The Fostering Forbs Project

In healthy mixed evergreen woodlands, a diverse low-growing layer of herbaceous species lights up the forest. Perennials like milk maids, candy flower, several kinds of native violets, woodland star, trillium, and many others cloak the ground. In northern coastal scrub, checkerbloom, yerba buena, western columbine, and clarkias find coyote bush and sagebrush to be gracious hosts. In grasslands and "forb-fields, many annual and perennial wildflowers are increasingly threatened by land use, particularly the "vineyardization" of California rangelands, climate change (additions of nitrogen to the soil from automobile emissions foster exotic species over natives), and of course, weeds.

The Problem

The movement of invasive non-native species continually challenges the successful reproduction of the annual and perennial forbs and their associated insects. The danger of local extinctions of herbaceous species is serious. The native plant gardener can provide a refugia for these plants, while at the same time, creating a unique and "local" native garden.

Here at Larner Seeds, we have become increasingly concerned over the disappearance of species perhaps not federally or locally recognized as in trouble, but that we see as in danger of local extinction. A case in point is candy flower, Claytonia sibirica.

We used to enjoy this species in two nearby sites, one woodland and one fresh water marsh. The woodland has since been invaded by scotch broom. The marsh has been invaded by scotch broom, vinca, and himalayan blackberry. So we made a place for candy flower in our garden.

About Candy Flower

From the same genus as the well-known miner's (or indian) lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, candy flower is also related to the eastern U.S. species Claytonia virginica, spring beauty. Its flowers are pale pink with darker pink stripes. Like its relative, miner's lettuce, its leaves are edible. It is considered uncommon here in Marin County. From my experience it is becoming more so.

We planted it in our demonstration garden in the deep shade of a locally native willow. With no work or water  whatsoever, it has returned year after year, to light up this dark place with its pink and white flowers for almost four months. In the case of candy flower, we found a species that would thrive and bloom in deep shade, characteristics sought after by gardeners. It has also proven adaptable to growing in the milder shade of coyote bush and in full sun on the coast. In fact, it is a real colonizer and sometimes requires control, which shows how tough its adversaries are in the situations we described above.

Growing species like peppermint candy flower is just one example of the "Fostering Forbs" project we are engaged in with West Marin Commons. Turning our horticultural skills and dedication to the growing of threatened native forbs is a win/win situation. We make a safe haven for the species and all the insects associated with it. In return, we get beautiful, drought-tolerant, easy to grow garden flowers that are all too rarely found in California gardens. Surprises await you!

Gardeners, with their skills and dedication, can be instrumental in the preservation of small things.

Our Method

The seed is broadcast in seed flats, and transplanted, once the true leaves have  appeared, to four inch plastic pots. These are kept in a protected outdoor location till the roots have almost filled the pot, at which time they are transplanted to the garden, watered thoroughly for two weeks to a month, depending on time of year, and then left to get on with it.

Our Greatest Satisfaction

We love to see our customers leaving with seed packets or 4” pots of our native forbs, like Sidalcea calycosa rhizomata, Pt Reyes checkerbloom, like Douglas meadowfoam, Limnanthes douglasii, like meadowrue, Thalictrum fendlerii. These plants, part of the diversity and beauty of California, will richly reward those who provide homes for them in their gardens.