Irresistible Monkeyflowers

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Is there anyone who does not love monkeyflowers? Even the name is adorable. Given the variety of colors, their showiness, and their enthusiasm for going into bloom – with or without roots – they are irresistible.

Now for a wee bit of background before hitting you with colorful pictures – and yes, the term “garden porn” is accurate here. The genus Mimulus, formerly in the Figwort family (Scrophulariaceae), has been shown to be more closely related to the Lopseed family (Phrymaceae) and is now recognized as such. According to Beardsley et al., 2004, there are approximately 120 species worldwide, and the Jepson Manuel recognizes 67 different types of Mimulus in California. This is a large and confusing group of plants, with much disagreement among experts on taxonomy. (For those not up on the taxonomy debates, a quick and dirty explanation is: which plants are mostly closely related to which, and how closely related are they.)

We will limit the discussion here to shrubby monkeyflowers, including Mimulus aurantiacus, M. puniceus, M. longiflorus, M. bifidus, M. flemingii, and the resulting myriad of cultivars. Shrubby monkeyflowers have woody stems, and typically grow from two to three feet in height, and as wide or slightly wider. They do well in part-shade, especially in Southern California, blooming in mid to late spring. Most find them to be short-lived in the garden, usually three to five years. Some gardeners have a difficult time keeping them going for more than just one year. Since they root easily from cuttings, gardeners can ensure a continued supply by propagating from young, healthy plants. Each spring I take cuttings before the monkeyflowers go into bloom. I keep three to four cuttings in a decorative clay pot so that I can enjoy these flowering beauties while they bulk up for planting in the garden the following year. Monkeyflowers do well with winter or spring planting.

Cuttings put in pot with perlite/potting soil mix, and covered with plastic container to keep it from wilting

Containers with monkeyflower cuttings. Yellow flowering plant is Mimulus ‘Sulfer Yellow’ – and yes it is spelled with an ‘f’. This is not a shrubby monkeyflower, but rather it is related to Mimulus clevelandii, I think.

Southern monkeyflower from Southern California (Mimulus aurantiacus, or M. longiflorus to some – I told you there was a lot of debate!) is quite variable in flower color. It can be white, yellow, buff, orange or even pink. Back in 2008, a caller to the RSABG Garden Hotline alerted me to a white monkeyflower growing near Nix Nature Center in Orange County. I went to have a look and sure enough it was white, and right next to it was a lovely pink one. At Rancho the monkeyflowers in the North Garden come up every year in a dazzling variety of colors: deep red, orange with yellow margin, soft yellow and so on.

White monkeyflowers at Nix Nature Center, Laguana Coast Wilderness Park

multi-colored monkeyflowers at Nix Nature Center, Laguana Coast Wilderness Park

Plant breeders have had a field day with monkeyflowers. Cultivars have come from breeders including Richard Persoff, David Verity, Phil Van Soelen, and nurseries such as Yerba Buena Nursery, Tree of Life Nursery, Theodore Payne Foundation, and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, and others. Every year there seem to be more. (Click on this link for a list of 65 named cultivars.)

My favorite cultivars are Eleanor, Dos Equis, and Ruby Silver. Eleanor forms a dense shrub about three feet tall and wide. It maintains a fairly nice shape even when not in bloom. Its flowers are creamy yellow, getting lighter toward the throat and margins, with orange markings in the center. Dos Equis is much smaller but it blooms prolifically over a long period of time. Its flowers are rich orange, and reddish-orange on the outside of the bloom. Ruby Silver has a deep mauve color with a metallic hint. It has lasted many years in my garden, though it tends to be a bit rangy.

Mimulus ‘Eleanor’ bloomng in late April.

Mimulus ‘Dos Equis’ blooming in late March. It has a long bloom period.

