Foliage Day, December 2014

I’ve profiled foliage from my garden in the past, but I’m going to hang out with the Europeans today by joining with Christina and her beautiful blog,  Creating my own garden of the Hesperides, as she hostesses Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day for December 2014.

Folks who’ve relocated to Austin, Texas have complained to me (usually in  whiny voices), there’s no fall color here.  That gets my “Texan” up a bit, because we do enjoy autumn color in Central Texas, at home and all around. Lovely fall foliage.

IMGP2940.newThe color evolution happens later than in other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, closer to the actual start date for winter.  Additionally, the turn of foliage is gradual, beginning in November, peaking in late November/early December, and typically finishing by New Year’s Day.  It’s not a dramatic foliage show, loud and boisterous like you’d think something in Texas would be.  Instead, the change is gradual, subtle, and gentle.

In my gardens, the two Shumard OakQuercus shumardii, trees extend their color change over many weeks.

There are several species of oak trees in Texas that are commonly referred to as “Red” oak.  I’m guilty of misnaming the two major arboreal specimens in my back garden as “Red” oaks.  In fact, both are Shumard  Oaks.

Gorgeous trees, I appreciate their many attributes: the shade they cast in summer, the cover and food provided for the many birds and other wildlife who visit or make these trees home, and the fall foliage mosaic (albeit in December) that these two trees provide.

Another tree residing in my realm, though probably not one I would have planted on my own, is the American Sycamore, Plantanus

I don’t hate this tree, but it’s a bit water thirsty for Central Texas–it’s naturally found along stream banks and bottomlands which hold moisture from floods, and that’s not where my home resides.  The tree was established when I bought my home and I wouldn’t remove a mature tree, so it’s remained as a major shade source for my gardens. Aside from its struggles during dry periods (drought-stress causes defoliation), the leaves are thick and big. Really big.

Awkward and especially messy in the garden, the leaves don’t break down in any reasonable amount of time. Here you can see a small sampling of Sycamore leaf litter. There are points during late December when all that is visible in certain parts of my gardens are those dinner plate-sized leaves. A garden is not so nice when those huge leaves obscure everything in it!  Sycamore leaves are too large and thick to leave in the garden (for this OCD gardener), or to place, as is, into the compost.  They mat together, forming a barrier against moisture, thus slowing the composting process.

But in the tree, especially during the seasonal change,  Sycamore foliage is quite lovely.

Fluttering in the breeze, in an array of colors,…the leaves are resplendent against the blue sky.

Once the leaves drop and I’ve vacuumed and shredded them, dumped them directly into my compost bin and/or onto the gardens as mulch, the spherical seed pods decorate the tree throughout winter.  In spring, the seed balls explode, releasing feathery seeds aloft in the wind.

On the ground, foliage also makes its presence known.  Floating in the bird baths,


…accompanying the bee hives,

…and blanketing the gardens and pathways.  Here, the brown oak leaves combine with the stalks of the RetamaParkinsonia aculeata.

A bit upwards from the ground sit perennials which also sport fabulous foliage this GBFD. The colorful foliage of the Ruby Red Runner, Alternanthera hybrid, which is part of the biological filtering system of my pond, is

Tiny floral gomphrena puffs accompany the plum leaves. Ruby Red Runner provides foliage interest nearly year round; a hard freeze will render this plant dormant.

The Butterfly VineMascagnia macroptera, showcases lush green foliage and fascinating chartreuse seed pods which resemble butterflies, thus the common name for this native plant to Mexico and southwards.

Currently, none of the seed pods are the rusty-brown they eventually become, but it’s quite a picture when there are differently pigmented “butterflies” resting on the vine.

Firebush, Hamelia patens. speckles after frost damage to its foliage,

…but  I like it.  No blooms remain on this heat-loving, native-to-Florida.  Once we have a killing freeze, it will be dormant until late spring.

Lastly, the Chile Pequin, Capsicum annuum (var. glabriusculum) adds major hotness to the garden.

Pepper hotness, that is.  A beautiful, shade-tolerant and deciduous (in most winters) shrub, many birds (and my husband) favor these chile peppers, the only truly native chile pepper in Texas.  Here, it’s  accompanied by Yarrow, Achillea millefolium.

Such a lovely plant for this time of year.  Who says we don’t have seasonal foliage color in Texas??

For foliage celebrations from around the world, visit Creating my own garden of the Hesperides for GBFD!

Tree Following: Retama in December, 2014

Meet my tree, the Retama, Parkinsonia

I’m new to the Tree Following meme, having joined last month, but my tree is native to Texas (where I’m also a native), as well as other areas of the southwest United States, Mexico, and parts of Central and South America.  Last month, I profiled this lovely, small tree in a general way and this month? Let’s see what’s happening, shall we?

Mostly, it’s dropping its foliage,

…all around its immediate vicinity.  But then again, so are other trees.  Here lie the slender stalks that are the leaves of

Co-mingling on the ground along with the turned and fallen brown leaves of a nearby Red Oak tree, this interesting foliage resembles little sticks.

Not sticks though, these are leaves, commonly referred to as “stalks.” The leaf structure of the Retama is unusual–a botanist would describe it as bipinnately compound; there are two stalks from an axis and each stalk has series of tiny leaflets arranged on either side of the stalks.  Most of the stalks and leaflets from my tree have dropped, but you can see remaining ones in silhouette against the sky.

As days shorten and cooler temperatures reign, the remaining stalks and leaflets will exit from the tree. Retama is dormant in winter, though during a prolonged drought, the same defoliation process occurs and the trunk and stems carry on the photosynthesis function of the foliage. The Retama is a valuable medicinal plant.  In Brazil, where it’s also  a native, parts of this tree have been used as a traditional remedy for hyperglycemia. In 2011 an article was published about the antidiabetic properties of Retama in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal.  Using “aerial” parts of the Retama (parts that are above ground), these researchers dried and combined a powered form of the plant parts in a suspension which was administered to rats (yeah, sorry about that…).    Simplified, the results indicated a decrease in both blood and urine glucose in the rats, without accompanying toxicity or negative side-effects related to the use of this plant during treatment.  Diabetic rats showed improvement in kidney, adipose tissue, and skeletal muscle tissue when ingesting the Retama suspension just before a sugar load.

The researchers concluded that the use of P. aculeata, (what I like to call Retama) is an appropriate treatment either alone or in conjunction with other medications for the treatment of diabetes mellitus.

That’s very cool.

If you’d like to read the full article, click here.  This is the full citation:  Ana Catarina Rezende Leite, Tiago Gomes Araújo, Bruno de Melo Carvalho, Maria Bernadete Souza Maia, and Vera Lúcia de Menezes Lima, “Characterization of the Antidiabetic Role of Parkinsonia aculeata (Caesalpineaceae),” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2011, Article ID 692378, 9 pages, 2011. doi:10.1155/2011/692378

Interestingly, the article indicated that the area where the Retama, P. aculeata, grows in Brazil is a “semi-arid” region–much like that part of the United States where Retama is native–for example, here in Texas.

I planted my Retama because it’s pretty.

I planted Retama because it’s a hardy, drought tolerant native Texas tree.  I also planted it because the bees and the birds like it.  I’m fascinated though, that this lovely tree helps people in a far away place and that they’ve known its value (for more than its good looks) for a long time.

Maybe nurseries should advertise:  Retama: it’s pretty and it saves lives.

This coming year, we’ll be learning lots of interesting facts about this extraordinary little tree.

Thanks to Lucy for hosting Tree Following–please pop over to Loose and Leafy and check out trees being followed by garden and tree enthusiasts from all over the world.

Tree Following: Texas Retama in November 2014

I’m happy to participate for the first time with Lucy and her Tree Following meme which is celebrated on the 7th of every month on Loose and Leafy blog.    I discovered this charming gardening meme while researching garden blogging memes and it appeals to me.  I relish the idea of a month-to-month, year-long study of a particular garden subject through its seasonal and gardening changes.

So, my tree for the coming year will be–drumroll please–the Retama, Parkinsonia aculeata, which is living happily in my garden in Austin, Texas, USA.

My Retama is situated in a moderate-sized urban garden, flanked on its right by a large, native Red Oak tree and a smaller native Mountain Laurel tree and on its left by a non-native Crepe Myrtle (which belongs to the back neighbor).   Also and unfortunately, during the coming year of Retama-watching, we’ll have to tolerate the unattractive electric lines which span unceremoniously across the back of my property and will  appear in many of the Retama photos.

Yuck.  I don’t see those lines when I stroll my garden, gazing admiringly at the Retama or other garden pretties,  but I certainly notice them in photographs.

I just want you to know that I know the lines are there.

We’ll cover the basics today, accompanied by some November Retama photos. The Retama,  Paloverde,  Mexican Palo Verde, Jerusalem thorn, and  Lluvia de Oro is a native-to-Texas tree with many names, it seems.  Its native range is Central Texas, west to Arizona and southward to South America.  It’s a small tree, usually 15-20 feet tall, with airy foliage and yellow bloom clusters in the summer months.

Silhouetted against a gray sky, its foliage and branch forms are graceful and elegant.

The bright green, tiny leaves are borne along a pair of stalks, opposite one-another.

The fine foliage gives a feathery, soft appearance to the tree.  The Retama is deciduous, but the bark remains green, even during winter.

The bark is completely green when the tree is young, developing a layering of textured orangy-brown bark as the tree ages, though the green bark remains a characteristic feature.  The bark reminds me of the outer layer of cantaloupe.

Thorns grow along the branches,

…and yes, those thorns hurt when the gardener bumps against them while working around the tree.  Which I’ve done.  Numerous times.


The seed pods are typical legumes, which makes some sense as this tree is in the Pea (Fabaceae) family.

The blooms are gone on my Retama as it is well into autumn, with shorter days and cooler temperatures.   But the tree remains attractive and useful for the birds, like this migrating Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

The tree is a favorite of many birds.


When I was growing up, my mother called it Palo Verde.  I’m not quite sure why I don’t use that moniker for this beautiful tree, but by whatever name it’s called, Retama is lovely and unusual and I look forward to studying it more closely this next year.

Thanks to Lucy for hosting Tree Following–please pop over to Loose and Leafy and check out trees being followed from all over the world.