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Sticky Monkeyflower (Mimulus auranticus): Part 1

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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.

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Next post: sticky monkeyflower in the garden and in beds

{ 15 comments… add one }

  • tina May 1, 2009, 2:36 pm

    Very cool. I’ve never ever seen this before.

  • Town Mouse May 1, 2009, 3:36 pm

    Aren’t they amazing? I’ll be going to Tassajara monastery for a few days at the end of the month. They have their guest season so I can enjoy the fabulous food and hot springs. But one of the best things is the Santa Lucia monkeyflower that grows along the slopes there, a lighter yellow then the ones I have and huge flowers. Yes, I’ll slow my car for that!

  • Nancy Bond May 1, 2009, 4:00 pm

    I think they’re spectacular, but then I do love orange flowers. They have beautiful blooms…any chance you can get a photo of them growing in the rock face? I’m sure it’s a wonderful sight. Beautiful!

  • Pomona Belvedere May 1, 2009, 4:15 pm

    Tina, glad to introduce you to them. They are some of my favorites.

    Town Mouse, I have driven near the Tassajara retreat and it is a beautiful piece of land. If I’m there again I’ll remember to look for the Santa Lucia monkeyflowers.

    Nancy, your idea for a photo is absolutely right – but I’m trying to figure out how it would be possible. The narrow highway they grow on is heavily trafficked and has pretty much no shoulder. It does have wide spots, though…

  • Pomona Belvedere May 1, 2009, 4:17 pm

    By no shoulder, I mean, a steep cliff up on one side and a steep cliff down on the other.

  • cyd May 1, 2009, 5:10 pm

    What a stunning flower. I wish I could smell them.

  • Pomona Belvedere May 1, 2009, 10:45 pm

    They really do smell like orange bubblegum!

  • cyd May 2, 2009, 3:52 am

    I hope you were able to reach out your window and grab a bouquet.

  • Michelle May 2, 2009, 5:03 am

    Thats new to me. I have heard of them and seem some in catalogs but that one is really nice.

  • Gail May 2, 2009, 6:11 pm

    California is a land of beautiful~~flowers! I love the sweet orange of this beauty….and it smells of orange bubblegum! That is a nice treat. I had to look them up…to learn more about them! Thanks for the introduction. gail

  • Pomona Belvedere May 2, 2009, 7:18 pm

    Michelle – I’d be interested to know which catalogues you found these in, I didn’t think they were available too many places.

    Gail – Yes, California, beautiful under duress – every time I think we humans have messed it up completely I see something beautiful like these flowers and feel grateful.

  • catmint May 2, 2009, 11:26 pm

    Hi Pomona, I have this in my garden and it is absolutely indestructible so far (cross fingers). I knew nothing about its origins in the wild so found this post very interesting. All I knew was it is called Mimulus. So I look forward to the next post promised. Cheers, catmint

  • Frances May 3, 2009, 4:38 am

    Hi Pomona, what a beauty, no matter the name(s). That is my favorite color, and I cannot wait to see them used in garden bed settings. I would slow my car down also, to drink in the sight of these flowers on the cliffs. Cliffs in general are pretty cool too. :-)
    Frances

  • Pomona Belvedere May 3, 2009, 11:49 am

    Catmint, I am amazed they traveled so far, but now you mention it they make perfect sense in your garden.

  • Pomona Belvedere May 3, 2009, 1:29 pm

    Cliffs are cool, Frances, I agree. I seem always to live around them, too.

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