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Plant of the Month   ~~   MAY 2006

updated on or about the 1st of each month


Image of Monkey Flower

MONKEY FLOWER


  • Common Name(s): Monkey Flower
  • Scientific Name: Mimulus species
  • Family: Scrophulariaceae, Figwort family
  • Plant Type: annual or perennial
  • Size: from a small plant 4 inches high to a shrub 6 feet high
  • Common Habitat: Some species favor chaparral, oak woodland, and sage scrub, while others are found primarily in wet places

Those conspicuous bushes with the light-orange flowers you are seeing on hikes right now are a species of Monkey Flower known as Sticky Monkey flower or Bush Monkey Flower. In addition to the Sticky variety, several other species of this plant also grace our mountains. Flowers are commonly about an inch long and of interesting shape. Several species are bright yellow, while others are salmon-colored or bright red.

The term "monkey" owes to the markings of the seed (which resemble an ape), or possibly to the shape of the flower (mime meaning actor). Varieties of Monkey Flower can also do well in pots or in your garden. Other plants in this large family include Chinese Houses, Indian Paintbrush, Snapdragons and Foxglove.

The following chart gives some distinguishing characteristics of a few of the more common varieties of Mimulus native to our mountains. For a more comprehensive guide, you may wish to refer to a book such as Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains by Milt McAuley.

Common name Species Size Bloom Time Other characteristics
Sticky Monkey Flower, Bush Monkey Flower Mimulus aurantiacus Perennial shrub up to 6 feet tall Jan-May Bush appearance, has sticky substance. Flowers are usually light orange to pale yellow, but less commonly red-orange. A large bush in bloom is quite showy. Prefers dryer habitats. Pictured above and below.
Creek Monkey Flower, Common Large Monkey Flower Mimulus guttatus Perennial herb, 1 to 3 feet high Mar-Aug Very common to wet places. Flowers are bright yellow with red spots in the throat. Upper leaves lack stems while lower leaves have long, hollow stems. Pictured below.
Scarlet Monkey Flower Mimulus cardinalis Perennial herb, 2 to 3 feet high Apr-Oct Flowers are bright red and of narrower shape. Not too common. Prefers wetter places. Wider leaves than other species.
Yellow Monkey Flower Mimulus brevipes Annual, 4 inches to 3 feet high Apr-Jun Prefers dryer, rocky habitat. Flowers bright yellow with wide throats. Narrow leaves about 2 inches long.

Image of Monkey Flower Image of Monkey Flower


Contributed by Liz Baumann

Curious what was featured in past Plants of the Month? Search the Archives.

References:
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Roadside Plants of Southern California, by Thomas J. Belzer
California Native Plants for the Garden, by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O'Brien
California Herbal Remedies, by LoLo Westrich

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