What is THAT? Bush Monkey Flower
Where I grew up, in Chula Vista, they were small, spindly, scrappy little plants eking out an existence between boulders out by Otay Lake Dam, or finding a way to survive between the parched chamise and black sage in the canyons and on the hillsides of Chula Vista’s coastal sage scrub. In Cuyamaca, Alpine, and other mountainous areas they can become full, waist high, and covered with pale orange or red flowers; sometimes on the same bush. They seem to take to disturbed areas, along roads, rocky cliffs, well-drained soils… Honestly though, wherever you are in the county you’re likely to spot one of the local species (or subspecies) of Monkey Flower – the genus Mimulus.
The common species around San Diego, whether it has red, pale orange, to nearly white flowers is Mimulus aurantiacus, AKA Sticky Monkey Flower, or most commonly, Bush Monkey Flower.
What to look for: Leaves are much longer than wide, dark green, smooth and sticky on top. The bottoms of the leaves can be hairy and sticky with resin. Stems can be woody at bottom, but generally green to red in newer growth. Flowers are tubular at base, flaring to an obviously 5-lobed “face.” Color varies widely from deep red, to showy pale orange/peach, to nearly white. Petal lobes vary at edges from rounded to squared, and ragged. After you’ve seen them on the trail, or around town, even at 70 mph on the 8 east, you’ll be able to spot them.
As with many tubular flowers, Bush Monkey Flowers are generally pollinated by hummingbirds. Which species of hummingbird depends on the variation of flower, and depth of flower tube. Bees will also pollinate some varieties.
Practical uses of Bush Monkey Flower are few. Native Americans used them for medicinal purposes, as it has antiseptic characteristics. Modern use is primarily in xeroscape gardening.
Mimulus is a big genus, and there are a lot of Monkey Flowers out there that are not “Bush Monkey Flower.” Another we have in the county is Palomar Monkey Flower – (Mimulus diffusus Grant). You can see how different the flower looks, but if you look closely you’ll be able to count the 5-lobes on the face of the flower. Palomar Monkey Flower is an annual. It is much smaller, more delicate member of Mimulus, and grows low to the ground.
Plant taxonomy is a constantly revised science, with DNA mapping being introduced, and botanists often disagreeing on classification of species, subspecies and even genus. The information above is what I found in a couple sessions of research, and may or may not jibe with everyone’s view of classification (the exact classification of Bush Monkey Flower and Palomar Monkey Flower are both debated). My intention is to help those who are interested know a Bush Monkey Flower when they see one, not to imply I am a botanist, or claim definitive information. It may be helpful to check out the Wikipedia page on the entire genus Mimulus to see that, though the many species vary in color and shape, the similarities are apparent enough to help in identification, specifically the 5-lobed spread of petals.