This is the time of year that cars slow down as they ride the river grade. That’s because this is the time of year that the sticky monkeyflower comes out, glowing peach above your head on the south-facing cliffs as you curve down among them. When the season’s right, they’re accented by purple bush lupines.
Sticky monkeyflower can, and does, grow out of perpendicular granite cliffs. There’s generally a bit of crushed granite in the cliffs as well, and either the monkeyflowers root there or their roots help create the crushed granite that eventually (long after my lifetime) will turn into precious soil.
The name mimulus comes from the original Latin meaning of minus, comic actor (probably the same origin as “mime”; does anybody know?). “Monkeyflower” also refers to the facelike characteristics of this flower. To me, it’s no more like a face than, say, a snapdragon (which sticky monkeyflowers resemble), but okay. Whatever.
Sometimes this plant is listed as Diplacus auranticus, a way to distinguish it from its water-loving mimulus relatives. (Diplacus comes from the Greek diploos, meaning “double”.)
The lumpers and splitters are at it again. Many authoritative sources list this plant as Mimulus. But then again, many authoritative sources list it as Diplacus. You decide. The Diplacus branch of the family (for those who prefer splitting) likes dry, rocky slopes. Other monkeyflowers grow in damp places, sometimes even actually standing in water. Whatever its official name, sticky monkeyflower is the only monkeyflower I know of that is woody and grows in dry areas (“bush monkeyflower” is another name for it).
“Auranticus”, the part of the Latin name experts agree on, means orange-red, possibly because of the color of the coastal version of this plant. Pictures of coastal sticky monkeyflower look “oranger” to me; they have more yellow, and they’re darker than the paler peach ones we see here in the foothills. On the other hand, there’s certainly some variance in color from bush to bush, and as the flowers age (they fade a bit), so maybe this is one of those shrubs that sports or adapts easily.
Crossbreeding probably enters in, too. Calflora calls this “a highly variable complex of intergrading and hybridizing forms, many of which have received specific and subspecific names, but which the Jepson Manual has grouped together as a single species.” This photo shows some of those variations. And I have to say, it does make a case for splitting them into subspecies – but splitting how? I’m not going to get into it. I will just continue to describe the plant, and let others carry on the good fight.
As for the “sticky” part of its name: the bush exudes a resin, most noticeable in hot weather. Oddly, unlike most resins, it isn’t particularly aromatic, at least not to my nose. The flowers, on the other hand, have their own unique fragrance: they smell like orange bubblegum. Yet another case of art imitating nature.
Next post: sticky monkeyflower in the garden and in beds