This month in the nursery: Mimulus guttatus (shown in the picture by Janice Bray), which has several common names including seep monkeyflower, common monkeyflower, creekside monkeyflower, yellow monkeyflower, spring monkeyflower, and streambank monkeyflower

A cheerful, yellow-flowered herbaceous perennial, seep monkeyflower is found in multiple plant communities across the California floristic province, among them mixed woodlands, bogs, alpine meadows to creeks up and down the state to the wet soils and seepages of chaparral. The many common names of M. guttatus hint at the plant’s preferred habitat: somewhere with regular water through our dry summers.

Reports of the size of M. guttatus vary — the second edition of Growing California Native Plants by Marjorie G. Schmidt and Katherine L. Greenberg suggests that M. guttatus grows from one to three feet high by one to three feet wide. In Hardy Californians Lester Rowntree writes that “…M. guttatus is a most adaptable monkey-flower, seemingly able to change its foliage with its location, which causes me some bewilderment… In the lowlands it is an ubiquitous species, two or three feet tall, leafy-stalked, lush and attractive when young, perfectly contented to endure summer drought if it may have spring and winter moisture.” M. Nevin Smith describes them simply as “variable.”

In our nursery, “variable” is the most accurate description of M. guttatus, along with adventurous — these flowers are not content to stay confined to their containers and are constantly popping up in new places, their bright yellow blooms giving them away. M. guttatus in our nursery are also varied in appearance depending on where they were originally collected from: our Livermore specimens have a red-burgundy hue to their leaves and are very low growing, many looking almost like a ground cover, no more than three inches tall if that, while our Diablo plants are much taller, with larger leaves and stalks of bright yellow flowers that are much closer to three feet tall.

My experience with this species, both in nurseries and in my own garden, is that in cultivation, they need less water than their common names suggest — my M. guttatus migrated to and now flourish in moist areas in my yard without any supplemental water: under a downspout fed only by fog during summer months; beneath the vent of my dryer where the moist air collects; in pavement cracks beneath a potted plant that gets watered no more than twice a month; in the totally neglected hell strip between the street and the sidewalk in front of my house.

In the nursery they reseed and spread anywhere and everywhere, since there is abundant moisture from when we water the rest of our plants two to three times a week.

Aside from their hardiness and enthusiasm for reseeding themselves, M. guttatus is also a pollinator-friendly garden choice. Nancy Bauer writes in The California Wildlife Habitat Garden that M. guttatus is attractive to many pollinators, especially hummingbirds and several species of butterflies. When planted en masse or with other native plants, M. guttatus can be a valuable habitat plant for birds like quail.

For the culinarily adventurous M. guttatus is an excellent choice, as M. Kat Anderson reports in her seminal work Tending the Wild that M. guttatus was eaten by the Ohlone people in the spring: “…the young leaves of many other plants were gathered and eaten after boiling; these included Mimulus guttatus…”

Since it is shade tolerant, M. guttatus can work in a garden as an understory plant for other moisture-tolerant shrubs and trees. M. guttatus is also a great choice for anyone with a persistent wet spot in the garden, like a creek, drainage channel, downspout or an over-watering neighbor, where some of our moisture-intolerant natives wouldn’t survive.

M. guttatus pairs well with other moisture-tolerant plants, such as Mimulus cardinalis, Stachys pycnantha, Ribes sanguineum, Juncus xiphioides, Sisyrinchium californicum, Heracleum maximum, Iris douglasiana, Baccharis glutinosa and Anemopsis californica.

Because it is tolerant of summer water, M. guttatus can be more easily planted into our summer months (unlike, say, Ceanothus spp., which abhors summer water even for the purposes of establishing its roots).

Native Here has M. guttatus collected from the Bay Hills, Diablo, Livermore, Valley and East Bay sections, so if your garden needs an easy, pollinator-friendly flowering plant that can thrive in sun or shade, take a look at M. guttatus.

Amy McCosh Leonard
Manager, Native Here Nursery

Mimulus guttatus.  Photo by Janice Bray.
Mimulus guttatus. Photo by Janice Bray.