Summer & Fall Plants in Transition

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Featured Plant List

TypeCommon NameBotanical Name
ShrubCalifornia BrickellbushBrickellia californica
ShrubMugwortArtemisia douglasiana
ShrubMule FatBaccharis salicifolia
ShrubAshy Leaved BuckwheatEriogonum cinereum
ShrubCalifornia BuckwheatEriogonum fasciculatum
TreeCalifornia LaurelUmbellularia californica
AnnualTelegraph WeedHeterotheca grandiflora
PerennialTejon Milk-AsterStephanomeria cichoriacea
PerennialNarrow Leaved MilkweedAsclepias fascicularis
ShrubHolly-Leaved CherryPrunus ilicifolia
PerennialCalifornia AsterCorethrogyne filaginifolia
ShrubChaparral HoneysuckleLonicera subspicata
ShrubLeather RootHoita macrostachya
PerennialDaturaDatura wrightii
ShrubScale BroomLepidospartum squamatum
TreeCalifornia WalnutJuglans californica
AnnualCalifornia FuchsiaEpilobium canum
PerennialCalifornia GoldenrodSolidago velutina
PerennialCalifornia EverlastingPseudognaphalium californicum
PerennialTwo Tone EverlastingPseudognaphalium biolettii
PerennialBirds BeakCordylanthus rigidus
VineWestern Virgins BowerClematis ligusticifolia
AnnualSan Diego Milk-asterStephanomeria diegensis
AnnualVinegar WeedTrichostema lanceolatum
ShrubCoyote BrushBaccharis pilularis
PerennialSlender SunflowerHelianthus gracilentus
PerennialScarlet Monkey FlowerErythranthe cardinalis
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Common Summer and Fall Plants in the Santa Monica Mountains

Step onto the trail to get some exercise, clear your mind and have a quality conversation with yourself or others. Your visit to this wild land may provide a therapeutic outlet, but make no mistake, this land is a sanctuary for the plants and creatures that call this place 'home'. You could travel along this trail hundreds of times and remain blissfully unaware of the various plants or creatures that exist here. Plants above and below the trail reduce erosion and provide a visual element of ‘wildness’ but more importantly feed and provide cover for the wild life that call this area home. Our trail was cut thru the vegetation - such that the lack of vegetation in the four foot wide section of bare earth defines the trail. Our adventures along the trail tend to compact the soil and prevent most plants from growing back on it. Life seems to find a way though - seeds dispersed into the soil seek opportunities to further their species, shrubs look to expand their footprint - thus requiring continual maintenance such as the removal of encroaching brush and often invasive species. This page will highlight a few of the plants that bloom or produce fruit during the summer and fall. Most of us tend to think of spring as the time for flowers but creatures living here full time require a food source. When you set foot, tire or hoof onto this trail you are entering a world within a world where the denizens have adapted to environmental variables such as amount of sunlight, temperature, seasonal rainfall, soil type, pollinator preferences along with changes implemented by humans. If you do not see something for the first time during your time on the trail you are not paying attention!

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Plants like Brickellbush - Brickellia californica that bloom in the summer (in this case July to November) are the reason our pollinators can live year-round in the local mountains. The flowers on this nondescript shrub are not considered 'eye-candy' to most humans traveling past them — but attract a considerable amount of bees, moth & butterflies. California Brickellbush is an upright shrub typically growing no more than 60 inches (1.52 meters) from a woody base. Leaves are heart-shaped to oval with inconsistently scalloped margins. Flowers remind me of corn that has not been shucked with all the tassels protruding away from the base. Evening travelers may sense the delightful aroma that seems to diminish as one nears the source. This plant is native to California but is found throughout the West in a variety of niches ranging from chaparral and sage scrub.

Plant List  California Brickellbush Page Top

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Mugwort - Artemisia douglasiana is most commonly found on stream banks where there is ample year-round moisture. Blooming from June to November, it may be more noted for its foliage than its flowers. Mugwort has a woody base and erect gray-green stems. Propagation is usually by underground rhizome. The lance-shaped leaves are 2-6 inches long, smooth bright green above, woolly and gray-green underneath. The small roundish disk flowers sprout at the ends of dense leafy spikes. The plant is aromatic, smelling mediciney like a cross between sage and camphor. Frequently found growing near Poison Oak, there is a tradition that suggests rubbing Mugwort leaves on skin after exposure to the urushiol poison may help, but science has not stepped forward to confirm or refute this practice. Likewise a poultice of its leaves may have some benefit for stinging nettles or insect bites.

