What should I plant in my yard this fall before the rains begin? People are often asking me this. I like to consider what Doug Tallamy told us at the CNPS state conservation conference a couple of years ago about planting trees and shrubs that are foraging hubs for insects and birds. He mentioned several genera that fed lots of caterpillars, which in turn feed lots of birds.

cherryOne of these was the genus Prunus. You may recognize this as a fruit tree genus including cherries, apricots, plums, and peaches. It attracts butterflies, bees, and pollinating flies. One of my favorites is the Prunus lyonii, or Catalina cherry. It has beautiful green foliage, is drought tolerant, and according to Las Pilitas nursery, it tolerates clay soils well. It is closely related to the native shrub called Islay (Prunus ilicifolia). Islay was harvested for the kernels inside of the pit. Jan Timbrook notes in Chumash Ethnobotany that one hat of islay was worth two hats of acorns.

The kernel of the cherry needs to be removed from the pit (you may eat the thin skin of fruit in the process if it is ripe first). Then you must boil the kernels and rinse the water several times, then smash the kernels and then leach like acorns to remove the cyanide that naturally occurs in the kernels. Since the native Islay was not available at the time, I decided to try this with the Catalina cherry growing in my Mom’s yard. (Catalina cherry is used in the horticultural trade and can be bought and planted easily). I gathered the pits that had accumulated on the ground, cracked them open, boiled and leached the kernels, then made little balls out of them. They kind of tasted like cooked beans, bland but nutritious. My curiosity was satisfied. I’m not crazy about the kernels as food, but I love the shrub with its gorgeous bright green foliage. The pictures below are from Morro Bay State park where it was planted between the campsites.

As I am writing this, I am thinking about the fact that we have our annual native plant sale coming up on November 2. I have been planting the plants that I have written about over the last year in my own garden, and I hope that you find some that will be perfect for yours as well. I’ll see you there on November 2.

Cathy Chambers