Plant of the Month

Golden Dogbane
Thymophylla pentachaeta

This dainty, long-blooming perennial brings color to southwest gardens from spring to fall. It is admired for attracting butterflies but repelling rabbits, and reseeds where it is happy.

  • Plant Form: Perennial
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 6-10 in. tall x 1-2 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (March-May), Summer (June-Aug), Fall (Sept-Nov)
  • Native to: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Northern Mexico
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 0°F 

Golden Dogbane is a dainty, colorful plant that brings happiness to both gardeners and butterflies. Because it provides both nectar and food for butterflies and their larvae, it is perfect for butterfly gardens. Gardeners can plant just a few of these short-lived perennials, and sit back as they multiply and migrate around the garden. While they reseed readily, they are easily controlled – but we bet you will want them to continue popping up in most places they sprout. Masses of tiny, golden-yellow, daisy-like flowers cover the foliage in spring and fall, flowering through summer in higher elevations, and even into winter where temperatures are mild. The finely textured foliage is strongly scented, yielding it rabbit-resistant. Lightly prune in early spring to rejuvenate or after freezing temperatures to remove any dead stems. This desert-friendly perennial works well in rock gardens and low planters, around pools and on patios, and mixed with groundcovers and wildflowers.

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for August 

Part of my appreciation of our native desert plants comes from the indispensable gifts that these plants have provided for millennia to humans, wildlife, birds, insects, soils, and the whole ecosystem. Indigenous peoples have long valued and used native desert plants for food, medicine, healing, shelter, clothing, utensils, and ceremony.

I would like to share some of these uses that we can incorporate into our lives today, but this comes with a responsibility to reciprocate thoughtful care and stewardship for these tenacious but fragile desert dwellers. I always encourage respectful harvesting and mindful use of our native plants (join one of our workshops to find out how! We prepare these native plants for you to taste, drink, smell, touch, and experience). I also strongly encourage the purchase and planting of native plants in our own yards, especially if we want to harvest their gifts regularly (see our section, Native Plant Nurseries, for southwest nurseries that sell California native plants). By incorporating plants into our yards that are native to our own region, we also help sustain native butterflies, native bees, birds, wildlife, and migration corridors for all of them, as well as reducing our dependence on added water, fertilizers, and pesticides in our yards. Growing plants that thrive in our climate also reduces our time and cost to maintain our yard). It is truly a win-win scenario.

Bladderpod ~ Spring and summer are good times to enjoy sautéed flowers and young seed pods of Bladderpod, Peritoma arborea. All parts should be cooked before eating to eliminate the potentially irritating compound glucocapparin (ill-smelling, but it repels insects and herbivores like rabbits from eating the plant). Not everyone is sensitive to this compound, but if you are eating quite a bit of the flowers, flower buds, or seed pods, it is prudent to cook them to render the compound harmless. The flowers and seed pods are simply delicious when sautéed in olive oil with a shake of salt and pepper. The young, green seed pods have a flavor like a very mild jalapeño pepper. Native American Indians today, relying on native traditions, say that they boil the flowers for several hours (discarding the water several times) before sautéing them to remove any bitterness. We have found them delicious after simply sautéing the fresh flowers — so experiment for yourself!

Bladderpod is in the caper family; you can make your own wild capers by harvesting the unopened flower buds and pickling them (they are longer and slimmer than the commercial, round capers that you are familiar with, but they have a fascinating flavor similar to the capers you are accustomed to eating). Put the unopened flower buds in a jar and cover them with water. Secure the lid and let them sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Every day for three days, drain off the water in a colander or strainer, return the “future capers” to the jar, and cover them with fresh water.

Then soak them in a brine of equal parts apple cider vinegar and water, with 1 tablespoon of salt per cup of liquid, for at least one week (a month is best). Alternatively, you can soak the flower buds in equal parts seasoned vinegar and water for a delicious caper.

Bladderpod can be encouraged to flower continuously for many months with occasional deep watering. It is also fire-retardant and extremely drought-tolerant, which makes it a perfect choice for your yard. Hummingbirds, hawk moths (that hover like hummingbirds at dusk before the flowers), quail, and other birds are attracted to this “giving” plant. We encourage you to invite this valuable native plant into your own yard. Both you and your birds and pollinators can benefit from its presence (and “presents”).

