Ceanothus bushes, also known as California lilacs, have enamored me for a number of years. They are a native plant that grows in great number in my part of inland San Diego County so I’ve added many to my yard. But one I can’t seem to possess.

I first noticed it about ten years ago while hiking Mount Woodson on the Ramona side. Among sumacs and buckwheat were bushes around six to ten feet tall that glowed with white flowers in the middle of winter, before anything else had started blooming.

I took cuttings and tried to root them. No luck. I found the plant’s name, Ceanothus crassifolius, or Hoaryleaf ceanothus (an unattractive name for an attractive plant), and tried to buy one at a nursery but never have I found one. I tried to germinate seeds but failed.

This winter, the crassifolius bushes began to open flowers around the end of February and they reached their peak in early March, when some hillsides between Mount Woodson and Lakeside along Highway 67 looked dusted with snow, there were so many in full bloom.

Ceanothus crassifolius bushes last week on my neighbor’s property. Photo: Carmen Johnson.

I’d never seen them so concentrated so I planned to take pictures of them this week but it’s already too late. Their flowers have turned more of a cream color, their glow is lost, and you’d barely notice them anymore. I suppose this is another way in which Ceanothus crassifolius bushes have eluded me.

Ceanothus crassifolius flowers now cream colored.
The flowers are still beautiful but they have lost their white glow.

Ceanothus crassifolius are said to grow in the mountains throughout Southern California, but I have never noticed them outside of San Diego County. Maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention though?

Regardless, I see them more often on south sides of hills. Most other ceanothus bushes have blue flowers, and those I see more often on a hill’s north aspect or in a drainage.

Close view Ceanothus crassifolius shows the pink, yellow, and black of different parts of the flowers that are overwhelmed by the white of the sepals when looking from afar. Photo: Carmen Johnson.

Did you notice this white ceanothus on the hillsides earlier this winter? Are you noticing the blue ceanothus now?

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