White stars on a field of green

Notable feature of the grounds on the condo complex at the northwest corner of Ramona St. and Homer Ave. (half a block from my house), a carpet of Myoporum parvifolium, with its fleshy leaves and small 5-petaled flowers, as in this photo from the net:


A few years ago, the original water-greedy plantings around the complex were ripped out and replaced by low-water alternatives, including this handsome ground cover, which has been spreading nicely to fill the area.

To come: on this plant; its cousin M. insulare; the common name boobialla for these plants; and other plants in their family, especially in the genus Verbascum, the mulleins.

On the genus. From Wikipedia:

Myoporum is a genus of flowering plants in the figwort family, Scrophulariaceae … There are 30 species in the genus, most of which are endemic to Australia although others are endemic to Pacific Islands, including New Zealand, and one is endemic to two Indian Ocean islands. They are shrubs or small trees with leaves that are arranged alternately and have white, occasionally pink flowers and a fruit that is a drupe.

More specifically, from the Boething Treeland Farms site (a firm with 10 California nurseries):

Myoporum parvifolium ‘White’ (‘Prostratum’) , creeping myoporum [aka creeping boobialla]: Among our most sought-after evergreen shrubs, Myoporum parvifolium is a low-growing Australian native that dependably and rapidly covers a 9 foot space with greenery 3-6 inches high. Rooting where it touches the soil, this is an excellent choice for slopes or hillsides where traffic is low to non-existent. In the spring, small white flowers appear and last throughout the summer, followed by inconsequential dark berry fruits. Best used in Sunset Garden Climate Zones 8, 9, and 12-24, it enjoys full sun and moderate to little water once established. Too much water will prove fatal. Its tiny but numerous leaves are densely placed on woody branches. A favorite at the coast and in desert regions, it is fire defensible, able to survive the ravages of this otherwise devastating element.

The bigger cousin. From Wikipedia:


Myoporum insulare, commonly known as common boobialla, native juniper or blueberry tree is a flowering plant in the figwort family Scrophulariaceae and is endemic to coastal areas of Australia. It is a shrub or small tree which grows on dunes and coastal cliffs, is very salt tolerant and widely used in horticulture.

Boobialla varies in form from a prostrate shrub to a small, erect tree growing to a height of 6 metres (20 ft).

Native juniper and blueberry tree are resembloid names. And boobialla is a (version of) a native name.

boobialla. From the Talking Plants website on 2/9/16, “Boobialla mispro[no]unced, misapplied and misleading”:

The Creeping Boobialla sounds like some kind of stalking pervert, or maybe a scatty bird of some kind. In fact it’s a local Aborginal name now applied to most species in the plant genus Myoporum. This is one of them.

According to Anthropologist Philip Clarke [in Aboriginal Plant Collectors], boobialla was originally use by Tasmanian Aboriginal people for the Coastal Wattle (Acacia longiflolia subspecies sophorae), whose roasted seed they ate. Originally it was pronounced more like ‘bubiala’.

Europeans started to apply the name to another genus of plant with mostly edible fruits, Myoporum, which they – with typical metaphoric and wildly inaccurate longing – also called the Native Juniper. Some of the Myoporum species, such as Myoporum insulare, are not unlike the Coast Wattle in leaf.

Scientists prefer to call the plant I’ve illustrated here Myoporum parvifolium. The species name means small leaves, which it has, both relative to other boobiallas and also in the plant kingdom more generally. The genus name (Myoporum) means closed pores and is a reference to these warty oil glands on the leaf surface.

Some other Scrophulariaceae genera. Buddleja, butterfly-bush; Scrophularia, figwort; Sutera “bacopa” (not actually Bacopa); Nemesia, nemesia; and Verbascum, mullein; Antirrhinum (snapdragon) used to be included in this family. Their flowers are 5-petaled, mostly bilaterally symmetric, but sometimes (as in Myoporum species) radially symmetric.

Previously on this blog:

on 11/12/17, in “A tale of two flowers”:

Plant 2 is butterfly bush, genus Buddleja or Buddleia — in #2 and #4, dwarf cultivars of B. davidii

on 8/19/15, in “penstemon”:

Scrophularia nodosa, common figwort (a weed growing in moist and cultivated waste ground)

on 6/17/13, in “bacopa”:

Then there’s the plant I knew (and grew in my Columbus OH garden): the terrestrial bacopa (Sutera cordata), used as a hanging basket or bedding plant

on 5/12/16, “Morning name: nemesia”

Then Verbascum, the genus of the common mullein, a woolly-leaved weed of waste places, and also of some gorgeous garden cultivars. From Wikipedia:

(#3) V. thapsus

Verbascum, common name mullein (also known as velvet plant), is a genus of about 250 species of flowering plants in the figwort family Scrophulariaceae. They are native to Europe and Asia, with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean.

Mullein or “mullein leaf” often refers to the leaves of Verbascum thapsus, the great or common mullein, which is frequently used in herbal medicine.

(#3) V. phoniceum varieties

… In gardening and landscaping, the mulleins are valued for their tall narrow stature and for flowering over a long period of time, even in dry soils. Many cultivars are available… Since the year 2000, a number of new hybrid cultivars have come out that have increased flower size, shorter heights, and a tendency to be longer-lived plants.

Neighborhood plants. This is another posting on plants in my immediate neighborhood, and, more generally, in the area. But I’ll never do a full survey, even of the plants within a block of my house: there are simply too many. Even in this small area, there’s a fabulously varied garden around a private home, a carefully cultivated mixed garden around a commercial property, and a big assortment of plants around Palo Alto’s City Hall. Plus ornamental grasses everywhere. And lots of different street trees.

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