A Seasonal Look: Goldenball Leadtree (Leucaena retusa)

In my reckoning, the Goldenball Leadtree, Leucaena retusais the quintessential spring tree here in Central Texas.  It’s striking green foliage, paired with cheery yellow blooms shouts spring! spring! spring! and its airy, graceful growing pattern, echos the joyful vibe that we all feel during spring. 

Goldenball’s native range is only in Texas–primarily in Central Texas, but also to far West Texas and even into northern Mexico.  For pollinators exclusively and for gardeners mostly, the fuzzy blooms are the key items of interest on this attractive tree.  Fragrant and stunning, the blooms dot the tree for at least two months in spring, sometimes longer.

I like this shot as it demonstrates a flower in its prime, some blooms are which over-the-hill, and a bunch of bloom wannabes, gearing up for their time in the sun.

The leaves are small and oval, arranged bipinnately along an axis, and suggest a kind of transparency when highlighted by Texas sunshine.   The flowers are about an inch in diameter, yellow when at their blooming peak, taking on an orangy hue as the bloom fades.


Sometime in February, depending upon the depth of our winter, the deciduous tree begins to show new life. 


Foliage forms and unfurls, growing at a steady pace through February and into March.  By the time the leaves are near a mature size, the bloom buds are developing.  Initially they’re small, green, and spiky:  green kush balls,

…that develop into fat, yellow kush balls.

As beautiful as the flowers are, I find the airy foliage just as attractive and it lasts the whole growing season.  It never loses its spring green, either.

It’s a hopeful green.

My Goldenball is about 10 years old and probably 15 feet high.  It prefers full-to-part sun, but mine only receives some dappled early morning sun, then an hour or two of direct sun in late afternoon.  Because of shade, mine doesn’t bloom quite as much as it once did, but I’m still very happy with this beauty. It has an open, rangy quality that I like.  It’s a vertical plant, but not huge nor dense, which allows it to fit in a small area without overwhelming or outgrowing the space.  The Goldenball is interesting all year.  While I have no pollinator-sipping-the-blooms photos (how did that happen?), large carpenter bees and my honeybees are grateful visitors during the March-April-May bloom time.  Some sources report that Goldenball blooms on and off throughout summer, but mine is strictly a spring bloomer.

Summer and fall show the Goldenball Leadtree as a happily green, dry-loving small tree, perfect for an urban garden in a hot climate. 

My Goldenball leeaans to the left, I suspect trying for as much sun as it can gather for itself, but I don’t mind that bit of quirkiness.   Throughout the year and especially in summer, the fledging birds dash to this little bit of protective green, which sits not too far from the bird feeders.  I’ve seen Carolina Wrens, Thryothorus ludovicianus, hopping along the slender branches, gleaning insects from the bark as they go, and during migration season, warblers zip to it for safety.

I like the Goldenball’s green glow.  Notice how light and bright the green is on the Goldenball, versus the darker foliage on the Red Oak branch to the left and the Mountain Laurel, to the right.

By late summer, the Goldenball Leadtree–true to its legume heritage–develops seedpods, which hang, pendant-like, from the branches.  

I let mine break open and drop, but thus far, I no seedlings have grown from the mother plant.  Supposedly, Goldenball easily grows from seed, but mine remains seedling-less.  I would love to have some baby Goldenballs to share.

Until there’s a hard freeze, the foliage remains on the tree, thinning a bit with consistent temperatures near to, but not below, freezing.  A hard freeze will take care of that green business, leaving the tree a skeleton of its former self.

Goldenball Leadtree, winter form with sunny sky.

Goldenball Leadtree, winter form with gloomy sky.

The now freeze-burned and dropped Goldenball leaves mix it up with the also frozen and dropped Red Oak leaves.


For those with deer in their landscapes, Goldenball Leadtree is not deer resistant, so browsing will happen, at least until the foliage is high enough that deer can’t reach it.  Is that even possible?  But for those who have cattle and aren’t growing it for this tree for its beauty, Goldenball is reportedly a good browsing plant. 

I am happy to have a spot for this lovely little tough-as-nails native tree in my urban garden.

In spring:


Summer and Fall:


In Winter:

If you garden anywhere in Central to West Texas, Goldenball Leadtree is a charming, easy-to-grow addition to your garden.

Yellow or Mexican Butterfly Vine (Mascagnia macroptera): A Seasonal Look

While not the real deal, I welcome these butterfly doppelgangers to my garden:

The chartreuse seedpod is beginning its morph to the mature-seed incarnation.

