Common Plants in California

California encompasses USDA hardiness zones 6 through 10. California has a wide variety of growing conditions, from the coastal areas to the woodlands and mountains to arid desert areas. Rain falls more on the western side of the mountains and less on the eastern side. Snow falls in the high areas and in the northern areas of the state. The average growing season lasts 365 days in the south and 50 days in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Most coastal and central valleys average 225 to 300 days without frost. Arid periods are a yearly event during the summer.

Bigleaf Maple

Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) is a deciduous tree reaching 100 feet tall with a shallow root system. This tree produces the largest leaf of all the maple trees. The leaves are 8 to 12 inches across, dark green on the top and paler on the undersides. The three- to five-lobed leaves turn yellow in the autumn. Bigleaf maple trees produce small, green-yellow flowers in the early spring before the leaves appear. Hanging seed clusters appear after the fragrant blossoms. Bigleaf maples prefer cool, moist environments and are found throughout California from sea level to 5,500 feet in elevation. This maple tree rapidly grows again when cut down by sprouting from stumps.

Chaparral Yucca

Chaparral yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei) is part of the Agave family and also known as Our Lord's Candle. This succulent grows a dense rosette of dark green, sword-shaped leaves 1 to 3 feet long. In the spring, the chaparral yucca grows a thick 8- to 10-foot flower stalk topped with a 4-foot-long cluster of blossoms. The flowers are 1- to 1 1/2-inch long bells with tips that curl inward. Some chaparral yucca blossoms are purple tinted. The chaparral yucca dies after it produces fruit. This plant commonly grows in dry coastal areas from 1,000 to 4,000 feet in elevation.

Monterey Manzanita

Monterey manzanita (Arctostaphylos hookeri) is an evergreen shrub commonly growing to 3 feet tall. Occasionally this bush reaches 6 to 10 feet tall. The smooth bark is reddish-brown. The broad leaves are oval-shaped and shiny green. The manzanita flowers are white and pink with an urn shape. The blossoms cluster together at the ends of the branches. These flowers appear in the early spring and last through summer. The fruit is small, red berries. Monterey manzanita enjoys full sun exposure and well-draining soil. This manzanita bush is native to the northern and central coast of California and the San Francisco area.


Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana) is part of the sunflower family. This plant looks like a bush because it grows in clusters. Mugwort reaches 3 to 7 feet tall. The leaves are 1 to 2 inches long and grow along the larger stems. The leaves are lobed with sharply tapered tips. They are dark green and hairy on the top while silver tinted on the undersides. White flowers appear in June and last until October. Mugwort grows throughout California from the coast to the inland areas. Mugwort does not grow in a desert habitat.

Keywords: California plants, western plants, California trees and shrubs

About this Author

Karen Carter has spent the last three years working as a technology specialist in the public school system. This position included hardware/software installation, customer support, and writing training manuals. She also spent four years as a newspaper editor/reporter at the Willapa Harbor Herald.