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Sticky Monkeyflower (Mimulus auranticus; Diplacus auranticus) Part 2: In the Garden and In Beds

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Beds may be a natural place for sticky monkeyflower. According to the Flower Essence Society, sticky monkeyflower tinctures can be used for integrating human love and human sexuality; possibly some of the keys to this are the “facelike” flower,  more pointedly human (to some), and the orange color, color of the second chakra, which involves creative power of all kinds, including sexual. (Flower essences are homeopathic tinctures which address the emotions behind illnesses; they have no scent. They are often surprisingly effective where other remedies fail, and work well with other medications.)

The association of the flower with partnerships may also come from a salient plant fact: sticky monkeyflowers emerge in opposite pairs. Lots of them. The “double” meaning of one of its Latin names, Diplacus, is clear here.

Sticky monkeyflower is also used in the sickbed. The Miwoks used the root for diarrhea, dysentery, fevers, and hemorrhages. The leaves were made into a poultice for sores and burns, apparently having antiseptic qualities. This was important: in eras or places with no antibiotics, people could die of a septic cut.

The Miwoks had an aesthetic relationship with this plant, too. Flowers were used for wreaths, and put in children’s hair as ornaments. The back-to-the-landers in this area have used them the same way, but it’s a fleeting joy: sticky monkeyflower doesn’t last long off the bush, even if it’s in a vase with water.

Like snapdragons, monkeyflowers belong to the figwort family, which may be why they aren’t denuded by deer. Deer tend not to like members of the figwort family, a fine piece of news for those of us who garden in deer country. (You will have noticed that I wasn’t rash enough to say, Deer won’t eat monkeyflower. Deer will eat anything that grows, if they’re hungry enough.)

This unfurling bud shows sticky monkeyflower’s relationship to foxgloves and snapdragons. The snoutlike buds are very similar on all three flowers.

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Sticky monkeyflower does attract bees and happily drunken hummingbirds, though, a big bonus in the garden. Another bonus: sticky monkeyflower is happy in serpentine soils, not the easiest type to grow plants in.

Given their beauty and deer resistance, I think sticky monkeyflower is a beautiful candidate for a low-water azalea substitute. It has the same low bushy form (it never gets more than knee-high, and usually only goes up to your shins), and the same striking display of bright flowers in spring. Liz Simpson  shows a beautiful example of sticky monkeyflower planted with native penstemon, for a gorgeous low-water spring display.

In moister, milder climates, sticky monkeyflower can bloom through the summer. While they are designed for dry rocky cliffs, clearly sticky monkeyflower has some variability in where it chooses to settle. Not only is there a coastal version of this plant, there are reports of it blooming in cool, foggy, rainy Castro Valley, San Francisco. It’s even doing well in at least one garden in  Bellevue, (in the cool part of Washington state).

Some gardeners recommend watering sticky monkeyflower once a month, for a fuller, more floriferous plant. (Most natives need to be watered somewhat through their first season, while their roots establish themselves.) Eje   at Dave’s Garden says that if you do that, it’s a good idea to hold off on the water at the end of the season, to encourage the plants into the dormancy they’d have in the wild. Of course in my area, where they grow naturally, it rains in the winter (the time they’re dormant). I’m not sure if this is a difference in sticky monkeyflower subspecies (makes a case for the splitters) or a clever idea for tricking the plant into dormancy where there is no winter cold.

While all this is beginning to sound like a lot of trouble, most gardeners who grow it stress how easy sticky monkeyflower is, and how tolerant of different conditions. I get the impression that these gardeners love the plant so much, they just want to help it show off its best.

The hard part may be getting  hold of sticky monkeyflower plants.  Like most wild plants, sticky monkeyflower doesn’t transplant well. Don’t dig it up, unless you’re ten minutes ahead of a bulldozer. That’s the only situation where you’re giving the plant more of a chance than it would have had if you hadn’t jumped in. Transplanting usually kills it.

If you want sticky monkeyflower, you must either save seed or get it from a native plant sale, or online from Las Pilitas Nursery . Las Pilitas is one of the authoritative sites which lists it as Diplacus auranticus and has some subspecies, with full explanations of their plant community and growing conditions. (If you have other sources for this plant,  please let us know. Since Catmint found it in her garden in Australia, it’s obviously got some  far-reaching conduits out of here.)

If you want to try growing your own, the easiest way to get the seed is to put a small paper bag over the almost-ripe pod. It’s always good to check the spot where it grows, so you can give the plant what it wants in your own garden: what’s the soil like? Drainage? Plant community? Sun exposure? After you gather this info, leave, then return when the seeds are ripe. The bag keeps the tiny seeds from falling irretrievably into the dust. The best time to sow seed is when nature does: in time to catch the fall and winter rains.

CApoppy at Dave’s Garden reports success from taking cuttings, something which I never even thought of trying. Root in early fall for planting in spring, is CApoppy’s advice, and you can cut it back in spring to keep it less leggy. Capoppy also suggests a remarkable-sounding combination; sticky monkeyflower with a maroon and apricot Pacific Coast hybrid iris, which presumably has the same low water requirements.

I haven’t grown this wildling in my garden (although writing this post is making me wonder why. Then I remember: I don’t have much sun. Oh yeah, that’s why.) . I hope those of you who have more experience at growing woody plants from seed and cuttings will speak up about your own methods.

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(Nancy, this is the closest to the growing-off-the-cliff thing that I’ve got.)

