California coffeeberry (Frangula californica, formerly Rhamnus californica) is a handsome evergreen shrub with significant wildlife habitat value. Low and spreading to tall and upright, coffeeberry is an excellent candidate for the summer-dry garden.
Coffeeberry can grow to ten feet tall or more and eight or more feet wide, but some varieties are only four to six feet tall and others are mounding groundcovers. All have substantial dark green to olive green leaves, gray-green beneath, inconspicuous greenish yellow flowers, and copious berries loved by birds and other wildlife. Berries turn from lime green to red to purplish black as they mature. Stems of new growth are reddish.
Native to much of California and parts of the West, these are rugged, adaptable, attractive shrubs good for informal hedges or screens or as specimens. They look well groomed without pruning, but can be gently pruned to control size or shape. Give them sun to light shade or afternoon shade and reasonably good drainage.
Coffeeberries do tend to be heavily browsed by deer in some locations and at some times of year, especially when newly planted. They require little to no water after establishment, although an occasional deep soaking is appreciated, especially inland.
Named varieties are commonly available in nurseries and at native plant sales. ‘Eve Case’ is 6-8’ tall by 6-8’ wide, densely mounding with broad leaves and large berries, and seems to prefer coastal conditions. ‘Leatherleaf’ has large, dark green leaves and grows 5-8’ tall and wide. ‘Mound San Bruno’ makes a good large-scale groundcover, 3-6’ tall by 6-10’ wide, dense and compact with narrow green leaves. ‘Seaview’ is even lower, about 2-4’ tall and 6-8’ wide, with small dark green leaves and dense clusters of berries.