Autumn Natives

I live in a region with nearly year-round gardening. Summer is hot–that’s a given–and winter is chilly, punctuated by hard freezes–sometimes rainy, sometimes dry. Spring and autumn are delightful, even when spring ends earlier than I’d like and autumn arrives way after it’s due. These pleasant months are the best times to be outdoors and in the garden; I’d suspect that many Texas native plants agree.

Perennials in the Asteraceae family are common, but well-worth having. These cheerful Fall aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, bloom for 2-3 weeks and I always look forward to their lavender display.

I like Fall aster even when it doesn’t bloom, but how can you not grin when you see these charmers?

This combination of blooming perennials and shrubs provides interest for the gardener and food and cover for birds and insects. The background shrub is Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra. Its subtle pink blooms are barely visible in the photo, outshined by its more colorful companion blooms. White blooms atop the leggy stalks of Frostweed, Verbesina virginica and the red hibiscus-like flowers of Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreous are worthy competitors for attention to the lemony-yellow daisies of Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

More Goldeneye to brighten your day.

It’s not just flowers that add to autumn’s beauty, but native grasses are at their peak during this time. My garden is a shady one and I only have a few spots of truly full sun and therefore, limited room for the stunning native grasses that grow well here in Central Texas. Native grasses need the blast of the Texas sun to shine! But this Big muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, sits in one of those sunny places. It’s a gorgeous plant–even in winter–but in autumn, its fluffy panicles sway gracefully in the breezes.

The muhly is photobombed by a couple of branches of native Turk’s cap (left and front). The pinks in the background belong to the non-native Coral vine.

Be still my beating heart, I love this plant. I’m now growing several in my front garden (the back is too shady to host these sun lovers). This is the oldest of the bunch and I think by next year, the youngsters will be just as impressive.

A different specimen from the one above.

Another Goldeneye/Frostweed vignette benefits from the addition of Inland sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium.

Inland sea oats are excellent grassy perennials for shade. The “oats” are chartreuse in spring, deepening their green during summer, turning tan in autumn. I think that the group in the above photo turns toasty earlier because it receives more sun. This group below, growing in my back garden and in significantly more shade, still retains some of its green highlights; eventually, they’ll all turn to a warm tawny until pruning, just before spring.

Texas craglily, Echeandia texensis, is a less common garden perennial than the others I’ve profiled, though available in some local nurseries. I purchased mine from Barton Springs Nursey years ago and mine have spread somewhat by seed, but I’ve also separated the fleshy roots into new individual plants.

The lovely flowers, alternately posed on tall bloom spikes, are small, orange-yellow and lily-like. Texas craglily is a member of the Liliaceae family.

The base of the plant is grassy, with fleshy foliage and despite its delicate appearance, a tough and drought-tolerant perennial. From its grassy base which appears in late spring and provides lush green throughout summer, the plant sends up bloom stalks in September, blooming until November. An elegant plant, the bloom stalks move with the wind, flowers and seed pods in almost constant motion.

This week marks Texas Native Plant Week, a celebration of the native plants of our regions. Texas is a big place with a wide range of topography and weather patterns, but there’s something for every garden, plants that will please every gardener. Native plants, Texan or otherwise, are must-haves for any garden. They’re easy to grow, they belong where they grow, and they nurture endemic wildlife. In the bigger picture, most regions enjoy a wide palette of gorgeous and valuable native plants: trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, grasses and succulents. No matter where you garden and call home, if you haven’t tried growing natives, give it a whirl! You’ll be amazed at their beauty and ease.

17 thoughts on “Autumn Natives

    • Thanks, Judy–you’re right, we are fortunate to enjoy the outdoors all year round. You’re the only other person I “know” who grows craglily! I don’t get that, they’re so wonderful and easy.

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      • I’ve only seen them sold at Barton Spring Nursery, but I imagine that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center sells them in their spring/fall plant sale. I rarely go and don’t usually look at the list when it comes out. Other than those two sources, I’ve never seen them anywhere.

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  1. Yes, I think I would enjoy Texas very much from November through February. That’s when it’s really hard to live in this Midwestern climate. The only “good” thing about true winter for a gardener is that it gives us a rest from chores and plenty of time to plan for the next growing season. Still, I’d rather be warm. 😉

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    • Those months are nice, but so is spring and early fall. Summer’s not bad, but the heat is ever-present. I use my mid-to-late summer months for planning, much like you use your deep winter.

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  2. That Muhlenbergia lindheimeri is gorgeous, and what a surprise! I had no idea it existed. I don’t think I’ve seen it before, unless you might have posted it when it wasn’t so white and fluffy. It’s just beautiful. This is my Muhly month, I guess. I found Gulf Muhly growing in abundance at the Attwater preserve — so pretty in the sunlight!

