Texas' native beauties stand tall at home

HELEN BOATMAN - Victoria County Master Gardener
Thursday, June 15th, 2006

With water being a major concern for all of us, having enough to sustain life is of utmost importance. We have all gone through the last seven months of drought and have experienced plant dieback due to it - from dead grass to even shrubs and trees. Unfortunately it may take trees the next 12-16 months to begin to show drought stress.

Thankfully, though, we have recently caught up with adequate rainfall that will help plants survive.

What we really want is for our homes and landscapes to look nice and our plants to survive with the least amount of care and water use. This is where the implementation of native Texas plants comes into the picture.  We see native plants growing in pastures, or on the sides of roadways, sometimes with disdain, and we think, "Not in my yard." However, if one takes a closer look at that native plant, it is the one that is flourishing in time of drought. This is not because it is using excessive amounts of ground water, but because it has adapted itself to the sometimes harsh Texas climate and is able to sustain itself with less water.

Sometimes these plants are blooming and producing seeds and/or fruit when usual landscape plants are struggling to stay alive; their wilting leaves are begging for a drink of water. Natives add to the environment with beauty and in many cases food and shelter for birds and other animals. Personally, I think they make Texas - Texas!

Wildflowers There are many native plants that do quite well here in the Victoria area. First of all are the annuals, or wildflowers. The drought had a great effect on our wildflower showing this year, but perhaps next year will be better.

While there are various wildflowers around at this time of the year, when that word is mentioned, most of the time we think of bluebonnets. It is our state flower, and if you had them in your spring garden, you will be blessed with their beauty by the dropping of their seeds that will give you new plants next year. There are other nice wildflower species. The pink evening primrose is prolific, growing in graceful groups. There are many types of yellow coreopsis in the area, the beautiful blue or lavender verbena, and of course the Indian paintbrush that often is seen growing wild with bluebonnets.

The wine cup is also a nice plant to have in your native garden. One wildflower that is at the top of my favorite list is the graceful herbertia. It is in the iris family, has 3 purple lobes on a single stem that grows about 10-12 inches high. It is found only in the coastal areas of Texas.

To keep wildflowers manageable and help your lawn look neat, dedicate a flowerbed in full sun to wildflowers. There they can grow, bloom, and produce the seed that is vital for next year's crop of flowers.

Be patient! The unsightly look of a dead plant is necessary, so don't be too hasty to tidy up the bed or mow if your wildflowers are in your lawn.

These are only a few of the many spring wildflowers. Consult your favorite nursery or garden center for the source of seeds, which should be planted in the fall for blooms in the spring. Watch for the Master Gardener Fall Plant Sale in October - we will be selling seeds there also.

Shrub-like plants There are many nice native shrubs that do well here; one is the American beautyberry. The blooms in the spring are tiny and hardly noticeable, but the fall berries are glorious. The berries are a deep purple color, bunched along the graceful stems. Birds love the fruit. It is deciduous, meaning it loses its leaves in the fall.

Barbados cherry or manzanita is another attractive shrub. It is evergreen, and is covered with the prettiest little pink flowers off and on during the growing season. It will develop red berries, but they won't stay on the plant long. The birds love them, too.

Yaupon holly, a medium size shrub, has inconspicuous flowers in the spring and then red berries in the fall. Another similar-sized shrub, Turk's cap, will grow in the shade or full sun. Its small red flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds. Still another is Texas lantana, a favorite of butterflies.

Other natives A unique native I have in my landscape is the coral bean. It has beautiful red waxy flowers and the most unusual thin, dark seedpods about 8 inches long that open to expose brilliant red (and poisonous) seeds inside. A good choice for hot, sunny sites, coral bean is moderately drought tolerant once established.

Another is agarito, a plant with spiky leaves. It is evergreen and would be a good plant for a corner or planted somewhere folks won't accidentally bump into it. Red yucca is another interesting plant, sending up its tall spikes with dark pink flowers that last all summer. Hummers love them.

Inland seaoats is a tall grass that will grow just about anywhere, and will be green all summer long.

I grow all of these plants mentioned, so I know they do well here. They are all nice plants, and, best of all, I don't have to water them once they are established.

Recommended trees As for trees, the red buckeye, Mexican buckeye, Anacacho orchid tree, Texas redbud, desert willow, Anacahuita or wild olive, anacua, mountain laurel, paloverde, Wright acacia, possumhaw and Eve's necklace are some that are recommended for our area by The Native Plant Society of Texas.

Please remember, although all these are natives, when they are first introduced into your landscape, they will need to be watered to become established. After that, they should give you years of great pleasure and you will be doing your part to conserve our precious resource - water.