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Mule Fat - Baccharis salicifolia is a willow-like shrub typically found in and around streambeds. It blooms throughout the year when supplied with an ample water source. The shrub has numerous upright and nodding branches, like a small willow, though it is not in the willow family. Leaves are up to 6 inches long and lancelike. The "fat" in the common name comes from the sticky feel to the leaves and stems. Flower heads form clusters off of side branches. The disc flowers are an off-white to flesh color with reddish papery bracts; there are no ray flowers. Stamens and pistils grow on separate plants, with the female flowers having a hairier appearance (the photos on this page are male flowers).

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Ashy Leaf Buckwheat - Eriogonum cinereum is an endemic (only in California) perennial found mostly south of Santa Barbara, where it grows on beaches and bluffs and in coastal scrub and chaparral. This plant may reach up over a meter in height and width and is light silvery gray in color due to the woolly hairs on its stems and foliage. The leaves are wavy-edged ovals one to three centimeters long. The rounded flower clusters appear at each fork, each with one to several heads of tiny tightly packed flowers that are mostly light brownish-pink in color and quite hairy. After the flowers have bloomed they assume a color that can be best described as 'rust'. This plant blooms in summer and is often abuzz with bees, winged insects and butterflies during that time.

Plant List  Ashy Leaved Buckwheat Page Top

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California buckwheat - Eriogonum fasciculatum is a ubiquitous member of the chaparral plant community. This low, evergreen shrub is seen covering our hillsides in its pale blooms for roughly half the year. White to pale pink flowers develop in walnut-size balls at the ends of branching stems from April to November; once bloomed they remain on the plant in a drier, browner state. Often the flower heads cover the plant such that one barely notices the foliage, which bears a resemblance to chamise. Evergreen, narrow, leathery leaves, less than an inch long, are gathered in bunches along the stems which are up to 5 feet long. The species name fasciculatum means "bundles". You would be right to recognize the hairs on the leaves as being one of the characteristics of drought tolerant plants.

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Bay Laurel - Umbellularia californica is an evergreen tree in the Lauraceae family. This family also contains Cinnamon, Avocado and Sassafras among many other species. Native to coastal forests of California at elevations from 0-5000 feet. It is found throughout state. Variable in size, from a 6 ft. shrub to more than a 100 feet in height, most often ranging from 20 feet to 45 feet. Size and growth rates depend (like everything else) on local conditions. Color of the bark does range from maple blonde to walnut brown. Leaves are oblong, smooth-edged and have a peppery aroma when crushed thereby making them a useful as a cooking spice. Flowers are small, white, yellow or yellowish green, and open in late winter and early spring. The fruit is a round green berry lightly spotted with yellow and purple - it resembles an avocado - no surprise there? Bay Laurel can tolerate serpentine or clay soils. Bay Laurels are often found in clonal clusters.

Plant List  California Laurel Page Top

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Telegraph Weed or more precisely Heterotheca grandiflora is a Native to our mountains as well other mountains down into Baja California. Utah and Nevada are recent hosts to this plant after introduction there. Not surprisingly, after it found its way into Australia and New Zealand, it is now considered invasive as it spreads its way into new territory. You can often see this plant blooming throughout the year (Summer is when this plant blooms most profusely ) on bare and sandy disturbed soil at the edge of a road or trail.

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Stephanomeria cichoriacea is a species of flowering plant in the aster family known by the common names chicoryleaf wirelettuce and Fort Tejon milk aster. It is endemic to California, where it grows in the coastal mountain ranges like the Santa Monica Mountains. The plant is a Perennial herb, erect, 18 to 48 inches in height and has Milky sap. It is found on rocky slopes and in open areas of Chaparral and Coastal Sage. Flowers bloom on some very short stems and have a five toothed petals in purple to pink colors. The flowers are small less than an inch and a half in diameter with white pistils and stamens.

Plant List  Tejon Milk-Aster Page Top

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Narrow Leaved Milkweed - Asclepias fascicularis - a perennial, is one of four species of Milkweed found in the Santa Monica Mountains, grows in grassland habitats and flowers from late May into the first days of Fall. Leaves are long and narrow (up to five inches) and form a whorl (spiral) around the 12 inch to 36-inch tall stem. A taproot connects the stem to the soil. The plants are a hotbed of insect activity. Wasps, Butterflies,Bees, Beetles, Ants, Aphids and so on are attracted to the Sucrose rich (3%) nectar. Cool fact - the flowers are continuously replenished with nectar while the flower is viable.

Most of us think Monarch Butterfly when we hear the name Milkweed and for good reason. Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on the plant, the larvae eat the leaves, grow into caterpillars before transforming into butterflies.