This golden toast heralds the final seed product.


These two seed pod examples develop on a fabulous vine, the Yellow or Mexican Butterfly vineMascagnia macroptera. 

Butterfly vine is a native to Mexico, but grows southward into Central America.  Several sources I’ve come across mention that the early English naturalist and botanist, Joseph Banks, observed Butterfly vine growing in Brazil.  

I’ve grown my Butterfly vine for at least a decade, maybe longer–I don’t remember exactly when I planted it.  The thick, twisted main trunk confirms that mine isn’t a newby vine.

I first came across Butterfly vine when I was a volunteer gardener at my children’s elementary school about 20 years ago.  One grew at the back of a portable building, with western exposure and no water source readily available.  I recall that it was summer that I found the vine–a Texas summer, folks–and the vine was as fresh as a daisy and blooming its clusters of petite yellow flowers.

Full sun, drought-tolerant, deer resistant, and attractive?  Yep,  that’s a vine for me!

My Butterfly vine grows in an opposite situation, receiving only dappled or diffused light, depending on the season. Yet it thrives with the same great qualities as in full sun, though with fewer blooms most years.  The only maintenance that I employ with this vine is the same one that I do with my hair: tuck away those annoying, wayward tendrils that fall into my face!  I’ve never experienced any negative issues with this vine:  no debilitating diseases, no invasive insects.  

During a hard winter, where there’s at least one multi-day freeze well into the 20s or teens, the vine may be rendered dormant.  The last cold winter like that was in 2014.

The “butterflies” certainly held their own that winter, even when the rest of the vine suffered freeze damage.

Even with the vine losing its leaves to the hard freeze, the foliage returned vigorously from the roots and along the mature stems once longer days and warmer temperatures arrived.

Last year’s winter was mild, but a late, hard freeze blasted through in March. This is how the vine responded:

The vine lost a good portion–but not all–of its leaves; what was lost, came back quickly.  

In a mild winter like this one of 2019-20,  the vine retains its evergreen habit.

With climate change, I’m guessing that this vine is now mostly an evergreen for my  USDA zone 8B garden.  According to Monrovia, Butterfly vine grows in USDA zones 8-10.  I can imagine that for gardens growing significantly farther north than my own,  the vine is an annual or semi-annual plant.  

The vine flushes out during the wet and cool spring months, preparing for its summer/autumn blooming.

Green-n-growing-n-fresh is Butterfly vine’s contribution to the summer garden.  Typically, the yellow flowers don’t appear until mid-to-late summer, sometimes not until autumn.   In full sun, the flowers appear earlier and are more numerous.  Flowers on my vine are scattered, given the shady conditions that they grow in.

The number of bloom clusters also varies according to rainfall or irrigation.  I don’t water much–just twice per month during summer–but if there’s decent rainfall in late July, August, or September, the vine yellows-up nicely.  The vine weathers drought beautifully; I’ve never seen it wilt, nor does it lose leaves during that time.  But for its yellow beauties to perform, some extra wet stuff is an appreciated must.

Butterflies and honeybees sip the nectar, and I’ve seen lizards and smaller songbirds hide in the lush foliage, so I think Butterfly vine qualifies as a solid wildlife plant. 

Even with minimal rainfall, there are still pops of yellow along the vine. The vine blooms throughout autumn, with blooms eventually morphing into their seed-producing, butterfly selves. 

If you live in USDA zones 8-10 plant this lovely, fast-growing, water-wise vine. Yellow or Mexican Butterfly vine is friendly to a variety of pollinators and provides cover for other wildlife.  It’s not invasive and works well on trellises, fences, and arbors. Most years, you and your wild garden buddies will enjoy its spring and summer glory and its evergreen foliage in winter. In a mild winter, the vine retains its foliage and its butterflies. After a hard freeze, all bets are off.

But with this vine, you might have butterflies year-round!!








Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): A Seasonal Look

The joy of summer green and beauty of cool white are accurate descriptors of the Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, in my garden.   Gifted to me as a passalong plant some 20 odd years ago, it is a plant that is lovely to view and easy to grow.

A member of the Asteraceae (Aster) family, common Yarrow grows throughout a large area of continental North America.  According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (LBJWC) plant data base, the plant is classified as both a single species with varieties and as multiple distinct species. 

My guess is that mine is the true native variety, considering how long I’ve had the plant (hybrids and cultivars are now more readily available than when I was given my Yarrow starts) and that the blooms are a natural snowy white, rather than hybrid pink or yellow.  Yarrow’s fine foliage is 5-6  inches tall and acts as a lacy ground cover for most of the year.   In early spring, the graceful low-growing foliage grows anew and also sends bloom stalks upward to meet the spring sky.  In time, buds appear at the terminal ends of multiple branches.

