California Flannelbush (Californicum)

The California Flannelbush (Californicum) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The California Flannelbush (Californicum) has green foliage and inconspicuous yellow flowers, with a moderate amount of conspicuous black fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are retained year to year. The California Flannelbush (Californicum) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate. At maturity, the typical California Flannelbush (Californicum) will reach up to 10 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 6 feet.

The California Flannelbush (Californicum) is usually not commercially available except under contract. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings, seed. It has a moderate ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below 23°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: The bark is cut at one end of the branches and peeled off in long strips. These are washed and rubbed between the hands. Three strands are rolled together on the upper thigh to make cordage a type of string or rope that was made into a pack strap and tumpline by the Kawaiisu. The wood was also sometimes substituted for willow in the making of Kawaiisu baby cradles. The inner bark was soaked in water and the infusion drank as a physic by the Kawaiisu. Many other California tribes utilized the bark for cordage including the Owens Valley Paiute, Sierra Miwok, Western Mono, and Tubatulabal. The Sierra Miwok made a hoop of the bark wrapped with buckskin for the hoop and pole game. The Tubatulabal used rope made of flannelbush to lash bundles of tules together for a raft, to tie up crooks on pinyon staves, to bundle firewood into a load, and for two ends of a pack strap. The Western Mono used the young split branches to tie together their looped stirring sticks and to assemble different types of cone-shaped storage bins for acorns and manzanita berries.

General Characteristics

General: Sterculia Family (Sterculiaceae). Named after the explorer John C. Fremont, this shrub or small tree reaches 3-8 m in height. The twigs have dense stellate hairs. The shrub has ovate, soft to leathery leaves with 3 main lobes with hairs on the upper and lower surfaces. The spectacular solitary flowers are 35-60 mm wide with no petals and subtended by 3 showy yellow, sepal-like bracts. The ovoid fruit is chambered.

Required Growing Conditions

For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site. The shrub is found from 400-2200 m in chaparral, oak woodland, and pine forests in the California Floristic Province, Arizona, and down to Baja California.

Cultivation and Care

The plants grow in extremely rocky areas and are often found in crevices of rocks. In southern California, these plants are found in areas containing very gritty soil and low rainfall. Buy small seedlings and plant them in the fall in a pile of roadfill with no clay (mostly gravel and rock and very little soil). Plant the seedlings in mounds in full sun. Plant in shallow holes and make sure that no soil covers the top of the ball of soil that contains the seedlings. Cover the soil with gravel and rock, then water. Keep the mound moist until new growth is several inches long (not over 4 inches), then stop watering. Water at the edge of the mound making sure that the water doesn't get within fifteen inches of the trunk of the plant. Leave the shrub alone from then on and use no fertilizer.

General Upkeep and Control

You can prune this shrub at any time of the year. Tribes in the Sierra Nevada burned individual shrubs or areas where the shrubs grew in the fall or winter to induce rapid elongation of young epicormic branches which were harvested and split for cordage.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Contracting Only
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Summer
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Multiple Stem
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 10
Vegetative Spread Moderate
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Moderate
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature 23
Soil Depth for Roots 6
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing Yes
Growth Requirements
pH Range 7–7.5 pH
Precipitation Range 13–13 inches/yr
Planting Density 300–600 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 6
Minimum Frost-Free Days 200 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention Yes
Palatability High
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA