A couple weeks ago, I joined an old friend and a new one on a sketch and hike. We visited the (Whittier Narrows Nature Center) where we walked along the trails with our sketchbooks in hand. Along the way, I tested my knowledge of the California native plants by attempting to identify them from memory and by flipping through the pages of my National Audubon Society book on California. And then having my friend and volunteer docent, Armando correct me or say, “that’s correct!” followed by a high five.

Here are a few of the plants we saw along the trails and a few short descriptions about each one. Join me as I attempt to learn about my favorite painting subject, the California natives…

(click on the images to see more detail)


(Peritoma arborea) is a part of the (cleomaceae) or spiderflower family and is a native, drought tolerant plant that can flourish in dry, salty soils with an occasional rainfall. It is debated whether it’s fragrance is pleasant or unpleasant. It’s yellow flowers attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

California coffeeberry

(Rhamnus californiaca) is a california native shrub that is quite tolerant of low water conditions. It’s berries will turn red and then black. It belongs to the buckthorn family (rhamnaceae) Its berries are a delicious snack for many birds and would be a great addition to any garden.

California sagebrush

(Artemisia californica) belongs to the sunflower family (asteraceae). This plant is extremely drought tolerant and provides a lovely scent. As cowboys traveled home, their boots brushing up against the fragrant sage, arrived smelling of herbs, giving it the nickname ‘cowboy cologne’. Pick some, put it in your pocket, no need to shower after a long hike, eh?

Scarlet larkspur

(Delphinium cardinale) belongs to the buttercup (Ranuncalaceae) family. Native to southern California, it grows on coastal and inland chaparral slopes. It flowers in Spring and Summer and is attractive to hummingbirds. The shape of the flower gives it the “spur” in its common name and it’s vibrant red gives it the “cardinale” in its binomial name.

Black Sage

(Salvia Mellifera) is a shrub that can grow a tall 3-6 feet high and in many types of soils in flats, foothills, and canyons. It’s flowers and seeds are food sources for many birds and insects.

Purple Sage (my favorite)

(Salvia leucophylla) is a California drought tolerant plant that requires little to no maintenance and still looks beautiful. It belongs to the lamiaceae family. It grows fast and in a naturally round shape (camera ready, needs no trimming).

White Sage

(Salvia apiana) thrives in full sun and dry, well-drained soil. It attracts bees which gives it it’s second name, Bee sage. Of course, it also gives it the ‘apiana’ in it’s binomial name which translates to ‘belonging to bees’.


Cooper’s Hawk

The accipiter cooperii can be identified by its broad, rounded wings that have a flying pattern of two flaps and a glide. It has a long, dark banded tail and warm reddish brown speckled upper breast. I won’t go into much detail because with my little knowledge, I’d hate to confuse a juvenile and an adult or whatever else I can mix up at this point.


But isn’t it so cool to start building a library of knowledge of the world that surrounds us? I feel so satisfied when I can properly identify something in the wild. But being able to identify a plant or an animal is not enough. Knowing the effect these things have on our earth is so important. For instance, I love to look of Black mustard and how the yellow flowers grow in abundance in the hills of Whittier, CA. But little did I know before, it is extremely invasive and prevents native plant life from growing around it. That’s why when it dies in the summertime (as it looks presently) the hills look completely brown and lifeless. Imagine what could be flourishing up there if the Black mustard hadn’t taken over. These kind of things are very important to know. Knowledge is power!

If you have any more information on the plants above, please leave me a comment. I’d love to learn more!


For my next hike, I plan on taking the pochade box I’m currently working on. I have plein air painting on the brain. So for the next post, I plan on mixing plant identifications and some watercolor or gouache paintings. So excited! Stay tuned!

Tree stump sketch from the nature center…