What are California native plants?

Tree mallow budCalifornia native plants may be defined as those species that would have been found in California before Europeans arrived. When specifying native plants for a region we must be clear about the exact geographic limits. For example, plants native to northern California may or may not be native to our area. This distinction becomes especially important when we are trying to restore native habitat, or are planting in or near natural, open space. We do not want to risk introducing plants that might alter existing plant populations. [See O’Brien, Bart, The Intersection of Conservation and Gardening: An Overview of the Consequences of Growing California Native Plants, Fremontia, Vol. 29, No. 1, p. 15. January 2001.] Home gardens, away from open space, streams or creeks, have considerably more latitude, though choosing plants from similar geography and habitats will make caring for the garden much easier. It is, however, important to avoid invasive species (see question #4) that can spread over large areas.