References:

Tracy I. Stone and Robert L. Usinger, Sierra Nevada Natural History, University of California Press, 1963

Theodore R. Niehaus, Sierra Wildflowers: Mt. Lassen to Kern Canyon, University of California Press, 1974

National Park Service, California, wildflower page

http://davesgarden.com

{ 17 comments… add one }

  • tina May 4, 2009, 3:18 am

    Wonderful post and such good advice on digging wildings-10 minutes before a bulldozer-I’ll remember that one:)

  • cyd May 4, 2009, 5:35 am

    I will always marvel at the way the natives used the flora and funa around them. It nice to be able to look up flower solutions before you have to try other means.

  • Pomona Belvedere May 4, 2009, 9:12 am

    tina – yes, and it’s really best to be sure the bulldozer operators are on break, first.

    cyd – I’m a big believer in trying the flower solutions, or anything easier and gentle, first, before going on to anything more drastic.

  • Town Mouse May 4, 2009, 6:50 pm

    Lovely post! Who knew this plant had so many uses? I’ve actually been pretty lucky growing monkey flowers from cuttings from my own plants. At least they’ve survived the winter and are now blooming. I agree it’s an easy plant, and have found it will either die quickly or be happy, much preferable to the lingering death some plants have put me through. I believe I lose 1 for every 7 I plant, not bad at all. And the ones that survive are truly stunning.

  • Pomona Belvedere May 4, 2009, 7:20 pm

    Town Mouse, thanks for your valuable informaton. 1 out of 7 is great, and so is the fact that it either gets down to business and dies, or lives. I agree with you, the lingerers drive me crazy, I can never bring myself to just off them. This is encouraging me to try cuttings and see what I get in semishade.

  • ryan May 5, 2009, 10:48 am

    Beautiful photos. I didn’t know any of that info about the history and associations of the plant.
    I’ve had success, too, growing it from cuttings that I did about the same as salvia cuttings. The Watershed Nursery almost always has it, from Bay Area seed stock, which makes taller rangier plants, up to six feet if you don’t cut them back every year, about as deer and clay and drought tolerant as you can find but best from a distance and towards the back of plantings. People are often a bit bothered or concerned by the way the plants hang onto their old leaves, for instance my dad is always asking if his plants are all right, so we mostly use the wild ones for really tough sites.
    We have a low-growing hybrid in our garden that’s one of the best bloomers of any plant we’ve ever grown.

  • Pomona Belvedere May 5, 2009, 11:10 am

    Thanks about the photos, and thanks for this useful information about the different types you’ve grown. (I think you’re making another case for the splitters…) I’ve never seen six-footers, but I do know how they hang on to their old leaves, I guess I’m not fussy enough to consider that a problem.

  • catmint May 6, 2009, 5:19 am

    The mimula in my garden has survived heat and drought and also being rudely disturbed and moved – again and again and … Naturally though it isn’t very big and when it flowered the flowers looked just like the ones in the photo. As a wildling, it seems to me to be very suited to being a tameling.

  • Pomona Belvedere May 6, 2009, 8:28 am

    Catmint – that’s an interesting piece of news, my experience is that most wild plants croak when they’re transplanted. I didn’t know this one was any different.

  • lostlandscape(James) May 7, 2009, 7:07 pm

    Pomona, some of the huskiest plants I’ve seen locally are in shady spots and on northern slopes. Maybe your lack of sun might not be such a problem. I have some in a spot that currently gets 3 or so hours of full sun a day. They’re not the best looking plants, but they’re okay.

    Thanks for you two great posts. Very interesting to read about this gratifying plant!

  • Pomona Belvedere May 8, 2009, 9:46 am

    James, thanks for this. I feel silly saying it, but that cliff-ful of sticky monkeyflowers I was mentioning – it’s a north-facing slope. A little embarrassing to have someone out of the area point that out to me, but hopeful for having sticky monkey in my garden.

  • Gayle Madwin May 14, 2009, 11:49 pm

    I have sticky monkeyflower, and I have to work hard to find anywhere in my yard that’s sufficiently *shady* for it to survive. I can’t imagine worrying about not having enough sun for it.

  • Pomona Belvedere May 15, 2009, 8:05 pm

    I’m glad to have reports from those of you who are in the know – and it bodes well for me having sticky monkey in my garden. Definitely taking cuttings this fall.

  • Ecology student October 13, 2009, 11:03 pm

    Hi there! I’m writing a brief paper on the sticky monkey flower (diplacus aurantiacus) for my ecology class and was wondering if you could answer some specific questions….
    1. Do you know how many seeds diplacus aurantiacus generally produces and how they are dispersed?
    2. If not deer, do you know what species primarily consumes it or its seeds?

    Any help you, or fellow commentors can offer would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks for your time!

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  • Kerim October 24, 2015, 11:55 am

    Thank you for the activity page and for your worfendul books. My third graders at Berry Elementary (an Environmental Science magnet school in Houston, TX) adore Sticky Burr. They have been passing our copies around the classroom like crazy, and keep asking me when the next one is coming out. Is there another story in the works?

  • Howard Weamer June 17, 2017, 8:49 am

    Only about the size. In Lafayette CA we have tens of thousands of blooms on every aspect. It is now (mid June,2017, very wet year) the dominant blooming plant, in roadcuts, but also mixed with yerba santa and oak brush, and every bit as tall.

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