Bee Plant

Bee Plant © DSchiel

California Figwort
Scrophularia californica

Description (Jepson,

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae)
  • Perennial herb
    • Grows from a taproot
  • Stems
    • Thick and hairy
    • Square in cross section
    • Often purple-tinged
  • Leaves
    • Opposite (2 leaves at each junction with stem)
    • Triangular and coarsely toothed
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a panicle (branching stem with flowers opening from the bottom up)
    • Small, reddish, bilaterally-symmetrical flowers appear inflated
      • Upper lip is 2-lobed, hoodlike
      • Lower lip is 3-lobed, completing a bowl shape, with the middle lobe reflexed
    • 4 stamens (male flower parts), with light-colored pollen
      • 1 staminode (sterile modified stamen)
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)
  • Height to 4 ft.


  • Native to California
    • Especially common in coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and riparian areas
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, grows throughout western United States into British Columbia
  • Grows at elevations to 8,200 ft.
Flowers © DSchiel

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Abundant nectar attracts small wasps, bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators
    • Larval food source (host) for the variable checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas chalcedona) and buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia)
  • Native people
    • Decoction of twigs used to treat infections
    • Plant juice/leaves applied to sore eyes
    • Infusion of roots taken for fevers

Name Derivation

  • Scrophularia (skrof-yoo-LARE-ee-a) – named for the resemblance of the rhizomal knobs of some species to human lymph nodes affected by tuberculosis, called scrophula (now scrofula); and/or named for the plant’s supposed ability to cure this disease
  • Bee plant – named perhaps for the flowers’ diminutive size/shape, or because the plant is frequented by bees for nectar
  • Figwort – from the use of plants in this genus to treat hemorrhoids, an ailment once known as “figs,” and the suffix “-wort,” from the Old English wyrt, “plant,”
    • The suffix “-wort” was commonly used for medicinal plants; the word that precedes the suffix usually refers to the treated ailment


  • Contains bitter-tasting iridoid glycosides, a chemical defense found in many plant families (Shapiro 2007)
    • The buckeye (Junonia coenia) and variable checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona) butterfly larvae feed on iridoid glycoside-containing plants and sequester those chemicals
    • A similar association exists with the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and cardenolide glycosides of the milkweed plant (Asclepias species)
  • Most abundant following fire and may form large colonies in moist areas

ID Tips

  • Young plants may be confused with newly emerging rigid hedge nettle (Stachys rigida var. rigida)
    • Bee plant leaves are hairless and non-glandular (not sticky)
      • Leaf shape is triangular
      • Leaf stems are purplish-red, maturing to green
    • Rigid hedge nettle leaves are hairy and glandular
      • Leaf shape is rounded (ovate to lanceolate)
      • Leaf stems are green
Leaves of Bee Plant (L) and Rigid Hedge Nettle (R) © DSchiel

At Edgewood

  • Found in chaparral and woodlands
    • Easily seen along the first segment of the lower Sylvan trail and along chaparral sections of the Clarkia trail
    • See iNaturalist for observations of this plant
  • Flowers February – July

See General References

Specific References

Agrawal, A. 2017. Monarchs and Milkweed. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014. Figwort. Britannica.

Wikipedia. 2018. Iridoid.

Prigge, B.A. and A.C. Gibson. 2013. Scrophularia californica. A Naturalist’s Flora of the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills, California. Web version, hosted at Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. United States Department of Interior, National Park Service.

Shapiro, A. 2017, Sep. 20. The Buckeye, Junonia coenia, uses the garden ornamental Russelia equisetiformis (Plantaginaceae) (“Firecracker Plant”) as a larval host in California. University of California Arboretum and Public Garden.

Shapiro, A.M. and T.D. Manolis. 2007. Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California.

Wilson, B. 2012. Scrophularia californica, California Figwort. Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery.