July 3, 2018
by Carol Bornstein
Hundreds of different California native and non-native plants were included in the original landscape for the NHMLA Nature Gardens, which opened to the public in June 2013. Right from the start, most of these species did well and some even began to produce seedlings, an indication of their “good fit” with the site. One of those was bush sunflower (Encelia californica), a local native that occurs in the coastal scrub and chaparral plant communities.
While walking through the gardens that December, one bush sunflower with significantly lighter yellow blossoms caught my eye. It stood out among the more typical crayon-yellow flowers of nearby plants and the wide, overlapping petals created a luminous, vibrant effect.
Excited about the possibility of having discovered the Museum’s first cultivar (short for cultivated variety, meaning a plant that possesses one or more unique characteristics that are desirable for ornamental or edible landscapes), I asked a colleague who manages a wholesale nursery if he was interested in growing it. He was, and so I gave him some stem cuttings to propagate. The cuttings rooted, the first crop was eventually produced and ready to sell, and voila – time to come up with a name for this new introduction!
What could we call this selection that would both describe its distinctive features and reference the Museum? We have 10-year-old Rosemary Kosura to thank for coming up with ‘Paleo Yellow,’ the perfect play on words. It simultaneously captures the light-colored flowers and our renowned paleontology research program.
‘Paleo Yellow’ is a great choice for gardeners in southern California. As is true of bush sunflowers in general, its showy flowers support wildlife, attracting bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. The seeds are also valuable, providing a food source for songbirds, although to insure its unique features, ‘Paleo Yellow’ must always be grown from cuttings rather than seeds. ‘Paleo Yellow’ is well adapted to our mediterranean climate, growing in response to winter rainfall and resting during our long dry summers. And it needs minimal care; after birds have eaten the seeds, cut it back in late summer or early fall to promote vigorous new shoots the next rainy season.
Take a stroll in the Edible Garden section of our Nature Gardens now to see ‘Paleo Yellow’ up close. Come Fall, ask your local nursery to order one or more for your garden.