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From the Potting Bench | Sticky Monkeyflower

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

This summer we have transplanted (or bumped up in the parlance) masses of sticky monkeyflower seedlings at the nursery. A plentiful and colorful shrub in the watershed, it proves very popular for its orange flowers, dark green leaves, drought tolerance, deer resistance, and not least, hummingbird attractiveness.

In the wild (left), and in the nursery (right).

But the plant’s interest doesn’t end there–a certain versatility blossoms both in name and in traditional uses.

Known to us as Mimulus aurantiacus, or more recently, Diplacus aurantiacus, Linnaeus named the larger family as Mimulus in 1753. Obviously persuaded by a distinctive flower shape, the classically educated taxonomist saw a face in the flower and likened it to a mimic or actor borrowing from both the Greek (mimos) and Latin (mimus). Others have seen painted faces or clowns. Our plant, native to south-western North America, got tagged with “monkey”. Personally, I don’t see it but a pretty face nonetheless.

Notwithstanding the poetry of the name, Mimulus was split up as a result of DNA studies and split into three genera–with sticky monkeyflower moving into Diplacus. This structural descriptor relates to how the fruit capsule splits in two. This change has not been accepted by all and the debate has gone back and forth over a decade. So take your pick. The species name aurantiacus appears to be without controversy as it pertains to the color orange.

Many indigenous cultures, like the Ohlone, Miwok, and Pomo people, use the plant as an ample pharmacopeia. A tea treats kidney and bladder problems as well diarrhea, dysentery, menstrual issues, and fever. A concoction treats bloodshot eyes brought on by smoke and alleviates wounds and sores. Colds, flu, and coughs can be treated as well. On the lighter side, the leaves can be consumed as a type of salad. Lastly, the bright flowers have been used for wreaths and decorating children’s hair.

Despite the experts, I prefer Mimulus. It honors the visual qualities of the flower and rolls off the tongue more gently than the harsh Diplacus. Again, take your pick.

–Peter Van der Naillen - FOSC Nursery volunteer


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