Depending upon sun amounts received, Yarrow bloom stalks can reach upwards to three feet.  Mine all grow with some shade, which is ideal for Yarrow. While Yarrow is a great plant for shade or part shade, in my experience, deep shade will render the plant a full-time, evergreen ground cover, but it abandons all attempts at blooming.

But with some sun, the garden benefits from both beautiful foliage and flowers.

By May and throughout June, the disk flowers open for pollinator business and gardener admiration.

Most of the pollinators I see on Yarrow are of a diminutive sort; these include many types of flies, tiny native bees, and the smaller butterflies.

This Horsefly-like Carpenter bee is one of the larger pollinators to visit my Yarrow blooms.


I grow Yarrow in several areas of my garden and it’s complementary to other members of a perennial garden.

Additionally, Yarrow adds a prairie quality to the summer garden.   The prime bloom time lasts about 6-8 weeks, but even when the flowers fade, Yarrow remains handsome.


Into July, a toasty quality appears on Yarrow as the pure white flowers go to seed. As summer settles in with its heat and glaring sun, the flowers decline, seeds develops and Yarrow’s pure white tops turn tan and toasty.

The white Yarrow blooms are hard to improve upon, but as the plant undergoes its seasonal evolution, I don’t mind the transition from blooms to seed.  It’s a gradual transition and the plant remains attractive for most of summer.

I’ve seen House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches nibbling at the Yarrow seeds, so along with it acting as a good pollinator plant, other wildlife benefit from this perennial as its growing season advances.

Yarrow’s flower-to-seed heads beauty doesn’t last forever, though. Typically, by the time the flowers are long done and the seed heads are crumbling, the bloom stalks are also bent with age and environmental impacts.  After all, they’ve held aloft sweet blooms and nutty seeds for many to enjoy through spring thunder and wind storms and searing summer sun.   Bottom line:  Yarrow is messy by late summer.

Sometimes, parts of the foliage turns brown in sympathy with the beige seed heads.

Once the bloom stalks have flopped for good, I cut them back.   There’s no real art or skill with this pruning, it’s just about cutting the now-brown stalks at or near the ground, which usually reveals new ground cover growth settling in place for the coming seasons:  autumn, winter, spring.

In the above photo, the remains of pruned stalks lie disguarded outside of the garden’s limestone border; you can see new Yarrow foliage emerged on the other side of the limestone.  This foliage will be the basis of the ground cover which will flush out during autumn and remain evergreen in winter.

In especially dry summers and/or if I haven’t irrigated, the new ground cover foliage endures a breaking-in period where it’s sparse and ratty looking; Yarrow down-time usually occurs in August.  Fortunately, the ugly duckling phase doesn’t last long,  because the foliage quickly greens up and fills in with help from the shorter days and regular rainfall that September normally brings.


While Yarrow flowers produce seeds (those finches are eating something!), the only spread I’ve observed is with the roots of established plants.  In this shot, the foliage has crept out of the border of the garden and into a walkway.  I’m tolerant of this creeping action–to a point.  When I’ve had enough of Yarrow’s teen-like testing of boundaries, I simply dig out the offenders and toss them into the compost bin or give to another gardener.  With healthy attached roots and a smidge of extra watering, Yarrow transplants easily.


By autumn, brilliant green, ferny foliage returns and the groundcover is set for the upcoming cool seasons.

I’ve experienced no insect or disease problems with Yarrow and it’s a drought tolerant plant.   Another plus with planting Yarrow is that it is deer resistant.  Its foliage and flowers are fragrant and has been used for medicinal purposes.  I’m not big on cut flowers, but Yarrow is a nice addition to a vase.

Because it’s somewhat statuesque from April to August and low-to-the ground for the rest of the year, care should be exercised when considering placement of Yarrow:  it works in the back of a bed during its peak blooming time, but will be unseen for the remainder of the year. My solution has been to plant all my Yarrow along pathways and pair it with similar sized plants.

Whether you purchase Yarrow or it’s given to you as a passalong plant, treasure it!  Yarrow is easy to grow and lovely to look at.

In Spring:



My sweet old dog, Asher, enjoying the garden one afternoon, several years ago.  Asher died late last summer.


Late Summer:

Yarrow in its ground cover mode planted with Chili pequin (top right) and a container plant (left).


Autumn and Winter: