Plants of Southern California: Species With Color Variants

Color variants in plants are always surprising and striking when one chances upon them. We were intrigued enough by them to begin keeping track of what typical color variants are produced, and which species are found to have them.

We began this page in 2005, and asked for input from others. We were quickly overwhelmed by input, and soon realized that it would better to make a list of species for which color variants had not yet been observed, since it seems that nearly every species produces color variants!

Hence we no longer update these tables. If you see a color variant in a species not in the tables, don't be surprised; color variants happen to nearly every species.

The following table gives the taxa in which we have observed, and usually taken pictures of, the color variants. We may add those pictures in the future.

Nearly all color variants are white, with a small number being pink or yellow. We have not yet found any darker color variants from white or yellow plants. Update in 2014: we have indeed found some species that almost always have white flowers, but occasionally have flowers of other colors. Possibly these are species in which the white color variant eventually became the dominant color for the species as a whole, with just a few plants that occasionally produce the ancestral flower color.

Most color variants being white is consistent with the hypothesis that something "goes wrong" in these plants, and they lose a pigment. In blue flowers, the loss of their main pigment usually leaves the flowers white, but sometimes pale pink. Interestingly, in the case of red flowers, the loss of their red pigment, anthocyanin, usually leaves them yellow because apparently red flowers typically have both pigments in their flowers. (See A red flower is red because ....)

Sometimes a color variant is common enough that botanists would like to make it a separate species, or is so striking that beginning botanists feel it has to be a separate species. Since these variants are similar to albinos that are not recognized as separate species, such recognition is not warranted. For a beautiful analysis of one case, see Flower colour in Chasmanthe floribunda.

Interestingly, the white version of Abronia villosa in the Borrego Springs area of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in early 2004 was reported on the Theodore Payne Foundation hotline as the species A. turbinata, even though A. turbinata does not occur south of the Sierra Nevada!

The following tables are sorted alphabetically by Latin Name.

The usual flower color is from the floras, or from our personal observations, if different. Some color variants are common enough that the floras themselves list the variant.

Taxa Producing White and Pink Variants

Latin NameCommon NameUsual ColorObservation Details
Abronia villosahairy sand verbenapale to bright magentaKay Madore, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs area
Anagallis arvensisscarlet pimpernelsalmon to blueJames Dillane, Daley Ranch, Rock Ridge Trail
Antirrhinum nuttallianumpurple snapdragonpurpleJames Dillane, Daley Ranch, Creek Crossing Trail and Santa Margarita River
Brodiaea orcuttiiOrcutt's brodiaeapurpleKen Bowles
Castilleja densifloraowl's-cloverpurpleKay Madore, Santa Rosa Plateau, Vernal Pool Trail, 3/26/05; James Dillane, Daley Ranch, Burnt Mt. Flat (need to check species)
Ceanothus tomentosus var. olivaceusRamona lilacblue to ± whiteJames Dillane, San Diego County, Valley Center Grade
Centaurium venustumcanchalaguarose-purple (white)James Dillane, San Diego County, North Escondido
Delphinium parryiblue larkspurdeep purplish-blueJames Dillane, San Diego County, San Pasqual Valley
Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatumblue dicksblue, blue-purple, pink-purple, or whiteKay Madore, Santa Rosa Plateau, Los Santos Trail, 3/12/05
Lupinus arizonicusdark pink to magenta, purpleTom Chester, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Coyote Creek Wash
Lupinus bicolordwarf lupineblue and whiteTom Chester?, Santa Rosa Plateau, Vernal Pool Trail
Lupinus breweri var. grandiflorusshowy Brewer's lupineblue to violetMichael Charters?
Mimulus fremontiiFremont's monkeyflowermagenta to red-purple (yellow)James Dillane, Palomar East Grade (pale pink variants were also observed)
Mirabilis bigelovii var. retrorsawishbone plantwhite to pale pinkJames Dillane, Battlefield Monument
Nemophila blue eyesblueJames Dillane, Volcan Mountain
Penstemon heterophyllusfoothill penstemonmagenta to blueJames Dillane, Milk Ranch Rd (pale pink variants were also observed)
Penstemon spectabilisshowy penstemonblue(-purple)Michael Charters?
Phacelia crenulataheliotrope phaceliablue to purpleMichael Charters?
Phacelia viscidasticky phacelia± blueMichael Charters?
Sidalcea malviflora ssp. sparsifoliacheckerbloombright to deep pinkJames Dillane, Daley Ranch and Magee Truck Trail
Sisyrinchium bellumblue-eyed grassdeep bluish-purple to blue-violet, or pale blue, rarely whiteAndy Sanders, near Carlsbad; James Dillane, San Marcos vernal pools and Daley Ranch; Kay Madore, Santa Rosa Plateau
Solanum parishiiParish's purple nightshadepurpleJames Dillane, Daley Ranch, Engelmann Loop; Torrey Pines, Guy Fleming Trail
Trichostema lanceolatumvinegar weedblue or lavenderJames Dillane, Daley Ranch, Top of Boulder Loop/ Cougar Ridge grade
Vicia villosapurple vetchpurpleJames Dillane, Daley Ranch, North Boulder Loop Grade, March 2005

Taxa Producing Yellow Variants

Latin NameCommon NameUsual ColorObservation Details
Penstemon labrosusSan Gabriel beardtongue(orange) red (rarely yellow)
Justicia californicachuparosadull scarlet (yellow)James Dillane, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Sanicula bipinnatifidapurple saniclepurple or yellowTom Chester, Santa Rosa Plateau, S. Los Santos Trail

Taxa Producing Other Variants

Latin NameCommon NameUsual ColorObserved ColorObservation Details
Lupinus excubitus var. halliibush lupineviolet to lavendervirtually every shade of color from mostly white to pink to blue to purple to lavenderKay Madore and Tom Chester, Santa Rosa Plateau, S. Los Santos Trail, March 2005

Go to Native and Introduced Plants of Southern California

Copyright © 2005-2014 by James Dillane, Tom Chester, Michael Charters and Kay Madore
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to us at this source:
Comments and feedback: James Dillane | Tom Chester | Michael Charters | Kay Madore
Last update: 9 April 2005 (comment about nearly every species having a color variant added on 27 April 2014)