Calliandra californica

Baja Fairy Duster

Calliandra californica flower

If our hummingbirds could vote for Plant of the Month, this would be one of their clear winners. Our Baja Fairy Dusters are almost constantly in bloom, and almost constantly being visited by hummingbirds, bees, Marine Blue butterflies, and even orioles!

This loose shrub with criss-crossing branches doesn't quite reach 3' high before sprawling out to a width of nearly 6'. Its dark green leaves are like tight miniature ferns, overshadowed by red spikey flowers. The seed pods are like snow peas (when ripe they explode – one is visible in the center of the photo below). Although no babies have sprung up from the ground, the seed germinates readily in our greenhouse*.

Native to sandy washes, flats, and hillsides in the Cape region of Baja California, ours are perfectly happy with full sun to light shade in clay soil with good drainage at the foot of the Santa Monica mountains, with water ranging from lightly once a week to deeply once a month. They are evergreen; it is reported that they will loose their leaves if drought or cold stressed, and in their native habitat bloom after spring and fall rains.

The specimen pictured below rises above a groundcover of big-leaved Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) amidst a few Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). If you're looking for a daintier plant, Calliandra eriophylla is a smaller version with darker leaves and pink flowers native to a wider range of California and Texas; we find it not as vigorous. If someone finds a source for the larger Calliandra peninsularis, please let us know!

* Propagation tip: To catch the seeds before the pod opens, we put small bags made of cheesecloth around the pods as they start to brown (or collect the pods when they feel dry and crispy but before they pop open). The seeds germinate in about 5 days. Because the thin tap root runs along the bottom of a seed tray, potting up seedlings can be tricky. The roots also go straight to the bottom of a pot and then circle. Because of this, we found it best to plant the seeds directly to a 2" rose pot (one per pot) in spring, then pot up frequently to a slightly larger pot (such as 3.5", then 5") until we reach a one gallon size. It's labor intensive, but we feel it builds a better root mass.

Calliandra californica

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