Thursday, August 10, 2017

Monkeyflower Puzzles

Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurianticus)  and its hybrids/variants (formerly Diplacus) are widespread bloomers through California. That odd name always charmed me as a budding teen naturalist, as did the cheerful little orange flowers I saw peeking out of the brush on Montebello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Hills.
Does the flower look like a monkey face?  That's what I was told.  This is the color of my childhood Sticky Monkey Flowers.

Sticky Monkey Flowers are abundant in Crystal Cove a few miles from my house too.  They are one of our longer-blooming perennials.  You will see them in sun and shade, hilltop and streamside, from Baja to Oregon.
Enthusiastic Monkey Flower bush on a high plain in Crystal Cove State Park.  Tolerating a wide range of soils and sunlight, they are also found intergrowing with the usual Coastal Sage Scrub suspects in shadier spots, and blooming at various times.
The leaves really are sticky, as you'll experience if you run your finger across the underside.  Water-loving Scarlet Monkeyflowers and Seep (yellow) Monkey Flowers have similar shaped flowers, but wider leaves that are not sticky.  In my garden, perennial Sticky Monkey Flowers have put on a good show for a season, then often expired, despite being perennials in theory.
This San Diego area Monkey Flower from Moosa Creek Nursery looks like the pale orange sherbet blooms of Monkey Flowers of my childhood.  I planted it in a clayish dry spot among the roses, where it bloomed well, but died in the fall.
What are they missing that would help them survive?  That is puzzle number one.  I suspect they need a finicky balance of enough water to establish a good root system but not too much to promote rot.  (Do you know the secret to long-lived garden Monkey Flowers?  Feel free to enlighten me in the comment section.) Until I figure out how to keep them longer, I'm willing to replant them each year.
Monkey Flowers that do survive through the fall get long in the tooth.  I am trying the strategy of tucking Monkey Flowers under other plants, as they are often found in the wild. This 'Jelly Bean Orange' bloomed well with only morning sun and some of that filtered. And survived at least one summer and fall! The other plant here is California Fuchsia, which blooms later in the summer.
The only color Monkey Flowers I ever saw in the Santa Cruz Hills were a pale sherbet orange color.  Here in Orange County they vary from that color to brick red and everything in between.  On the Orange Coast, red flowers tend to be found at the tops of ridges, light orange in shady canyons... but there are frequent exceptions.  In San Diego County, according to this source, the reds are close to the coast and the yellows inland.
Sometimes red and orange are found on the same plant! Usually if I see different shades of Monkey Flowers growing together I can make out the separate plants.  This plant at Crystal Cove State Park clearly had blooms that changed color as they got older (the dark orange blooms are further down but on the same stem as the pale blooms).
How many species of Monkey Flowers are there?  That is puzzle number two.  Sticky Monkey Flower is one of those plants that keeps getting its Latin name changed.  Our local experts (Fred Roberts and Robert Allen, who published the wonderful Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains) call the red ones 'puniceus' and the yellow ones 'auranticus' and claim they hybridize freely.  Personally, I suspect they are as different as red and yellow tomatoes.
Here is the reddest Monkey Flower I've found in the wild, overlooking Lake Elsinore in the Santa Ana Mountains. (With thanks to an OCCNPS field trip led by Ron Vanderhoff for leading me to them.)
Jepson Herbarium, the authority in these matters, ducks the issue by naming puniceus a variation of auranticus or alternatively a species.  Huh?  A DNA study claims... well, that they really are different populations at least, that have intermixed.  A study of pollinators suggests hummingbirds prefer red and hawk moths prefer yellow, but not by a lot. (Hawk moths are moths that act like hummingbirds!)
Some Monkey Flowers are in-between shades of orange that you could call muddy.  Not 'Jelly Bean Lemon'!
Then there are the plethora of hybrids or cultivars for sale.  Hybrids of what, when the species identities are not really clear?  The term comes from the time when there were eight species, since downgraded to subspecies or populations (depending on who you talk to.) Anyway, there are lots of named varieties to choose from; read more at San Marcos Growers.  I have not found reliable information on different growing requirements; I use them all interchangeably.  Despite the puzzles, Monkey Flowers are beautiful additions to the native garden.
While I don't usually like the white Monkey Flowers, I fell for these beauties (from the far north of California) at Tilden Park's native garden
Be sure to disclose all your secrets for getting Sticky Monkey Flowers to survive the summer and fall in the comments section...  But plant them even as annuals!

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