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California Box Thorn Back to Plant Page
Lycium californicum

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About California Box Thorn (Lycium californicum) Lycium californicum is a sprawling shrub in the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family known by the common names California boxthorn and California desert-thorn. This plant is native to the coast of southern California, including the Channel Islands, from Los Angeles County into northern Baja California, as well as nearby Arizona. This slightly thorny shrub has thick, fleshy, bulbous green leaves and bell-shaped white flowers with purple streaks or spots. It bears bright red shiny berries 3 to 6 millimeters in diameter which are edible and taste like tomatoes. There are numerous relatives in the Lycium genus that are primarily desert plants, but this species is strictly coastal. In the wild it goes completely leafless in summer and appears dead. However, it responds very rapidly to rain and will even leaf out in response to a summer shower. If given continuous garden water it can remain evergreen.
Plant Description
Plant Type

Max. Height
3 ft (0.9 m)

Max. Width
10 ft (3.0 m)

Mounding, Spreading

Growth Rate

Summer Deciduous, Summer Semi-Deciduous, Evergreen

Bright green,tiny and very succulent

Flower Color
White, Purple, Red

Flowering Season
Spring, Summer

Native Status
Natural Setting
Site Type
Buffs and slopes, lagoon edges, marine terraces, and similar areas within about 10 miles of the coast


Elevation ?
-151' - 1336'

Annual Precip. ?
7.9" - 17.1"

Summer Precip. ?
0.15" - 0.40"

Coldest Month ?
52.1° F - 57.5° F

Hottest Month ?
62.7° F - 75.4° F

Humidity ?
1.36 vpd - 17.94 vpd

Soil Description
Typically very sandy but can also tolerate clay

Soil PH
6.0 - 7.0

Soil Toxicity Tolerance
Tolerates Saline Soil

Fast, Medium, Slow

Cold Tolerance(° F)
Tolerates cold to 25° F

Sunset Zones ?
8, 9, 14*, 15*, 16*, 17*, 19*, 20*, 21*, 22*, 23*, 24*

Companion Plants
Use with other sage scrub plants including Shaw's Agave (Agave shawii), Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), San Diego Viguiera (Bahiopsis laciniata), Nevin's Barberry (Berberis nevinii), Bushrue (Cneoridium dumosum), Dudleya sp., California Encelia (Encelia californica), Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum or parvifolium), San Diego Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus viridescens), Chaparral Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei), Menzies' Goldenbush (Isocoma menziesii), Fishhook Cactus (Mammillaria dioica), Nuttall's Scrub Oak (Quercus dumosa), Redberry (Rhamnus crocea), Sage (Salvia sp.),

Wildlife Attracted
Numerous insects are attracted to the flowers. Birds and small mammals are attracted to the fruits

Landscaping Information
Ease of Care
Moderately Easy

Water Requirement ?
Very Low, Low
Extremely Low
Very Low
Moderate - High

Seldom Used

Max. Summer Water ?
No Summer Water, 1x/month
No Summer Water
Keep moist

Inorganic, Organic with Rocks

Because of its rangy habit, it may need to be cut back periodically to control its spread. Prune in late summer when it is leafless.

Propagation ?
Seeds or cuttings

Common uses

Nursery Availability
Commonly Available

Other Names
Common Names
California Desert-thorn, California Boxthorn

Sources include: Wikipedia. All text shown in the "About" section of these pages is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Plant observation data provided by the participants of the California Consortia of Herbaria, Sunset information provided by Jepson Flora Project. Propogation from seed information provided by the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden from "Seed Propagation of Native California Plants" by Dara E. Emery. Sources of plant photos include CalPhotos, Wikimedia Commons, and independent plant photographers who have agreed to share their images with Calscape. Other general sources of information include Calflora, CNPS Manual of Vegetation Online, Jepson Flora Project, Las Pilitas, Theodore Payne, Tree of Life, The Xerces Society, and information provided by CNPS volunteer editors, with special thanks to Don Rideout. Climate data used in creation of plant range maps is from PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, using 30 year (1981-2010) annual "normals" at an 800 meter spatial resolution.

Links:   Jepson eFlora Taxon Page  CalPhotos  Wikipedia  Calflora

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