly white, ovate.  Heads in dense terminal clusters.  Herbage with a strong sweet curry scent.  

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Rorippa nastrutium-aquaticum

Aquatic perennial with weak, watery stems; prostrate or partially erect.  leaves pinnately dissected; 1/4 to 4 inches long.  Flowers small, in a terminal raceme.  Petals white, mostly 1/8 inch long.  Fruits curved, about 3/8 inch long at maturity.  Occurs in quiet water or on wet stream banks.


Galium angustiforium

Weak stemmed annual with retrorse hispid stems, climbing over other plants and much tangled.  Leaves 6 to 8 in a whorl; linear oblanceolate, bristle-tipped.  Flowers small; less than 1/8 inch across; whitish, in the upper axils.  Petals 4; sepals mostly obsolete.  Fruit bristly, 3/16 inch across.  Common plant in shaded areas

(photo by Howitt/Cal Photos)

Rattlesnake Weed

Chamaesyce albomarginata


Muilla maritima

onion-like plant without the odor and taste of onion.  Bulb 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick and scapes 4 to 20 inches long.  Leavs narrow, linear, as long as or longer than scape.  Flowers in a terminal umbel of 4 to 70 flowers.  Umbel subtended by 3 to 6 scarious lanceolate bracts.  Pedicels 1/4 to 2 inches long.  Perianth segments 6; 1/2 inch or less in length; greenish-white with a dark midnerve.  Occasional inhabitant of chaparral woods and grassland.

Common Chickweed

Stellaria media

Slender, weak-stemmed annual with trailing stems.  Leaves opposite, entire, ovate; mostly 1/4 to 1 inch long.  Flowers small, solitary in leaf axils.  Sepals 5; 3/16 inch long.  Petals white; shorter than the sepals, bifid at apex; 4  to 5 in number.  Common weed in moist shaded areas. 

Plant greater than 3' tall with leaves that are toothed, lobed, or divided

Red Flowers

Fuchsia Flowered Gooseberry

Ribes speciosum

Shrub 3 to 6 feet tall.  Branches with 3 spines at the nodes.  Spines 1/2 to 3/4 inches long.  Leaves palmately lobed, dark green and shiny above, lighter beneath, mostly 1/2 to 1 inch long.  Flowers red, drooping, in groups of 1 to 4.  Very common plant in shaded canyons.


Caster Bean

Ricinus communis

Glabrous shrub with large palmately lobed leaves. Leaves 5 to 11 lobed, the lobes serrate. Leaves 4 to 16 inches across.  Flowers unisexual, without petals.  Stamens numerous.  Fruit a spiny capsule with smooth mottled seeds.  Seed are POISONOUS.  

(photo by Brousseau/Cal Photos)



Bush Mallow

malacolthamnus densiflorus

Erect shrub, 3 to 6 feet high, pubescent with yellowish hairs.  Leaves ovate, palmately lobed; 3/4 to 2 inches across.  Flowers in dense sessile clusters, forming a interrupted spike.  Petals 5, pink-rose, 3/8 to 5/8 inch long.  Found on dry slopes

(photo by Lubin/Cal Photos)




Yellow/Orange Flowers

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Sweet Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare

Tall perennial, 3 to 6 feet high; glabrous, with a pronounced odor of licorice (anise).  Leaves pinnately compound into very fine (filiform) divisions.  Pe3tioles sheathing.  Flowers yellow, in large compound umbels.  Fruits oblong, about 3/16 inch long with acute ribs.  Very common summer plant of field and waste places

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Black Mustard

Brassica nigra

Annual, erect and sparingly pubescent; 1 1/2 to 8 feet tall.  Lower leaves large, coarse, deeply pinnatifid with a large terminal lobe.  Upper leaves reduced.  Flowers somewhat showy in  a terminal raceme; only the top portion flowering at one time, however.  petals lemon yellow, clawed, averaging 1/4 inch long.  Fruit an elongate linear pod with a short beak.  Pods appressed against the stem; 1/4 to 3/4 inch long.  A very common weed, often coloring entire fields yellow in the late spring.

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Marrubium vulgare

perennial herb 8 to 24 inches high with square stem but no mint odor.  Herbage densely white woolly, particularly when young.  Leaves roundish, crenate, wrinkled or rugose, tomentose beneath.  Calyx sharply 5 to 10 toothed.  Corolla small, white, 1/4 inch long; in dense axillary whorls. Common weed in waste places and old fields.  The dried, sharp toothed calyx becomes a bur.


Purple/Blue Flowers

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Onopordum acanthium

Purple Sage

Salvia leucophylla

Shrub 3 to 5 feet tall.  Herbage gray tomentose.  Leaves oblong-lanceolate, crenulate, with heart-shaped base and prominent veins.  Leaves 3/4 to 2 inches long.  Flowers in compact whorls averaging 1 to 1 1/2 inches across and 3/4 inches high, subtended by gray, ovate, leaf-like bracts.  Corolla lavender, 3/4 inches long.  Common shrub of dry chaparral slopes.

(photo by Brousseau/Cal Photos)

Yerba Santa  

Eriodictyon crassifolium var. crassifolium  
Note gray tomentose, dentate leaves.

White Flowers

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Black Sage

Salvia mellifera

Shrub 3 to 6 feet tall.  Leaves elliptical, crenulate, green above, slightly tomentose and lighter beneath.  flowers in compact whorls, averaging 3/4 to 1 1/4 inch in diameter.  Flowers 2-liped, pale blue to white, 1/2 inch long.  Very common shrub of dry slopes with a strong odor when leaves are crushed.

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Toyon Christmas Berry

Heteromeles arbutifolia

Evergreen shrub 6 to 30 feet tall.  Leaves oblong, 2 to 4 inches long, sharply toothed, dark green above, lighter beneath.  Flowers small, white, in terminal clusters.  petals 5; 3/16 inch long.  Sepals 5.  Stamens 10.  Fruit a red berry about 1/4 inch across. Common chaparral shrub.  Berries are red in late fall.

Plant is greater than 3' tall- leaves that have smooth edges (margins)

Red Flowers

Sugar Bush

Rhus ovata

Shrub 5 to 15 feet tall.  Leaves thick and leathery, ovate; entire or few toothed, sharply acute; 11/2 to 3 inches long, more or less lolded along the midrib and appearing through-like.  flowers pinkish-shite in dense panicles.  Panicle branchlets stout.  Petals, sepals, and stamens 5.  Fruit reddish, pubescent; sugar-coated; 1/4 inch in diameter.  Common chaparral shrub.


Yellow/Orange Flowers


Isomeris arborea

Ill-smelling, much branched shrub 2 to 8 feet tall.  Leaves 3-foliate, entire, petiolate.  Flowers large, showy, in terminal racemes.  Petals 4, bright yellow, about 1/2 inch long.  Sepals 4; bright yellow, about 1/2 inch long.  Sepals 4; stamens 6, long exserted.  Fruit a swollen pod, hanging down, elliptic with pointed tip; 1 to 1 and 3/4 inches long.  Common shrub in desert or slightly alkaline areas.  also common on bluffs near the coast.

Spanish Broom

Spartium junceum

Tall, mostly leafless shrub up to 9 feet tall.  leaves, when present, small, entire, oblanceolate-oblong; 1/2 to 1 inch long.  Flowers large, fragrant, yellow; in terminal racemes.  Petals 3/4 to 1 inch long.  Fruit a linear pod 2 to 4 inches long.  Blooming period from April to June.  This plant is often cultivated and frequently occurs as an escape.  It is rapidly becoming naturalized, particularly along the coast and at higher elevations in the mountains.

