The Appeal of the Sticky Monkey Flower

Today’s column is about a California native shrub that widely available, and a fine addition to the garden.

The plant is the Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus, or Diplacus aurantiacus). Its common name reflects the feelings of some very imaginative observers that the plant’s blossom resembles a monkey’s face.

Orange blossoms
Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus) and Pacific Coast Iris ‘Canyon Snow’ (Iris douglasiana)

The reference to “sticky” refers to a naturally occurring phenolic resin in the leaves, which deters the feeding of certain butterfly larvae, and also helps the plant retain water in dry environments.

The leaves of some other plants can become sticky from the sugary honeydew secreted by aphids and some other insects. Yet other plants can be sticky naturally because their leaves and stems have tiny hairs that can cling to passers-by and help the plant to spread. An exemplar of this survival strategy is a weed with many names, including Cleavers (Galium aparine).

The Sticky Monkey Flower grows up to four feet tall. Its blossoms are tubular at the base and about one inch long. They are most commonly a light orange in color, but some varieties display other shades, ranging from white to red.

This plant can grow in full sun or partial shade and will be most floriferous in bright sun, presenting an attractive display over a long period from late winter through summer.

Like many California native plants, Sticky Monkey Flower thrives in a wide range of difficult soil types when good drainage is provided. It requires little or no irrigation during the Monterey Bay area’s summer-dry climate.

This plant occurs in many different vegetation habitats and is compatible with a large number of other California native plant communities. For this reason, it offers considerable versatility in the landscape, and can have many other native plants as suitable companions.

The Sticky Monkey Flower attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, and also resists deer.

Maintenance recommendations include installing deep organic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weeds, pinching back new growth in spring to maintain compact form, and deadheading spent blossoms to foster flower production.

There are at least six species within the genus Mimulus (or Diplacus) and a growing number of hybrid cultivars. For an overview of the genus, visit the Las Pilatus Nursery website (www.laspilatas) and search for “monkey flowers.”

The Sticky Monkey Flower is a good example of a California native plant that offers ready availability at local garden centers, low maintenance, and very good “garden-worthiness.” If you have been hesitant about using California native plants in your landscape, this plant could change your mind.

A timely opportunity to discover new plants for your garden occurs this weekend, at the annual Mother’s Day Sale of Cabrillo College’s Horticulture Department. This academic program is a fine horticultural resource for the Monterey Bay area, and this sale is a both a good shopping event and an important fund-raiser for the Hort. Dept. For information including plant list, search the internet for “Cabrillo plant sale.” Include California native plants in your garden!

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