Shedding Light on the Gold

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Last weekend was the Theodore Payne Foundation Garden Tour. It was wonderful showing off my garden and speaking with like-minded nature lovers. And the volunteer docents provided by Theodore Payne Foundation were excellent – knowledgeable, fun, and helpful. Thanks to Jennifer and Anita!

Anyway, during the day I was asked which native plant in my garden was my favorite, not including coast live oaks. I had a hard time but was prompted to answer with flannel bush. You see my Fremontodendrons were in full, exquisite bloom. I demurred, noting that I am afraid to love them too much.

You see they are finicky. When they are doing well, they are doing great! But, when they aren’t, they don’t linger, they just drop-dead with no muss and no fuss. This kind of ending is all too common.

They are particularly averse to summer water. Mine are growing in delightful, loamy soil next to the backyard lawn (yes, I have lawn). A sign posted next this spectacular shrub informed the public that I was going to move the lawn edge further away from the flannel bush and never, ever water it in the summer. Still, these are not ideal conditions and it is very likely my fabulous flannel bush will depart suddenly, sooner rather than later (I’m just sayin’).


In any event all of this interest in these breathtaking shrubs got me researching the genus, species and available cultivars. So here’s my quick primer on Fremontodendron.

There are two species in California: F. californicum and F. mexicanum.

There are two subspecies of F. californicum: ssp. californicum and ssp. decumbens. The former has a large range, covering most of the state except for Desert and Great Basin Provinces (Jepson), and it is variable in many ways. It is variable in size, ranging from 5 to 20 ft tall or more, shape, leaf size, and even flower size. Flower color varies from bright yellow to orangy-yellow.

F. c. ssp. decumbens has a very small range, being found only in the footlhills of the High Sierra, Pine Hill, El Dorado County. It has a mounding habit, usually less than 4 ft. tall, spreading to twice as wide often with trailing stems and blue-green leaves.

The second species, F. mexicanum is limited in range to California Peninsular Ranges in San Diego County, but is also found in Baja California. It grows as an upright tree to 25 feet in height with stiff, angled branches, and larger flowers that bloom intermittently over a longer period than F. californicum.

There are several cultivars that are hybrids of F. californicum and F. mexicanum.

  1. California Glory, selected at RSABG, is presumed to be a hybrid of these two species. It was named and introduced in 1962, and has won awards from both the California and the Royal Horticultural Societies. It can grow to 20 feet in height and wider, is fast growing, and floriferous in the extreme.
  2. Pacific Sunset, another RSABG hybrid, was produced by controlled hybridization from seed in 1950. Also twenty feet in height and up to forty feet in width, its flowers have a bit more orange than the similar San Gabriel named cultivar.
  3. San Gabriel, also produced by controlled hybridization from seed, is similar in size but has clear yellow flowers.
California Glory flannel bush at RSABG.


Cultivars have also been created from crossing F. californicum ssp. decumbens with California Glory.

1. Ken Taylor, named by Nevin Smith in 1981, and produced and selected by Saratoga Horticultural Foundation and others has orange-yellow blooms, and a lower cascading form.

Ken Taylor in Cultivar Garden at RSABG in spring 2009.


Ken Taylor along uphill path from entrance to Garden Shop at Rancho. This has been here as long as I can remember.

2. El Dorado Gold, four to six feet in height and double in width, has yellow orange flowers, small dark green leaves and may be the most suited to garden conditions.
3. West Hills Hybrid has an uncertain history with involvement of Western Hills Nursery, Wintergreen Nursery and others. It reaches up to six feet in height, and wider, growing with an interesting layered, almost pagoda-shaped form, with deep orange-gold flowers with blue-green leaves. It is one of my favorites.

West Hills Hybrid – deep, dusty green leaves and rusty gold flowers.