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    • Isn’t it? I’m so happy that I now have a few places for this grass. I really love the various grasses, but don’t have the size of lot or the amount of year-round sun necessary. Still, I’m grateful for what I have! My first muhlies were in the back garden, but for only a few years. Who knew that oaks would grow? 🙂

      I LOVE Gulf muhly! Another plant that I’ve had zero luck with, though I suppose there are a couple of spots in the sun where I could now plant one. I swore the last time a gulf muhly failed that I would never try it again. Also, I’d have to pull out one of the Big muhlies and I’m not willing to do that. I’ll enjoy those gulf beauties that grow in other places, they’re very common here in Austin–as are the Big muhlies.

      Btw, I sprinkled out the basketflower seeds that you sent to me–thanks so much. I l’ll be interested to see how they grow. Rain is in the forecast for the week–we need it as it’s been a dry fall. Thanks again!!!

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  3. I just picked up a pot of inland sea oats to try in adding intention to my backyard fence. I have seeds for them but then read that perhaps propagating from seed was more work than reward.

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      • I’ve missed you!
        As a fellow shopper at Green and Growing said to me after eyeing my cart full of plants, “hey! You have hope for the future, too!”
        May the oats be a part of a literally-shady-less-figuratively-shady future.

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      • Lol. Planting is hope for the future. It’s been tough recently. I sent an email to the gmail you use for WordPress. 🙂

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  4. Happy advancing autumn. I appreciate your recommendation of native plants.

    Your second picture of Lindheimer’s muhly looks the way I think of that grass, with the inflorescence relatively tight on the stalk. In contrast, your first picture of Lindheimer’s muhly surprised me by how fluffy the seed heads are. Do you know what accounts for the difference? Could less sun actually be better, at least in terms of human esthetics?

    Not familiar with the Texas craglily, I followed your link, and then another to the USDA map, where I saw that the species is marked for exactly one Texas county, Cameron, at the southern tip of Texas. That implies a semi-tropical climate, and yet you’ve been successful with the plant here in Austin. Did you have to give it more than the average amount of TLC?

    Inland sea oats seed heads sometimes remind me of the feathers on an arrow.

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    • Thanks, Steve–autumn is nice and while I love the Texas sunshine, I’m grateful for our current rain and chilly temperatures.

      The relative fluff vs. tight panicles on the muhlies is a bit perplexing. As I sit here, I can see the muhly of the first photo and it’s not fluffy, but another muhly, just down the drive and at the street, is fluffy, as are three muhlies out of eyesight, but in roughly the same area. I’ve wondered: is it’s air current? Or amount of sun? Or maybe–and this is what I think–the fluff occurs in the early days of plume development and the tight happens as the plumes mature during the season. The muhly of the first photo is always the first of my muhlies to develop its autumn inflorescence. From the LBJWC page on Big muhly: ” Inflorescence varying from an open, diffuse panicle to loosely or tightly contracted spike-like, usually 1 flowered. ”

      Yes, you’re right about the craglily. I don’t always remember names, but I have a good visual memory. When I first saw the craglily at Barton Springs Nursery (8-9 years ago??), I realized that it must be related to something I’d seen in my well-thumbed through copy of “Texas Native Plant” by Sally and Andy Wasowski. The plant in their book is called Lila delos Llanos (Anthericum chandleri) and its range is “Chaparral and prairies in Valley and southern coast/ Mexico. (Page 177) In researching the plant find (once I’d bought a couple!), the LBJWC has a page for Chandler’s Craglily, Lila de los Llanos (Echeandia chandleri) AND a page for “my” craglily, Echeandia texensis. Clearly two different plants, though the same area and related. I guess?

      Barton Springs Nursey calls these plants “Copper Spiders” but I never have that term anywhere else. I recall the person who I asked calling the plants craglily. Is what I have a true native? Some sort of hybrid? I really don’t know. I’m choosing to slap the moniker of Texas craglily, Echeandia texensis, because it makes the most sense to me, given where I live and how I came about finding the plant.

      As for extra work/water? The craglilies are tough plants and get only the little bit of irrigation that I provide in the summer and whatever comes from the sky.

      And I agree about the inland sea oats arrow-ness!

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  5. When I was in school, I got the impression that only we studied natives. Of course, in California, natives should be designated by region rather than by state lines. There are just too many regions here. When I got to Oklahoma, it seemed odd that people were interested in Oklahoma natives. Of course, there are too many states within the same few regions there.

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      • Texas has some of the raddest species of Yucca! One of the few annoyances of the ‘natives’ crowd in California is that they all seem to enjoy the same types of plants, but ignore others. The few native species of yuccas are mostly ignored (although some do not perform well outside of their natural range anyway). Also, the California fan palm, which is my favorite palm, is ignored. Some insist that it is not even native!

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