Soft, Like Puppy-dog Ears

Sometimes, it’s called Puppy-dog Ears.  Not these kinds of puppy-dog ears,


…this kind.

Senna lindheimeriana is also known as Lindheimer’s Senna (which is what I call it), Velvet leaf Senna, and Velvet-leaf wild sensitive-plant (which is a most awkward name). Another charming common name, Puppy-dog Ears, refers to the softness of the leaves. Whatever you choose to call this wonderful wildflower, it’s a plant that should be in every Texan’s garden.  A graceful perennial, it sports beautiful, velvety-soft, gray-green foliage from spring, through summer and into fall and winter.

If this was Senna’s only redeeming quality, it would be enough.  But wait, there’s more! In September and October, it produces clusters of happy yellow flowers, which become attractive seed pods, later providing seeds for birds during the winter months.

An excellent choice for the water-wise landscape, Lindheimer’s Senna is native to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  It’s best in a dry soil, though mine is planted in heavier clay soil and has performed well. However, I wouldn’t recommend weekly irrigation of this plant.  I only water twice per month during summer and the rest of the year, it gets only what comes from the sky, so my Senna doesn’t receive much moisture.  Senna is deciduous, meaning that it loses its leaves with freezing temperatures, but it returns in spring, increasing in height (and sometimes getting a little too lanky) through the growing season. Some of my Senna have reached five feet tall, but most seem to hover in the three to four feet in height range. I’ve found that the more sun it receives, the less lanky its growth, but Senna almost always leans a little by the fall bloom-n-seed period. On a few occasions, I have staked my plants toward the end of the blooming period, as the seed pods begin developing. Because of its leaning tendency, Lindheimer’s Senna works well in the back of a cultivated, more formal garden or in an informal wildflower garden.

I currently grow only one Senna.  Earlier this year, I transplanted another and it didn’t survive.  I have noticed that Senna can be tricky to transplant, so it’s best to move in late winter/early spring, when the weather is cool and wet.  Afterwards, carefully watch the plant until it’s established.

I like it paired with the bright green leaves of the tropical Esperanza, Tecoma stans,

…and also with this containerized Century Plant, Agave americana.

Lindheimer’s Senna is a plant that you’ll see along highways in Texas in early fall because it is drought resistant and hardy; it doesn’t require “cultivation” by gardeners–it just grows, blooms, and sets seed for the future and for wildlife.

Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer discussed Lindheimer’s Senna in a recent post celebrating Wildflower Wednesday. She explained how the Senna was one of the plants which piqued her interest with growing natives in her garden.  That’s just how lovely Lindheimer’s Senna is: it’s a plant you notice and think to yourself, Wow!  What a beauty. I wonder if it something I could grow in my garden?

Well it is something you can and should grow!  Drought tolerant, deer resistant, with beautiful foliage and striking blooms,

…this is a perennial worth having in the wildlife-friendly, water-wise garden.


11 thoughts on “Soft, Like Puppy-dog Ears

  1. I’ll bear second witness to the wonders of senna any day. As you note, the foliage is striking on its own but then those sunny bright yellow flowers appear and its true beauty is revealed.

    I’m relieved to read yours also tend to lean after blooming because mine can get pretty floppy. I’m experimenting with staking and/or caging it, and I’m trying it behind companion shrubs that support it this time of year. Senna are fussy to transplant – I’ve probably lost half of the bird seeded ones I’ve tried to move, but the seed is fairly easy to germinate so I feel confident I can get more if I want them. (And I am pretty sure I’ll want them!)


    • I think the “floppy” is universal–I’ve heard other gardeners say the same thing. I still love em though! I plan to get another as a companion–actually, I’d forgotten about losing the one in the spring. Transplanting is frustrating; I’ve had problems with them both when I worked at ZBG and at home. Like the floppiness, it’s just part of their botanical profile. A great plant though!


  2. Beautiful. I have seen in growing in the wild over here on the east side but it is mostly in shade and a bit lanky. Yours is full and lush. How much sun is yours getting?


    • During the summer, it gets maybe 5 hours of direct late morning to afternoon sun. Now, something less than that. It was beaten down in the heavy rain a couple of weeks ago, so it’s not quite as tall as it was, but it only reach 4 feet this year. When planted with evergreens fronting it, you can stake it so that it remains upright in that “garden perfect” sort of way–if that’s important.


      • hahaha garden perfect. I’ve heard about that. Thanks for the info. I was trying to see if I might have a little niche where it could be happy.


  3. Your Lindheimer’s senna looks so pretty and full of blooms Tina. Maybe some of those seeds will produce additional plants for your garden. Soft as doggy ears, so sweet and they are that soft.


    • I hope it does seed out, Shirley. That’s not something that’s happened in my gardens, though it routinely happened at the Green Garden at ZBG–I was always finding new places in that garden to pop them in–sometimes they made it, sometimes not. I love that particular common name, but I’ve never gotten into the habit of calling it Puppy-dog Ears.


    • Ha ha! I’ll stick with lots of fruits and veggies for that particular need. It’s a lovely plant. I wish I had more full sun for this plant. I’m planning on replacing the one I lost in early spring, though.


  4. Pingback: In Late Summer | My Gardener Says…

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