Adolphia californica (Spineshrub or Prickbush)

California Prickbush or Spineshrub (Adolphia californica) is considered rare, threatened or endangered by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), with a threat rank of 2B.1. This means it is seriously threatened in California – where most of it can be found here in San Diego County. It also grows in Baja California (Mexico), and CalFlora has two (obscure?) observations outside of San Diego County.

I’ve seen it grow in (relative) abundance in Los Penasquitos Canyon and on Del Mar Mesa. Its hard, spiny twigs, while flexible and green in spring, soon harden into thorns that make it quite a hostile plant. Considering its almost leafless appearance and shape it is quite astonishing that these thorny twigs burst with little white-yellow flowers in spring. It is quite lovely to see – and perhaps all the more nasty, because the flowers somewhat conceal the plant’s thorns. A carelessly stretched out hand or an eager step towards the flowery abundance may end in misery.

The bigger misery is this though: there’s a road that leads into a residential area from Black Mountain Road – and it’s called Adolphia Street. I never realized where the name came from, until I finally photographed Prickbush this year in spring, and then looked up the scientific name. There is absolutely no occurrence of Adolphia california at Adolphia street anymore, of course. Considering that the street is essentially an upper part of Los Penasquitos Canyon, it probably once grew there in abundance too.

It is ironic that we bulldoze the natural environment of native plants and pave it over until there’s nothing left of them. We build roads and houses, with yards full of ornamental plants that are anything but native (and need constant irrigation to survive) – and then we name the street after the native plants that once were there! Street names as tombstones…

I hope you’ll still enjoy the photos after my misanthropic rant.

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4 thoughts on “Adolphia californica (Spineshrub or Prickbush)”

    • Yes, it is quite astonishing. California as a whole and Southern California in particular are, despite the Mediterranean or semi arid and even desert climate (depending on location and elevation) biodiversity hotspots.


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