Archive for the ‘Plant of the Month’ Category

Plant of the Month: Inland Sea Oats

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Inland Sea Oats is a clump forming, warm season grass that grows 2’ to 4’ tall. Its most notable feature is the drooping oat-like seed heads that start out green in late spring and gradually turn light tan and then brown in mid to late summer. These are enjoyed by some small mammals and seed eating birds, and were occasionally used for food by some Native Americans.

Inland Sea Oats is one of the few native grasses that will thrive in a shady location. In fact, it will turn yellow and burn if it gets too much sun, especially if it doesn’t get enough moisture. In full shade it is relatively drought tolerant.

When planted in a moist location it will tend to spread aggressively from its seeds. This makes it useful for stabilizing shady stream banks. In drier locations it is more likely to stay contained. In any case, unwanted plants are easy to dig out and transplant.

The attractive seed heads make this grass a useful landscape plant, where it can be combined with other shade loving plants such as Turks Cap, Tropical Sage and Pigeon Berry. The leaves turn brown and gray in late winter so it is best to cut it back in February. New green shoots will quickly emerge for a new season of growth.

Seed heads are attractive in dried floral arrangements. Deer tend to leave it alone. There have been recent attempts to rename it Broadleaf Woodoats, but it still is commonly listed by its traditional name.

Note: Inland Sea Oats is a NPSOT NICE!TM selection for Fall 2013.

Plant of the Month: Blackfoot Daisy

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Blackfoot Daisy is a showy, low growing perennial for hot, dry locations. The plant forms bushy mounds from 4” to 18” tall and 1’ to 2’ across. It is found growing from Central Texas west to Arizona and north to Kansas and Colorado in dry open areas with rocky or sandy soils.

It begins blooming in March, along with Bluebonnets, and continues through the heat and drought of summer until November. In mild winters the narrow leaves remain green. Individual flowers are about an inch in diameter, and consist of 8 – 10 white petals with a yellow center. However, it is the continuous mass of flowers that cover the plant, rather than the individual blooms, that make it so attractive.

In the garden Blackfoot Daisy should be given a sunny to partially shady location. It will thrive in a rock garden, spaced so that the ground can be seen between the plants, or massed in a flower garden with other drought tolerant plants. Its main requirement is good drainage. Rich soil will increase the amount of bloom and size of the plant, but it will also reduce its longevity.

Plants can be cut back halfway in late winter to keep them compact. Blackfoot Daisy is reportedly deer resistant; however deer will browse the flowers and young foliage, so it is best to give it protection where deer are a problem. It can generally be found in nurseries that feature native plants.

A very similar plant, Dwarf White Daisy (Zinnia acerosa), shares much of the same range as Blackfoot Daisy. It differs from the latter in that it only has 4 – 6 petals.

Text by John Siemssen. Photo by Bruce Leander, Wildflower Center

Plant of the Month: Red Buckeye

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

There are two varieties of Aesculus pavia in Texas. The most common is the Red Buckeye (A. pavia var. pavia) which occurs from Central Texas east to Virginia through Florida. This variety prefers good deep soil such as is found at Palmetto State Park in Gonzales County.

The yellow variety (A. pavia var. flavescens) only occurs in the rocky, limestone soils of the western part of the Edwards Plateau. Where the two varieties overlap, hybridization occurs, leading to flowers with various combinations of red and
yellow.

Both make good landscape plants. The variety to use depends on the soil and moisture conditions you have. They grow as large shrubs or small trees up to 12 feet tall, and are best used as understory plants in partly shady locations.

The flowers of both varieties are very showy upright clusters 6” – 10” high that occur in Spring. A characteristic of both varieties is that they drop their leaves in late summer. As a consequence they are best used where the showy flowers can be enjoyed in spring, but the plants can fade into the background at the end of summer when they go dormant.

The large seeds and young shoots are poisonous. The plants are only moderately deer resistant, and young plants especially should be protected.

Text by John Siemssen. Photos by Lynn & Cambell Loughmiller, and Marilyn McBroom Knight, Wildflower Center

Plant of the Month: Yaupon Holly

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Yaupon Holly is a large evergreen shrub or small tree, usually no taller than 25’. It occurs widely from central Texas east to southern Virginia and Florida.

Admired for its bright red fruit in late fall and winter, it is one of the most commonly used native plants across Texas. Although it will tend to grow as a dense multi-trunked shrub, it can be trained as a tree with careful pruning. It is very adaptable and can grow in sun or shade and tolerates poor drainage as well as drought.

Various selections are available in nurseries, including dwarf and weeping varieties. The red berries, which occur only on female plants, are eaten by birds but usually only after other food has been consumed. Since plants started from seed can be male or female, it is best to start new plants from cuttings of specimens known to have berries. It is moderately deer resistant.

