Home Featured Nature at UCSB: The California Sunflower

Nature at UCSB: The California Sunflower

Nature at UCSB: The California Sunflower

Melanie Martinez

Science and Tech Editor

If you’re ever on a walk near the San Nicolas dormitory or the De La Guerra dining hall, you might see an assortment of coastal sage scrub. However, amongst them, one might stand out besides the others with its vibrant, yellow color sprinkled along the side of the lagoon path. The California sunflower, also known as Encelia californica, is the soft chaparral that is reminiscent of its sister plant, the tall, stalky, sunflower.

Similar to a common sunflower, the California sunflower’s long, oval-shaped, yellow petals illuminate the flower’s presence. However, the California sunflower doesn’t reach a height taller than 5 feet, whereas a regular sunflower can reach 11 feet. Instead, the yellow-speckled scrub grows low to the ground, expanding as much as 7 feet wide, similar to a bush. And rather than one tall green stalk, the California sunflower grows in clusters of thin green branches that propel the flower upwards. The flower cluster in the center, usually a yellowish-brown shade, contains many flower heads crucial for seed dispersal. Fortunately, they are successful and the flower can easily spread. 

Common to Southern California and Baja California, the sunflower scrub can be found on bluffs, slopes, and canyons. They do, however, prefer dry, south or west-facing slopes. The California sunflower is drought tolerant, an advantage in drought-ridden California, but it is not frost-tolerant. Consequently, the shrub prefers to be doused in sunlight. 

Luckily, since spring is now upon us, the California sunflower is in its season of blooming. The plant sports its flowers during winter and spring, preferably between the months of Feb. and June. So currently, the flowers are in their prime. Within this blooming season, the sunflower’s rich nectar is able to attract an assortment of insects. Some notable ones are the fatal metalmark butterfly and the orange tortrix moth. 

While the California sunflower is a beautiful and bright scrub, it can also be a pain to gardeners and landscapers. If left untended the flower could become an invasive species. It will choke out surrounding plants, thus potentially decimating a growing garden. It is recommended to plant these native species but replace them later with longer-lived shrubs. 

However, don’t mistake this scrub as simply a pest; it does have its benefits. They grow very fast and are easy to grow. And with its plenty of flower heads, it reseeds quickly, therefore retaining its presence. The California sunflower also is helpful to be used for ground cover and for erosion control. Even better is that the flower is not easily infested by pests nor prone to disease, which makes it easy to maintain. 

The California sunflower is a common coastal sage scrub that can be found all over campus in various spots from the lagoon to North Campus Open Space. They add the much-needed color to a seemingly endless greenish-brown background. The flower has many attributes that only add to the interesting personality of the plant. Before the summer begins, make sure to check out these beautiful scrubs before they lay dormant until winter!

Skip to content