Clockwise photos from upper left:

  1. Bladderpod shrub in bloom in bloom
  2. Bladderpod flowers and inflated seed pods flowers and buds
  3. Flowers washed and ready to sauté
  4. Bladderpod flowers sautéed in olive oil
  5. Washed young seed pods (seeds inside still soft)
  6. Flower buds to pickle for wild capers

Bladderpod plant parts traditionally used:

  • Seed pods – Young seed pods roasted or sautéed to eat
  • Flowers – Young flowers parboiled, roasted, or sautéed to eat
  • Flower buds – Unopened flower buds pickled to use as wild capers


August Garden Tasks

Remove (“deadhead”) spent flower heads for tidier plants, and to encourage a few last blooms before fall, as with this Cleveland Sage.



     Good month to sit back and enjoy your garden—
there are few chores besides watering & grooming




~ Deadhead spent flowers, trim off dead flowering stems (save any seeds for replanting).

~ Walk irrigation lines to check for clogs, leaks, and breaks.

~ Continue deep-watering trees & shrubs once a month. If you water by hand, leave a dripping hose at the drip-line of trees and shrubs (at the outer edge of branches) to deeply soak soil once a month; set a timer to remind you to move hose to next plant.

~ Keep adding to mulches as they decompose to conserve water, keep soil and roots cool, and reduce the frequency of watering.

~ Encourage repeat blooming by pinching or cutting back annuals, perennials and shrubs.




Check out our featured “Plant of The Month” for August

California Native Landscaping

Enter the fascinating world of southwest desert plants

Through our series of workshops and classes, we invite you to enter into the captivating world of plants and their impressive uses. Experience the plants growing in your area’s natural community as you never have before…through taste, smell, touch, and stories.

Let us lead you through native gardens to witness the variety and beauty of native plants available to gardeners throughout the southwestern United States. Join us in exploring the ancient and modern uses of our native plants for medicine, tools, shelter, clothing, and food. Enjoy learning how to incorporate drought-tolerant native plants into your garden design for benefits you might not have imagined. Discover the fun of using native southwest desert plants for food, herbal remedies, landscape, and even art.

In our workshops and classes, you will learn which of California’s 4,800 native plants are perfectly suited for your particular yard, and which ones best serve as evergreen hedges, privacy screens, shade-giving trees, long-lived ground covers, erosion control, seasonal color, interesting vines, and striking specimen plants. Find out how to select, plant, irrigate, and care for a remarkable variety of attractive, drought-tolerant native plants. Read More


Water-Wise Landscaping

Water-Wise Landscaping DVD

Water-Wise Landscaping DVD

Available Now!

This engaging DVD, produced by The SummerTree Institute and featuring professional botanist Robin Kobaly, contains all the essential information you need to transform your High-Desert property into an enchanting, Water-Wise Landscape. You choose your path of discovery by selecting the topics within yard themes. This comprehensive DVD, with nearly four hours of hard-to-find expert information, covers the resources you will need to plan, design, plant, irrigate and maintain an attractive, drought-tolerant landscape.

To help you choose the right plants, you will find descriptions and growing tips for over 80 plants suited to high-desert gardens, all grouped by water-use themes.

Discover how you can create beautiful drought-tolerant landscaping in the high deserts of the Southwest with valuable tips and insider’s information. Robin leads you on this journey with fun demonstrations and real-life examples of yard solutions.

Here’s a sample:

Water-Wise Landscaping DVD

Special Features:

  • Yard Design
  • Understanding Soil and Mulch
  • Planting Tips
  • Irrigation
  • Maintaining a Healthy Landscape
  • Profiles of 84 Star-Performing Plants
  • Price: $20.00, plus $2.50 shipping – All proceeds go to The SummerTree Institute to help support outreach efforts and educational materials for the non-profit’s “Water-Wise Landscaping” programs. Visit for more program details.

Other Ways To Order:

To place an order with your credit card by phone, please call 760-363-1166.
Download the Water-Wise Landscaping DVD order form to mail a check or credit card information.

“All I can say is Wow! The presentation – Robin, the DVD –was simply superb…”
—Michael Stevens, Community Liaison Officer, Mojave Water Agency

“This DVD is absolutely a phenomenally crucial tool in educating the public…I’m so excited about this wonderful educational tool!”
—Marie Sovitsky, Publications Coordinator, Mojave Desert Resource Conservation District