Buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus var. cuneatus)

I paid a long overdue visit yesterday to Sauvie Island Natives and picked up two lovely native buckbrush shrubs, a new Ceanothus species to our yard.  Isn't it pretty? 

Ceanothus spp. are known as keystone plants within ecosystems; that is, they are necessary in order for many wildlife species to complete their life cycle and without them, ecosystems break down.  In fact, there are 120 known caterpillar species that use Ceanothus as a host plant, according to data posted on The National Wildlife Federation site.  "The research of entomologist, Dr. Doug Tallamy, and his team at the University of Delaware have identified 14% of native plants (the keystones) support 90% of butterfly and moth lepidoptera species" ("Keystone Plants by Ecoregion", n.d.).  In our yard, we now have four Ceanothus species: C. sanguinous (2), C. velutinus (2), C. prostatus var. prostatus (many), and now C. cuneatus (2).  I am hoping these Ceanothus spp. within our yard will bring in higher levels of biodiversity.  After all, more caterpillars means more food for our local birds. 

Above you will see our second C. cuneatus planted now in our front yard, which will not entirely block our view of the road, and will look beautiful with its springtime white blossoms along the walkway near several of its native associate species.  I am looking forward to observing wildlife from inside our front living room window or from our front doorstep.  This species is monoecious, meaning both male and female parts occur on the same plant.  This means both of our C. cuneatus shrubs will produce fruit/seeds.  Each fruit capsule contains three seeds, explosively ejected.  Since it is often found growing on slopes, many of these ejected seeds slide downwards, while ants and other wildlife carry other seeds further away.  As with most Ceanothus spp., C. cuneatus is nitrogen-fixing, which will add to our soil restoration efforts.

Native Habitat and Range:  Dry, rocky soil in chaparral habitat, cedar-hemlock-Douglas fir forests, forest slopes, grassland/prairies, and other ecosystems.  Ranges from Oregon to the Baja of Mexico at elevations less than 6000 feet.

Size and hardiness:  4-12 feet tall and just as wide.  Drought-tolerant and well-adapted to chaparral fires, which propagates new plants, keeping populations even.  Tolerates colder temperatures and poor soil conditions.  May be shorter-lived in urban yards, usually d/t over-watering.   

Propagation:  Semi-hardwood cuttings in summer or root cuttings in late fall.  Seed propagation requires scarification by fire with cold-stratification for a minimum of several weeks.

Plant associates: Oregon white oak (Garrya Hairy manzanita (Arctostaphylos columbiana), Fremont's silk tassel (Garrya fremontii), Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii), and Ceanothus prostatus var. prostatus), and Cascade Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa), Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), western yarrow (Achillea millefolium var. occidentalis), and many others depending on the ecoregion.

Ethnobotany:  C. cuneatus was utilized frequently by several native peoples in basket and tool construction.  Young shoots were especially valuable in basket weaving by the Mewuk people.  The Kawaiisu used buckbrush twigs for arrow-making and as fuel.  You can read about how native tribes utilized this plant at Native American Ethnobotany DB.

Support to wildlife:  Attractive and supportive to pollinators as a late winter/early spring bloomer.  Fruit and seeds consumed by many wildlife species and attract a wide variety of native birds and small animals.  Foliage used by browse species and as cover for small animals and birds.  Provides nesting sites.  Host for up to 120 caterpillar species, in effect feeding native birds further.


“Keystone Plants by Ecoregion.” (n.d.) National Wildlife Federation, https://www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/About/Native-Plants/keystone-plants-by-ecoregion.