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While the early fall time of year in Southern California is generally one of dry brush, few flowers and brown hillsides, there are a few bright spots, one of them being the Holly-leaved Cherry - Prunus ilicifolia, which sets forth its fruit this time of year. As can be gleaned from the common name, the leaves on this plant resemble those of holly - wavy, serrated and spiny edges, fairly rigid, a bit shiny, 1 to 2 inches long and oval. White flowers appear on terminal stems in spring from March through May. There is much activity around the blossoms as bees work to get their nectar. In September to October comes the fruit, which first forms as a red berry, enlarging and then darkening as it matures over the ensuing weeks, becoming almost black. The large pit on the inside is surrounded by a thin pulpy layer. Deer and birds enjoy dining on the fruit, which is edible to us as well in small doses. The pulp itself is sweet but the skin of the fruit is sour - a friend mentioned squeezing the pulp out between his tongue and the roof of his mouth and spitting out the skin and stone. The fruit should not be eaten in large doses however to avoid stomach upset, and do not eat the pit. While the pit and its contents do have edible properties, it contains a poisonous compound which takes special treatment to remove.

Plant List  Holly-Leaved Cherry Page Top

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Wooly Aster - Corethrogyne filaginifolia is very hardy and ubiquitous, growing in a wide variety of places and elevations. It commonly blooms during the last half of the year. The dryer it is, the more scraggly the plant appears, but it still puts forth its 1-inch lavendar and yellow flowerheads. With our drought this year, it is one of the few plants to be found on the trails now still demonstrating any inflorescence. This is a slender-looking plant with woolly, lance-shaped leaves up to 3 inches long. Butterflies are attracted to the plant, which along with its late flowering period, can make it a nice addition to your garden. The terminal flowerhead, really a conglomeration of individual flowers, is daisy-like, with yellow tubular disks flowers and lavendar-to-white ray flowers. The plant itself is a shrub but may not appear so, especially in places like dry meadows where almost the only visible parts are its flowers. The photos on this page were taken in the fields near the Reagan Ranch area of Malibu Creek State Park.

Plant List  California Aster Page Top

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Chaparral Honeysuckle - Lonicera subspicata - endemic to California - appears as a bunch of sturdy vines masquerading as an evergreen shrub. This plant does not tangle itself onto other plants - instead it sends out long-arching shoots that sprawl over neighboring shrubs in search of light. Flowering from April into Summer, Lonicera subspicata produces two small cream colored flowers per node and are pollinated by butterflies. Red to yellow berries are produced Late Summer. Best places to observe this plant? Chaparral and coastal sage scrub - Upper Solstice Canyon is where these images were captured.

Plant List  Chaparral Honeysuckle Page Top

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Leather root - Hoita macrostachya is a Native, Perennial Herb that you will find soley at the edge of a creek or stream. Tall (up to 2 meters - taller than most people) and sprawling (appears like a shrub), with a head of cone-shaped purple pea flowers. With leaves of three, folding towards the central vein, rounded on one end and pointed at the other, this plant is fairly easy to identify. Each time I came across this plant it was as I crossed a creek and found myself being lured in by the beautiful flowers. There are not that many plants that fit all of these clues!

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Datura - Datura wrightii is a tropical-looking plant with large, showy, fragrant white flowers. The entire plant is about 3-5 feet high and at least as wide. Flowers are tubular shaped and can be 10 inches long. Blooming of individual flowers occurs in the evening, with the flowers closing by the afternoon of the following day. After flowering a thorny, golfball-sized seed-pod forms. The foliage is gray-green, soft and hairy, with rubbery stems and leaves which are ovate and up to 5 inches long. While the flowers have a pleasant smell, the foliage has quite a different odor. Datura thrives in summer, and is commonly found along roadsides, in washes, or in other sandy places. It blooms from around March to November.

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Scale Broom - Lepidospartum squamatum is a well adapted perennial native plant that grows in dry stream beds throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. Found primarily in sandy, gravelly soils at a variety of locations in California and Arizona. Coastal Sage Scrub, Chaparral, Joshua Tree Woodland and Creosote Bush Scrub are preferred habitats. Well adapted to our climate, Scale Broom conserves water by having cobwebby wooly fibers capturing moistures and limits what it loses thru transpiration (scale like leaves). Most of the year, Scale Broom is not going to catch your attention. Things change during the hot summer months as 100’s of tiny yellow flowers bloom en masse.

