Promoting Texas Native Plants Week, I’d like to put in a good word for Texas plants known for lovely or interesting foliage.  Foliage is often overlooked when planning a garden and it shouldn’t be; foliage is the bedrock of most winter gardens and sets the tone and backdrop for all blooms.  In my gardens, it seems like plants fall into three foliage categories:  scratchy, spiky, or soft.   I won’t give scratchy plants attention for now (looking at YOU, Lantana and Barbados cherry!), but I will profile a few foliage beauties from the other two categories.

The soil in my gardens is clayey, so I haven’t had much luck with the soft-as-a-baby’s-bottom leaves of the Wooly stemodiaStemodia lanata.  This plant  requires excellent drainage and a good amount of sun.  I am successful with a couple of individuals planted in containers and they’re  thriving.


This Wooly stemodia gracefully cascades over the cherry-red pot, while its partner, an American century plantAgave americana sits firmly in the pot and the spiky category.  Both plants share a beautiful gray-green coloring, which is a characteristic of foliage of many Texas native plants.

In this photo, spiky dominates the scene with a second and larger American century plant, this time complemented by a deep blue pot that is its home.


A spiky garden buddy, Pale-leaf yuccaYucca pallida, echos the gray of the agave, though I think the color suggests more blue than the gray-green agave.  The yucca also doesn’t have “teeth” like  the agave, though the ends pointedly exhibit their own danger, especially when the gardener is careless and/or forgets about the needling yucca while pruning or weeding. Ouch!  Truthfully, I’m not a member of the spiky-plant club that so many Austin gardeners belong to.  However, native yuccas and agaves provide low-maintenance beauty and structure and every Texas garden should showcase at least one.

The softer plants in the photo–Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreus, Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, and Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, all exhibit larger, “tropical” leaves, and are typically considered shade-dwellers, although all three thrive in full-to-part sun.  The Zexmenia, Wedelia texana,  has small, hairy leaves, which are an adaptation with allows the leaves to absorb atmospheric moisture.  The Zexmenia is an extremely drought-tolerant perennial.

Another spiky native is this Twistleaf yuccaYucca rupicola, here haloed by blooming Zexmenia.


A true green,  the Twistleaf yucca, like its cousin,  the Pale-leaf yucca, bloom in the spring and sometimes, later in autumn.  Four foot blooms stalks  topped with clusters of fragrant, creamy flowers, provide for many interested pollinators. For the most of the year, handsome foliage dominates.

More gray-green in the landscape comes from Big muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri. 



A yearling Big muhly fronts a crown of blooming White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

I’ve struggled to find a good spot for the three specimens in my garden as they love full, blasting Texas sun and my garden is hampered by shade.

Really, I’m complaining about shade?  In Texas?

Big muhly is an elegant native grass.  I’ve contented myself with appreciating those that grow in other gardens (or in open spaces).  I’m crossing-fingers that the few in my garden will prosper–I believe I finally have good spots for each.

I am successful with this far West Texas native, Mexican feathergrassNassella tenuissima.


These grasses are gorgeous in containers and planted in the ground, as well as happy in sun or shade–a win for the garden!  Stunning in the spring with  frothy, silvery-green foliage, they evolve into a toastier autumn presence as the growing season advances.

Texas beargrass, Nolina texana, is one more “grass” that is beautiful in a pot or directly in the garden.


This slow-grower is in the Liliaceae family and works well as an ornamental grass. Evergreen with a draping habit, it makes a statement, especially when planted in groups of two or three. This is another plant which flourishes when planted in containers.

Native Texas Plant Week is winding down, but the use of native plants in commercial and home gardens is on the upswing, not only in Texas but in many other places.  Now is a good time here in Texas to plant trees and perennials and to plan for next year.  Whether you live in Texas, or not–go native!  Native plants are easy and special because they belong in and to the unique place you call home.

Whatever foliage you grow, please check out Christina’s lovely Creating my own garden of the Hesperides Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day.  See interesting foliage from many gardens and from many places, and then share your own leafy loveliness.

15 thoughts on “Soft-n-Spiky

  1. seeing Agaves made me think the are very few places in Britain where these will grow outside. Perhaps the best are the Scilly Isles to the southwest of mainland England. It was great to see how you have used them in your planting schemes


  2. I’m always learning from your approach(es) and the idea of keeping some of these larger more structural plants and grasses contained in planters as opposed to setting them loose in (and on!) the landscape is a note well taken. Having spent too much time digging OUT agave pups that were carelessly allowed to proliferate I appreciate the more “contained” approach to their beauty. In addition, the elevation a planter provides is a nice boost visually.

    Well planted, and well posted!


    • I’m lazy, what can I say? 🙂 I don’t care for the huge size that agave achieve when left in the ground, nor the work involved in removing them. I’m all about control!


  3. Wonderful! As you may know by now, I’m in love with the Mexican feather grass!
    At this time of year, once the flowers are gone, we are also starting to notice more the texture and depth added to the garden by the foliage of various species 🙂


  4. Tina todas sus plantas son maravillosas y las fotos también. El Agave americana es hermoso como lo es también la Yuca pallida. La Zexmenia con sus flores amarillas es preciosa. El Big muhly es muy bonito con su follaje espectacular color verde-gris. Yo también tengo tierra arcillosa en el jardín y se lo mal que se pasa con algunas plantas. Feliz Semana de la Planta Nativa de Texas!!!!!!! Saludos de Margarita.


    • Thanks, Margarita. You’re correct that some plants don’t thrive with heavy soil. I don’t baby them, I just grow something else, or plant them in a pot–that’s the best thing, I think.


      • Yo soy más atrevida y planto todo tipo de plantas y flores. Agrego un poco de tierra buena y mi secreto: un poco de humus de lombriz que revuelvo con la tierra buena y la arcillosa. Como mi suelo además tiene muchas piedras y en Invierno la temperatura baja en ocasiones hasta los -15 grados Centígrados, las plantas que elijo son resistentes y crecen muy bien. Tina pruebe el humus de lombriz, lo venden en los viveros y es mágico con las plantas. Saludos de Margarita.


    • Yes, Hollis, both generally do. I’ve mostly seen the Big muhly in fields and along roadsides. They do grow thick in the middle (don’t we all…) as they age. Still beautiful. As for the feathergrass, I’ve seen it in early summer as I hiked in the Chisos mountains of the Big Bend. They are gorgeous.


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