(photo by Brousseau/Cal Photos)


Bush Poppy

Dendromecon rigida 

Shrub 3 to 6 feet tall.  Leaves entire, lanceolate, 1 to 4 inches long.  Flowers showy with 4 petals averaging 1 inch long; 2 sepals; numerous stamens.  Common chaparral shrub



Purple/Blue Flowers


White Flowers

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Atriplex lentiformis

Gray, scurfy shrub up to 9 feet tall, dioecious.  Leaves 1 to 2 inches long, ovate, entire; sometimes deltoid.  flowers small, greenish.  fruits forming flattened disks, 1/4 inch long at maturity; round-ovate.  Common shrub of salt marshes along the coast.

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Wild Buckwheat

Eriogonum fasciculatum

Low shrub with lmany spreading leafy branches.  Leaves linear to oblanceolate, densely fascicled; green above, grey woolly beneath, revolute; 1/4 to 5/8 inches long.  Flowers pinkish-white in dense terminal heads.  Peduncles leafless, 1 to 4 inches long.  Very abundant on dry slopes of the chaparral.


Solanum douglasii

Slightly woody perennial 3 to 6 feet high with angled stems and sparingly pubescent herbage.  Leaves ovate, sinuate dentate, 3/4 to 4 inches long.  Flowers small, in umbels.  Peduncles 1/4 to 1 inch long.  Pedicels 1/8 to 1/2 inch long.  Corolla rotate, deeply 5-parted, 3/8 to 3/4 inch across.  Stamens 5; anthers fused into a tube which projects forward.  Fruit a black berry.  common plant of the chaparral.



Conyza canadensis

Tall, erect, leafly annual up to 6 feet tall; simple below, branched above.  Leves numerous, oblanceolate below, linear above; up to 4 inches long; entire or serrate.  Lower leaves petiolate, upper ones sessile; entire or petiolate.  Heads small, about 3/16 inch high; numerous, in a terminal panicle.  Involucral bracts green and glabrous.  Rays present, white, but very inconspicuous, barely surpassing the disk.  Pappus of many white capillary hairs.  Very common weed of late spring and summer in dields and waste places.


Adenostoma fasciculatum

Shrub 2 to 8 feet tall.  Leaves linear, fasciclred, often resinous; 1/4 to 1/2 inch long.  Flowers small, white, in dense terminal panicles.  Petals 5; 1/16 inch long.  Sepals 5.  Stamens 10 to 15.  Dominant shrub of chaparral.

(photo by Webber/Cal Photos)


Coffee Berry

Rhamus californica

Shrub 3 to 12 feet tall.  Leaves oblong to elliptic, revolute, shining above, 1 to 3 inches long.  Flowers in many-flowered umbels, greenish, with 5 petals and sepals; 1/8 inch across.  Fruit a berry; green, black, or red.  A common chaparral shrub, blooming from May to July.

(photo by Brousseau and Webber/Cal Photos)


Arctostaphylos glauca

Woody evergreen shrub or small tree with characteristic crooked branches and smooth red bark which readily peels off.  Leaves simple, glabrous, elliptic, 3/4 to 1 and 3/4 inches long.  Flowers in dense panicles, nodding.  Corolla white or pinkish, urn-shaped, 1/8 to 3/8 inch long; 5-lobed with the lobes recurved.  Fruit a globose sticky berry, about 1/2 inch across.  There are many species of manzanita.  Occurs in moister areas such as on the coast side of the mountains or at higher elevations.

(photo by Brousseau /Cal Photos)

California Mugwort

Artemisia douglasiana

Tall, erect perennial 1 1/2 to 10 feet high, simple or branched.  Leaves lanceolate, entire; 2 1/2 to 6 inches long; dark green above, greyish white tomentose beneath.  Heads small, turbinate, 1/8 to 3/16 inch high; in a dense terminal somewhat leafy inflorescence.  involucral bracts greyish woolly.  Common plant of low places.

(photo by Brousseau /Cal Photos)

Project Wild Home

H E Y !   M R .  W I L S O N 

Website by Duncan Wilson

Page last updated January 07, 2012

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