Mimulus ‘Ruby Silver’

As for care, do not pamper and over water these plants. They will respond with excessive growth and will likely rot out quickly. In the valleys and inland areas plant in part shade. When the plants are young they grow very quickly. Pinch back to maintain a dense form. The stems you remove in early spring can rooted for future use in the garden. After the bloom period is over, cut back the flowering stems. If you water in the summer, after cutting back the spent flowers, they will go into bloom again. This shortens the life of the plants, but can give you a very long bloom period. The plants can be pruned lightly again in fall or winter before they start actively growing.

Check out the slide show on my blog and on flickr for more pictures of these delightful flowers. (Please remember all images are copyrighted and may not be reproduced/used on another site without my approval. Thanks.)

12 thoughts on “Irresistible Monkeyflowers

  1. Kat

    Thanks for highlighting these adorable little plants. I had not seen the white variety before. Must make room for some in the garden.

  2. Great post Barbara. I hadn't heard of half of the cultivars you listed but got excited by more than a few of them. The white forms pop up every now and again and sell really well – usually ending up in formal gardens.

  3. Monkeys are great. That white one is really nice. I was enjoying M. lewisii up in the mountains last month. Never seen it in a garden.

  4. Kat – thanks. I&#39;ve liked Jelly Bean White – though it is not as pure white as Verity White and Phil&#39;s New White.<br /><br />Garden Natives – Some of the cultivars are probably not available. Rancho has been a good source for weird monkeyflower cultivars, though they&#39;ve gotten many from Suncrest, Native Sons and Cal Flora nurseries as well. Sam is not really white but it sure has

  5. Oh, those pictures are so beautiful! I sure don&#39;t know what I&#39;m doing wrong, most of my monkeyflowers just look dreadful this time of year. Come to think of it, when I go hiking, the monkeyflowers out there look equally dreadful, which is some comfort. I guess your mileage will vary, as they say. I&#39;ll continue to think of them as spring beauties, and let the buckwheats take over this

  6. TM – Definitely – the monkeyflowers look bad right now, although Eleanor is one of the better ones. They are spring beauties and if you push them to perform in the summer they don&#39;t last very long. Still they are so pretty in the spring. Thanks for bringing this up.

  7. Thanks for the detailed information on Monkeyflowers. They are always a delight whenever we spy them while hiking in the mountains. To tell the truth I never even thought about trying to grow them. Thanks also for posting a comment on my MacGardens website which led to my visit here. — jw

  8. Yes, there are M. auranthiacus all over the slopes but it reseeds. I guess we don&#39;t mind it looking pretty bad at this time of year – it just fades into the background. In our gardens it is another matter. I will be posting pictures of what mine look like right now. Guess I&#39;ll do that now. Thanks for commenting.

  9. lostlandscape (James)

    I need to get organized with a perpetual propagation campaign for these, I guess. I keep planting them, and keep running into the short-lived barrier. It&#39;s a little strange because M. aurantiacus is all over the slopes of the local canyon and appears to be doing pretty well, though a tad brown this time of year. My local CNPS chapter&#39;s fall sale is coming up and I&#39;m sure I&#39;ll

  10. Anonymous

    Hi, Barbara, <br />Thanks for your extended discussion of these flowers, and the link to the list. I&#39;ve been breeding them for about 20 years,selecting for water tolerance, long blooming period, branching, and compact growth habit. <br />Growers of Most existing cultivars musdt reduce summer watering to allow them to go dormant; my hunch is that the roots aren&#39;t adapted to withstand

  11. Rich, Thanks for commenting. Having dealt with plant sales and plant descriptions at Rancho I feel like I know you since your name comes up so often with regard to mimulus. If you have any corrections or additions to what I&#39;ve written on this genus, please let me know. By the way, what is your favorite monkeyflower?

  12. Hi All,<br /><br />I recently planted three specimens of the &#39;Eleanor&#39; monkeyflower in my garden, and over the last month or two all three have been slowly wilting and look like they&#39;re dying. The three specimens are planted in different areas of the garden, all receiving full sun, and have been dying off in progression across the yard. All of my other natives (sages, wooly blue curls

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