Bacopa vs. Satureja Douglasii

By Cassy Aoyagi:  It is so challenging to find a flowering and full ground cover that will thrive in shady areas.  At least two possibilities offer cover with flair – Bacopa Suteria, which is pretty common, and the rarely used but lovely California native, Satureja Douglasii.

Bacopa Suteria is a very common shade-loving ground cover with small white flowers.  It has a small, delicate looking roundish leaf that is very light and airy.  It is frequently used by landscapers because it grows and spreads very, very quickly.  It does, however, have a few down sides:

  • Bacopa has a very short life span.  It can get woody with in one to two years, requiring severe cutting back or replacement.
  • Bacopa is a heavy drinker.  Native to the tropics and moist areas of the US, it thrives with wet feet, which means it is happiest with wet roots. Keeping Bacopa happy during a drought takes work… and water.
  • Bacopa is not a good California neighbor. Most California natives like to keep their feet dry.  If the natives are thriving, Bacopa won’t be.

Bacopa is best in a pot, where it can get the special care it needs.  It can also be useful on the edge of a garden wall where it might drape over the edges to create a softening effect.

In contrast, California native Satureja Douglasii or Yerba Buena, local from Los Angeles to British Columbia, provides effective groundcover for California’s shady but dry areas. Like Bacopa, “Good Mint” has small, round scalloped leaves and little white pink flowers.  It has additional charms:

  • Satureja grows low and holds its shape.
  • While it enjoys shady, cool and moister conditions, it will tolerate some heat and drought.
  • Satureja, likes its feet dry, making it a good neighbor to other California native plants.
  • In Native American culture, Satureja Douglasii was used as a tea because of its fragrant and minty aroma and flavor.  Drying or crushing it provides a lovely potpourri as well as a tea.  (Other varieties can be used in cooking as an herb, but those varieties are non-native and not long-lived perennials.)

Ready to plant a big dry one?  Now is the best time of year for it!  If you are taking the plunge, consider that Satureja flourishes alongside Juncus effusus, Heuchera maxima, and Carex glauca.  Each of these California Natives loves shade and thrives with little water, making them lovely companions for one another and vibrant additions to Los Angeles landscapes.

For more guidance on where to plant big dry ones, see our past Wet-to-Dry Exchange articles.