Reaching about 6 ft. in height, horizontal limbs give it an interesting form.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden introduced Dara’s Gold, another low growing flannel bush, more appropriate in size for garden. This plant is a cross between F. californicum ssp. decumbens and the tree-like, F. mexicanum. It was developed by horticulturist Dara Emery in 1970 and grows to three feet in height and double or more in width, carrying wide, bright yellow flowers.


So with all of this lead up, now I’d like to show you the two flannel bushes growing in my yard and ask if anyone out there can tell me what they are. You see, one had a California Glory label and the other had a different label that I can’t find. Not only that, but I’m not sure which one had the label (typical!). To be fair, Bart O’Brien, from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, had a look at both and gave me his opinion (which I have found to be, in almost all cases, correct). Maybe we can prove him wrong, even though my followup research indicates we probably won’t get him this time. Tell me what you think.

North flannel bush on left, East flannel bush on right.




Summary of differences between North and East flannel bushes:

North shrub:

  1. Branches less stiff, herring bone pattern.
  2. From a distance shrub looks less orange, flowers more clear yellow in color.
  3. Underneath side of leaves have mostly white hairs.
  4. Petioles beneath sepals are longer.
  5. Leaf petioles often slightly twisted.

East shrub:

  1. Stiffer, straighter branches.
  2. From a distance both shrub looks more orangy, and flowers slightly golder in color.
  3. Underneath side of leaves have rusty colored hairs.
  4. Petioles beneath sepals are shorter.
  5. Leaf petioles mostly straight.
And finally, in answer to the question, what is my favorite? I’d have to say toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia). Nothing too fancy but the red berries in late fall are seasonally cheerful, and it is a durable, hard working shrub that in a mere five years has screened a view I prefer not to see.

Bornstein, Carol, David Fross, Bart O’Brien. 2005. California Native Plants for the Garden. Los Olivos, CA: Cachuma Press. pp. 109-111.

Lenz Lee W. and John Dourley. 1981. California Native Trees & Shrubs. Claremont, CA: RSABG. pp.

O’Brien, Bart. 1997. The Genus Fremontodendron in RSABG Occasional Publications, No. 1, Out of the Wild and Into the Garden I. Bart O’Brien, Lorrae Fuentes, and Lydia Newcombe, Eds. Claremont, CA: RSABG. pp. 167-178

Schmidt, Marjorie G.. 1980. Growing California Native Plants. Berkeley, CA: UC Press. pp. 233-234.

Smith, M. Nevin. 2006. Native Treasures. Berkeley, CA: UC Press. pp. 127-131.

Web-based References:
Green, Emily. The Dry Garden: Stunning flannel bush comes with prickly problems.
Feb. 25, 2011. (4/11/2011)

Hinsley, Stewart R. The Fremondodendreae Pages. (4/11/2011)

Jepson Interchange. Fremontodendron.,7708 (4/11/2011)

San Marcos Growers. Fremontodendron ‘Dara’s Gold’. (4/11/2011)

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Plant Introduction Program. Fremontodendron ‘Dara’s Gold’.,

Saratoga Horticultural Foundation Research Association. Fremontodendron Plant Culture Sheets. (4/11/2011)

Suncrest Nurseries. Fremontodendron. (4/11/2011)

14 thoughts on “Shedding Light on the Gold

  1. Excellent post Barbara. I've avoided planting Fremontodendron, primarily because I'd heard they can be fussy. However, as they're supposedly fire resistant, and deer resistant, it might be worth trying one in one of our drier garden areas. I like the lower growing habit of Ken Taylor. The two in your garden look fabulous, sadly though, I'm no help on their identity.

  2. Thanks for posting this great recap. I love Fremontodendron and am looking forward to planting some. It's exciting to find out that there are even more varieties to choose from than I had thought.