Yaupon Holly is unique in that it is the only native holly in North America whose leaves contain caffeine. Native Americans living in regions where this holly grows were known to drink a tea made from the roasted leaves. This was sometimes part of a ceremonial purification ritual that included vomiting (hence the botanical name).

Early European settlers in the southeast also drank the tea, which some described as similar to the more familiar tea from China or India. Interestingly, while the use of the Yaupon tea has fallen out of favor here, a similar tea known as Yerba Maté, made from a related South American holly (Ilex paraquariensis), is today a very popular drink in Uruguay and several other South American countries.

Note: Yaupon Holly is a NPSOT NICE!TM selection for Winter 2012 – 2013

Text by John Siemssen. Photos by Joseph A. Marcus, Wildflower Center

Plant of the Month: Coral Honeysuckle

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Coral Honeysuckle has a large number of traits to recommend it as a great landscape plant: it has attractive coral flowers, supports wildlife, it is vigorous enough to fill a space but not so aggressive that it overtakes a yard, and it will be evergreen as well as everblooming in mild winters.

As a vine it climbs by twining on a support and can grow to 20’, but usually remains shorter. It can also be used as a spreading groundcover. The tubular flowers, which are most numerous in the spring, may be present in all but the coldest months. They are enjoyed by hummingbirds while other birds eat the red berries that follow in the fall.

Coral Honeysuckle occurs naturally in woods and thickets in East Texas and throughout most of the Eastern US. It is tolerant of many conditions. When planted in our area it prefers morning sun and afternoon shade. With those conditions it will require an occasional deep watering during the summer once it is established.

It can take full sun, but it will need more water. It will also grow in shady locations but will have fewer blooms. It can tolerate our limestone soils, but prefers to have some added loam. While it prefers areas with good drainage, it will tolerate a wet location for short periods. Give it good air circulation to prevent mildew. It is moderately deer resistant, but deer will nibble on the blossoms

Text by John Siemssen.  Photos by Andy & Sally Wasowski and Norman G. Flaigg, Wildflower Center

Plant of the Month: Fall Aster

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Fall Aster occurs across much of the US east of the Rockies, but in Texas it is mainly found in the prairie areas in the center of the state. As the name implies it blooms in the fall, when it is covered by dazzling purple flowers with yellow centers which are enjoyed by butterflies and bees.

This perennial will grow to 2’ tall and 3’ wide. It benefits from being cut back by no more than half in June to keep it from getting top-heavy and forming open centers. Once it goes dormant in early winter it can be cut back to the rosette at the base of the plant. However,
leaving the dead branches standing until early spring provides food and shelter for Turkey and other game birds.

Fall Aster should be given a well drained location in sun or part shade. The plant spreads by stolons (stems that grow at or just below the soil surface). These root and form young plants, eventually forming a large colony. Every third spring or so these should be dug up and divided
to prevent the clump from growing too large.

Newly planted young plants benefit from deep supplemental watering. However, once established they are fairly drought tolerant. Although it can be started from seed, transplanting small plants found at the base of the main plant is much more efficient. Fall Aster is browsed by deer and requires protection.

Text by John Siemssen. Photo by Lee Page, Wildflower Center

Plant Of The Month: Red Yucca

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora

Red Yucca is a plant of contradictions. First, it is not actually red, and this plant is more closely related to Aloes than Yuccas. The blooms are actually a salmon color with yellow on the inside. A naturally occurring selection is just yellow. And, although it is widely planted due to its many endearing landscape qualities, in nature it is only found in a few places, mostly in Central Texas and Mexico.

Red Yucca is both heat and drought tolerant, making it a great xeric plant. (more…)

Plant Of The Month: Calylophus

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Calylophus is widely distributed throughout the South Central US, from Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico, north to Colorado and Kansas. It is found in sandy or rocky soils in plains, woodland edges and along roadsides. This is a great plant for a rock garden, as it needs good drainage, sunlight and heat.
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Plant Of The Month: Agarita

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Agarita is a small evergreen shrub of the American Southwest (Texas, New Mexico and Arizona).
Under favorable conditions it can grow to 8’ tall, although it is more typically 3’ to 6’. Its leaves resemble those of a holly. They have sharp pointed tips that are as tough as thorns, making this a difficult plant to get close to. While usually grey-green in color, in western locations they can be bluegrey.
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Plant of the Month: Cedar Elm

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Cedar Elm is the most widespread Elm in Texas. It is tolerant of various conditions and soils, and can be found in East Texas, the Rio Grande Valley and west to the Pecos River.

It is drought tolerant but also can take short periods of standing water. In deep soils, with adequate moisture, it can become a tall tree to 60’ with a full crown, but in other conditions its shape is more variable. Although Cedar Elms are evergreen in the Valley, they are deciduous in the rest of the state, turning vivid shades of yellow and gold in the fall.
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