This week, Texas gardeners recognize the value of native plants in our gardens during Native Texas Plant Week. Native Texas plants belong here, where they’ve evolved alongside endemic wildlife, enduring capricious weather patterns, varied soils, and wide-ranging topography. While not indestructible, native plants (once established) tend to withstand drought and periodic flooding better than most introduced plants. There are exceptions of course, but when a garden is primarily natives, it reflects a strength of purpose which translates to less fuss and work for the gardener, as well as unique, regional loveliness in both flower and foliage all year round.
Spring flower cluster, with Black Swallowtail butterfly attached, of the Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora). The foliage is evergreen and attractive year-round.
The native plants thriving in my modest, urban garden array from those which bloom nearly year-round, to those that show-off seasonal glory. When I evaluate my garden, I reflect that most of my native plants (and some of my non-natives) were gifted to me, either as seedlings or seeds. Yes, I’ve purchased plants, mostly trees and a few shrubs, but gardening with natives doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor if you connect with local native plant enthusiasts, native/wildlife gardening organizations, or the wacky gardening neighbor down the street. Increasingly, local urban nurseries offer an assortment of native plants for affordable prices.
Golden groundsel (Packera obovata), spring flowers feeding Texan Crescent butterfly.
It takes time and requires more knowledge and creative energy to plant with natives, rather than simply sodding your “yard” with mono-culture turf. But the rewards in enjoying seasonal interest, in providing a respite for wildlife, and lessening regular maintenance (especially in the heat of summer) makes the effort worthwhile for home and commercial landscapes.
Gulf Coast Penstemon with seed heads in late summer.
In this post you’ll see a few of the plants that grow happily in my garden, most of which I’ve profiled previously. Some are spring-only actors, while some blaze the garden stage primarily in autumn. Many bloom repeatedly throughout the long growing season, or morph from beautiful spring-summer blooms to spectacular fall-winter seedheads–alluring for the gardener, sustaining for wildlife.
In all cases, these plants are easy to grow–with the right light and soil requirements– and are appealing throughout the year.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) flowers in late spring and summer; rests during the heat of mid-to-late summer, then enjoys a second flowering again in autumn.
Red tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) is a small perennial, dormant in winter if there is a hard freeze. It emerges in spring and blooms through autumn, until winter, in earnest, arrives.
White tropical sage is a natural hybrid of the red tropical sage. Some of my tropical sage are red, most are white–all are gorgeous!
For information about North American native plants, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Even better, if you live in or near Austin, go for a visit–it’s a stunning native garden dedicated to the education and preservation of native plants in North America. Additionally for those in or near Austin, the LBJWC will hold its fall plant sale this Friday and Saturday, October 20-21–check out the website for more information.
Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is a long-blooming perennial shrub and a huge favorite of the pollinator crowd.
When someone visits my garden, a common comment is: You have such a green thumb. My reply is always the same: I don’t really have a green thumb, other than that I pick great plants that don’t need much care.
And it’s absolutely true, since native plants are hardy enough to thrive, even for the most black-thumbed amongst us.
Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora) hosting a Long-Tailed Skipper. This West Texas native blooms repeatedly throughout the growing season.
Native plants are necessary for the health of wildlife and are vital sources of food for migrating insects and birds. With native plants in the ground, your garden will be alive with wildlife, and after all, isn’t that what plants are for?
Male Monarch butterfly nectaring on Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), another long-flowering perennial native.
Some native plants are endemic to a specific area, like this Big red sage, Salvia penstemonoides. The Big red sage was believed extinct, but in the 1980’s several groups were found in the Austin area, its only native habitat (as I recall, under one of the MoPac overpasses). Since then, the seeds collected have been nurtured and plants are grown for nursery trade. This stunning summer bloomer (and great hummingbird flower) is found in some locally owned nurseries. I purchased mine at Barton Springs Nursery.
I’ve planted four of these perennials in my back garden; this one overlooks the pond and receives the most sunlight. Recently, with the downing of part of a non-native tree in my front garden, I’ve transplanted the three remaining to that garden, with hopes that they will get more sun and the pollinators (and the gardener!) will enjoy more of these deep, crimson flowers.
Other native plants are found in a larger geographical area, some spanning the whole of North America.
American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) has a native range from Virginia to Arkansas, Texas and Florida.
Natives are lovely planted together.
While blooms are boss (at least, I think so!), don’t forget about our native grasses, appropriate for shade and sun situations, lending softness and grace to the garden.
Big muhly (Lindheimer’s muhly) in autumn plume
Pipevine Swallowtail, feeding on Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)
Painted Lady butterfly on Frostweed
Big muhly, Shrubby blue sage, Turkscap, non-native, containerized bougainvillea
You’ll be amazed at the transformation of your once-boring swath of grass as it becomes enlivened with blooms-n-berries, foliage-n-flowers, and critters galore–all with less effort from you.
Go native plants!
Happy Texas Native Plant Week!