Drought-tolerant herbal plants offer added benefits

Many common herbal plants, when grown in the garden, are drought tolerant.

They are native to Mediterranean countries where summers are dry like our own. The biome or ecosystem of Mediterranean vegetation is known as maquis, and the types of plants found in it have characteristics similar to those in our own primary ecosystem, which is known as chaparral. Chapparal comes from “chaparro,” which means dwarf or scrub oak in Spanish, and shrubby scrub oaks are dominant in both maquis and chaparral, often referred to as shrub forests.

One of the characteristics shared by maquis and chaparral plants is foliar fragrance. While garden sage (Salvia officinalis), the most used culinary sage, is from the maquis, there are highly fragrant chaparral sages as well, most notably white sage (Salvia apiana) and Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii). Artemisia is another example. Artemisias, many of maquis origin, are noticed for their silvery snowflake foliage although tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) has ordinary green leaves. Our most prominent local Artemisia family member is California sagebrush (Artemisia californica). It is generally short in stature but may grow up to five feet tall, while its ‘Canyon Gray’ cultivar hugs the earth and California sandhill sage (Artemisia pynocephala) is a compact subshrub whose ‘David’s Choice’ cultivar grows only a foot tall.