Perhaps the most noticeable and attractive native shrubs in Southern California are species of ceanothus, a member of the buckthorn family.

These flowering plants cover much of the coast and lend beauty to the region's brushy hillsides.

The tiny flowers of the ceanothus, Greek for spiny plant, are white, various shades of blue or lilac and have a flattish, central disk. The blossoms have a strong, sweet scent.

About 60 varieties are native to California, 20 of those to the southern part of the state. One of the few species native to the East Coast is the white-flowered New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) , which, according to legend, was used as a tea substitute during the Revolutionary War.

Because of their color, the names California lilac and wild lilac commonly are used when referring to a number of the coast varieties. Six species can be found in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Big pod ceanothus (Ceanothus megacarpus) , pictured here, is found from Santa Barbara County to San Diego County. The species often constitutes 50% of the ground cover on southern mountain slopes and grows from six to 16 feet tall.

The big pod's smooth, green, ovate leaves are about an inch long and up to three-fourths of an inch wide. The shrub's white flowers begin to blossom in the late winter. The fruit is a hard nut-like capsule.

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