  3. CVF: They are only fussy for a short time and then they are dead. Give them a try because they are spectacular from the get-go. I would not have tried them either except that I got the plants for a bargain price after volunteering at a CNPS plant sale. Couldn&#39;t resist and I&#39;m glad I didn&#39;t!<br /><br />Echold: Think big: California Glory, Pacific Sunset, San Gabriel. Smaller, mounding:

  4. Excellent and informative post, Barbara. I haven&#39;t included Fremontodendron in any of my plans precisely because of their reputation as unreliable in garden situations. On the other hand, I too have heard &#39;El Dorado Gold&#39; is a good choice–if one is willing to take the risk. I remember Bart pointing out a mounding variety that was growing on the bank above the service road @Rancho (

  5. Hi CNGD. The service road to the building has several different flannel bushes, including El Dorado Gold and Dara&#39;s Gold and West Hills Hybrid. I remember seeing West Hills Hybrid and El Dorado Gold, not sure about Dara&#39;s Gold in that location. The Ken Taylor is on the path up to the admin. building.

  6. Anonymous

    Your blog is excellent, especially for the practical advice and visuals.<br /><br />For example, all the manuals say: &quot;Deadhead when seeds appear.&quot; For a first time gardener, &quot;What the heck does that mean or look like?&quot; Well, somewhere on this blog there was a picture of a Gilia bursting with seed. Aaaha, so THAT&#39;S what they mean.<br /><br />For that one and countless

  7. I had to drop back by. The UCSC Arboretum had their spring plant sale this morning, and low and behold, they had some &#39;Ken Taylor&#39; available. If I hadn&#39;t read this post, I probably would have walked right by it. Instead I picked up TWO (just in case one is fussy) 😉 I hope they&#39;ll do well, I think I have the perfect spot! Thank you for the inspiration!

  8. Thanks Anon. Don&#39;t know about celebrity but I do enjoy writing this blog. When I have a lot of things to do that I don&#39;t want to do – eg. going to city council to argue for the Nature Park – I yearn for a quiet few hours to work on the blog. Who knows, maybe it will be a book someday.<br /><br />CVF – Awesome. Ken Taylor is really pretty – very interesting color – kind of dusky leaves (is

  9. Excellent post! Fremontodendrons were hit and miss for me, but mostly because I had a penchant for over-watering. To date, however, I&#39;ve got an 8&#39; San Gabriel, and smaller specimens of Dara&#39;s Gold, Ken Taylor, and California Glory thriving on the grounds. Just had to learn to turn off the faucet before the hot &amp; dry weather were manifest.

  10. Superb information and i like this post, interesting…<br />Thanks for sharing..

  11. Shaila Andrabi

    I am desperately looking for El Dorado gold. I live by Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont.

    • Dear Shaila. You can find a list of native plant providers at

      I checked a few places and most are not selling Fremontodendron at this time of year. Flannel bush does not like summer water and so it really benefits from planting in late fall to winter. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden has a few for sale: Pacific Sunset, California Glory and San Gabriel – all probably too big for what you want! They may be able to order El Dorado Gold for you.

      Suncrest Nursery is one of the big Calif. providers, however, they are only showing ‘Ken Taylor’ and ‘Sungold Hybrids’. Ken Taylor may work for you. Sungold Hybrids is new to me but it is also smaller. Rancho may be able to order one of these for you from Suncrest.

      No one seems to have El Dorado Gold, which is a shame because it is a very nice, fairly low, mounding hybrid. If I think of any other place that may have it, I’ll pass the info along.

      • Shaila Andrabi

        Thanks so much for the swift response. RSABG is not taking orders right now. They sold me a California Glory and told me to prune it if it got too big. Problem is my only spot is close to newly planed Penstemons and Manzanitas. There are some new California sunflowers too so this CA Glory is probably meeting its death soon as I will be watering near it. I will try to get it in fall then. And put in an order somewhere for fall.

        • weedingwildsuburbia

          You really, really do not want to try to make a California Glory into an Eldorado Gold!!! That would take a herculean effort. I have what is probably a Ca Glory near my garage and it requires some pruning. That is not a fun job! And as you note, you don’t want it near anything that requires summer water. Too bad they won’t order but it is probably best to wait until fall or winter, if possible.

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