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Southern California Black Walnut - Juglans californica - is endemic to California and takes the form of a large shrub or tree (commonly up to 50 feet tall). Juglans californica grows in the southern half of the state while the northern part of the California has a similar species (Juglans hindsii). In shrub form there may be 1-5 trunks. The tree form varies depending on site conditions.  Trees in savanna woodlands have multiple trunks, where the trees are dense, they are more display single a single trunk and are taller (competition for light). A question, one often hears, is how old are those trees?  Our native walnut can live approximately 100 years, give or take a decade. The trunk is blackish brown and becomes deeply furrowed as it matures.  Adaptation to summer drought and mild winters along with an ability to survive periodic fires fueled by an extensive root system with a deep taproo

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California Fuchsia - Epilobium canum - is one of few plants found blooming in late summer and fall. Its bright red flowers are up to 2 inches long and an inch wide. They have a tubular or funnel shape, with a slight bulge at the base. The stamens and style extend considerably beyond the flaring ends of the 4 petals and 4 sepals. The flowers appear at the ends of short stems and cluster along the many branches of the plant. Seedpods appear with the flowers and contain many seeds. Foliage consists of alternating or opposite gray-green leaves, slightly hairy, each lance-shaped or ovate about 1 inch long and half as wide. The base of the plant is often woody and the stems are hairy. The plant propagates either through seedlings or underground rhizomes.

California Fuschia blooms from July through November, long after most other native plants have finished. This makes it an important food source for creatures like hummingbirds, for which the tubular shape of the flowers seem designed, and also certain bees that drill holes through the petals to reach the nectar.

Epilobium canum is sometimes divided into subspecies. Epilobium canum ssp. latifolium has broader leaves and is the variety more often associated with the common name California Fuchsia, while Epilobium canum ssp. canum often refers to Hoary Fuchsia, which has smaller leaves but otherwise looks very similar to the latifolium subspecies. Further confusing matters is that these plants were formerly classified in the genus Zauschneria. The genus name Epilobium translates to "upon a capsule", meaning the flower and seedpod appear together. The species name canum means ash-colored and hoary, and latifolium means wide-leaved. Zauschneria is after an 18th century German botanist named Johann Baptista Josef Zauschner.

Their brilliant color, off-season blooms, drought-tolerance and attractiveness to hummingbirds make these plants agreeable choices for gardeners. Cultivated varieties come in other colors besides red - pink and white are common.

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California Goldenrod — Solidago velutina is another plant that has adapted to its environment by blooming in summer. Clusters of bright yellow flowers adorn the tips of the two to four foot tall spreading perennial. The flowers are actually composites — a combination of yellow ray and disc flowers. These flowers grow in clusters that vary in size from 25 to several hundred flower heads! The abundant flowers, with nectar and pollen, provide an important source of food for pollinators (adults and offspring). Preferred habitat includes coastal sage scrub, chaparral, oak woodlands and riparian forests/woodlands at elevations less than about 8500 ft (2.59 km). This plant dies back after blooming (late fall/winter) and re-grows again in spring. My first encounter with this plant in Wood Canyon Point Mugu State Park. I got off my bike to take a closer look at the plant, made some mental notes : Aster family, 2 to 3 feet (0.91 m) tall, nearly vertical leaves, flowers in clusters. After arriving home and looking Milt’s book, I was pleasantly surprised to ID yet another flower I had never seen before.

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California Everlasting or Pseudognaphalium californium is a flower you are likely to see at the edge of the trail when moving through areas classified as sage scrub. During the heat of summer a delightful scent is released from the drying leaves. Some say it smells like maple syrup. This is one plant you can introduce to others and it is likely that they will remember it because of that aroma. The plant can be annual, biennial or a short lived perennial depending on local conditions. California Everlasting will become dormant during the summer and wait for the next rains to perk up its above ground appearance. This plant has composite flowers - what appears to be one flower is in actuality a cluster of many smaller flowers.

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Two-Tone Everlasting or Pseudognaphalium biolettii is a perennial herb, native to California, less than three feet (1 m) high usually with several branches from its base. Covered with small glandular hairs, the stems and leaves are a bit sticky, your nose might even catch a whiff of the 'lemony' aroma often associated with this plant. Summer drought causes the plant to go dormant until winter rains spark the growth process again. We have at least three everlasting species in our mountains. All have similar flowers and can be distinguished by their foliage. Everlasting refers to the dry, papery phyllaries surrounding the base of each flower head. Long after the flowers have been dropped, the phyllaries remain, bearing a striking resemblance to the original flower if they were now dried flowers. Everlasting plants are members in the Sunflower/Aster family. Not quite rare and not quite common in coastal sage scrub and chaparral, especially in rocky, sandy or disturbed areas.

