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