Monday, June 3, 2013

Plant profile: Malacothamnus fremontii (Frémont's Bushmallow)

Latin name: Malacothamnus fremontii ("mala-coth-AM-nus free-MONT-ee-eye")
Common name: Frémont's Bushmallow
Originally from: California
Blooms: From May to July it's covered in pretty pinkish-lavender flowers.
Light: Full sun to part shade
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water needed.
Drainage: Excellent, but tolerates clay.
Height x width: up to 7'x7'
USDA Zones: 8b-11
Where to find in P. Garden: We have 7 of these at PRG down the street.

Endemic to California, I first took note of this shrub when contractors came in and mowed one down on the empty lot on Texas street near our house. That plant had been living in poor, shallow dirt for years with nothing but rain to keep it going - impressive. When they chopped it down, I thought "oh well - sad to see it go." But no. It popped right back up. A light bulb lit up in my head!

Native to the woodlands and chaparral of California, it has silvery, felty leaves and a nice upright shape. It's a fast grower too hitting 4' in the first year.  The species was named for John C. Frémont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890), a Republican from Georgia with a fondness for bushwhacking who is rather scathingly described as follows:

"Historians portray Frémont as controversial, impetuous, and contradictory. Some scholars regard him as a military hero of significant accomplishment, while others view him as a failure who repeatedly defeated his own best purposes. The keys to Frémont's character and personality may lie in his being born out of wedlock, ambitious drive for success, self-justification, and passive-aggressive behavior."

Bummer. Despite his many alleged character flaws he chummed up with the very interesting Kit Carson and they took off on expeditions in a Westerly direction, checking out the Oregon Trail, the Sierra Nevadas and Lake Tahoe among other sights.

Along the way he named a couple dozen plants after himself, not to mention dozens of cities, towns, counties mountains and rivers. All a bit egotistical if you ask me, but hey - if I had ridden a horse across the Sierra Nevadas while being shot at by native Americans I'd probably be feeling pretty smug too.

Anyway, just like Mr Frémont this shrub is tough as nails, and I recommend it for your sunny, dry patch of land that needs something shapely.  Give it a good hard prune in late autumn or early spring to keep it growing in a nice form, and it'll flower from April through October.

UPDATE: we have two left of the original seven, and they look fantastic. Not sure why some died - possibly not enough sun or lack of water in those particular spots.


  1. SO did Fremont name the Fremontodendron ? (sp)

  2. Yes he did! As well as a number of other plants, including the intriguingly named Chaparral Death Camas (Zigadenus fremontii)

  3. Well done. Protect what you have made beautiful. I hope the guy gets what he deserves....that would never happen in Wales!! Good to see you are safe and well and getting on good with life

  4. Most of the plants named for Fremont were named by Torrey or Gray. Two plants were named for Fremont by Torrey in an appendix to Fremont's report of his 1842-1844 expeditions, Gentiana fremontii and Fremontia (=Sarcobatus, not Fremontodendron). Torrey is listed as the sole author of both names, a common formality. Fremont is credited as co-author of the other plants described in that volume. All the other plants named for Fremont were described elsewhere.


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