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Birds Beak - Cordylanthus rigidus is one of the those plants that you have walked by dozens of times without realizing that it was in actuality a flowering annual in the same family as Indian Paintbrush and Owls Clover. With that piece of knowledge, take a look at the included images and look for the common traits in the flowers: similar shaped bilateral flowers and the reproductive parts of the individual flowers require a pollinator to open the flower. Additionally, this plant is also somewhat parasitic like its cousins. This plant is endemic to California, blooms from May to August and color can be yellow-green or red-tinged. Height of the plant varies from 1 to 3 feet (0.91 meters). For such a demure looking plant, it can be a favorite for native bees. You might find yourself wondering what the bees are doing on a plant that seems to have no visible flowers. This plant may be that 'hole in the wall' restaurant - a reliable source of food but not much to look at. The common name comes from the resemblance of the flower to a bird's beak. Gently squeeze the petals from the sides to open the flower and you can visualize a baby bird begging to be fed.

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In the Santa Monica Mountains there are two species of plants within the Clematis genus that share the common name Virgin's Bower. These two species may hybridize together but do bloom at differing times. Clematis lasiantha, usually called Pipestem Clematis and sometimes Chaparral Virgin's Bower, blooms earlier in the spring (February to May), has fewer but larger and more showy flowers, leaves made up of 3-5 leaflets, shorter vines (10-15 feet (4.57 m)), and can tolerate drier conditions than its counterpart. It is found only within California, whereas Clematis ligusticifolia can be found across most of the western US. Sometimes called Western Virgin's Bower, Old-man's Beard, Pepper Vine or Yerba de Chiva, Clematis ligusticifolia blooms from April to August. Its flowers are smaller - about a half-inch diameter compared with the Clematis lasiantha, and it normally has a few more leaflets. Its growth habit tends toward longer vines and as such it is more of a climber, reaching up to 60 feet (18.29 m) in length as it scrambles over shrubs and trees.

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San Diego Milk-aster or Stephanomeria digensis This plant is a fire-follower or at least thrives after a fire as well as disturbed areas. The flowers on this Annual herb are found in hues from pale pink to lavendar to purple or white. Pistils and Stamens are present in this flower. The filaments are bi-colored with the upper part being a lighter or darker variation of the flower and the lower part being white. These flowers are still blooming long after most others have finished their work. They are easy to recognize by their long rigid pole like stems - dotted with small flowers.

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Vinegar weed - Trichostema lanceolatum, while probably better known and identifiable by its odor rather than its appearance, brings a welcome sight in the hot, dry, SoCal summers - a vibrant-looking plant full in bloom when most everything else seems so starved of moisture. It blooms from August to October. The flowers are shaped a bit like blue larkspur, though individually are a bit curlier and more of a faded purple in color. They are also fuller in spacing along the stem. Leaves are opposite of each other on the stem. As a Summer blooming plant, expect to see lots of different pollinators visiting this plant.

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Coyote Brush - Baccharis pilularis - appears in a variety of habitats within our Santa Monica Mountains. While not particularly stunning in appearance, it is appreciated for being one of the few plants that remains green throughout the dry summer and fall months, and it blooms in the fall as well. Coyote Brush produces clusters of cream colored flowers from August through December. Male and female flowers appear on different plants, with male flowers being smaller and yellower, while female flowers persist longer and have a more fluffy appearance towards the end of bloomtime. The ellipse- or egg-shaped green leaves are small, no more than an inch or so long. They have a rough, resinous texture with scalloped edges and coarse teeth. Stems and branches are copious and woody.

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Slender Sunflower blooms throughout summer, brightening the typically dry landscape of this time with its showy yellow flowers. It is similar in appearance to Common Sunflower, but smaller and less full. The flowers are solitary on long stems, up to 3 inches in diameter with yellow ray flowers and in the center, yellow to red-purple disk flowers. The flowers can be found in bloom from May to October. Leaves are lance-shaped, rough and hairy, and 1 to 5 inches long. The plant has an erect and shrubby appearance.

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Scarlet Monkey Flower Erythranthe cardinalis is a bright red California Native perennial that makes its home alongside wet soils near creekbeds, seeps or springs. The botanical name has been changed to reflect recent research. Mimulus cardinalis is now Erythranthe cardinalis. Monkey Flowers have been divided into two groups - based upon where they are found. The Creek and Scarlet Monkey Flowers live in Riparian environments while Bush and Yellow Monkey Flowers along rocky slopes. This plant found in western states was one of the first western plants brought back to European gardens in the 1800's. The introduction of this species created a huge demand from gardeners obsessed with having Western flowers. Read more about that in this fascinating article

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