By Jody Jordan – Special to the Navarro County Gazette
Dearest Navarro County, we need to talk natives. I know, I know – We’ve spent a lot of time stripping away what naturally grows here even calling it “weeds” in some cases, and tried our hardest to get things to grow that are pretty, but do not necessarily belong here.
A trip to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center is a great way to wrap your mind around the beauty of native Texas species and appreciate what our ecosystem has to offer. There has been, in recent years especially, a push to plant native Texas plants in urban landscaping applications to help support our indigenous wildlife and do some repair to an ecosystem that our vigorous lawn care and landscaping has impacted.
Natives not only provide proper habitat and food to migratory and native wildlife; they survive our sometimes-harsh heat and drought conditions better than non-native specimens without as much watering. There are lists available from universities and extension agents all over the state and finding suitable plants for your needs is easier than ever now that many growers are on board with the trend, too. I am going to touch on a handful of my favorites for you in this article. I promise you that even if you start small in only a part of your garden design, that you will find the ease of care to be a great benefit of your choices.
When looking to make a switch to Texas native plants, consider the application and what you hope to achieve. Do you need an ornamental tree? Consider the Texas Redbud! Are you establishing a new perennial bed? Do you want to change flowering plants out with the seasons? Are you hoping to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and/or pollinators? Do you want to repel mosquitos (don’t we all ALWAYS want to repel mosquitos? See below for a native solution!), or create a wildflower meadow?
The “rule of thirds” for your design will also still apply – Stunner (height, back of bed or pot), Filler (middle ground) and Spiller (foreground, spilling out of a pot or bed) for the most pleasing aesthetic, and contrast is always a great thing to keep in mind, too.
So what natives am I planting? Let’s have a look at a few of my Texas native favorites!
Standing Cypress – Ipomopsis rubra
This biennial Texas showstopper is technically an herb and likes a variety of soil conditions as long as it is well drained. The native habitat for the plant is sandy, rocky limestone, or loam in central and east Texas and comes in three varieties with red, orange or yellow flowers that bloom on the second year it is planted and then go to seed to start the process over. What makes it even more special though is the 3ft tall thick, feathery spikes, atop which the tubular showy flowers emerge. If you like the look of Foxtail Fern, Standing Cypress will wow you. Consider planting from seed (as the back row/height item in mixed beds) in the same area two springs in a row to benefit the most from the biennial nature of the plant.
Bonus: Hummingbirds and butterflies.
Beebalm – Monarda sp
Beebalm is a native Texas herb that just happens to be a great mosquito repellent. How does it work? By masking the scent of mosquito victims, confusing the insects enough they might just leave you alone! Keep this one in pots around your patio seating if you don’t want the 2-3ft tall plants to spread since when left to its own devices, it can be invasive.
Flame Acanthus – Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii
Also known as the Hummingbird Bush, Flame Acanthus is a standout native deciduous shrub that grows 3-5ft tall. The ”flames” bloom summer through fall, and the bark has an interesting, exfoliating nature. The plant is suitable in our USDA hardiness zone (8a) and dies back to the root each winter, emerging in spring like our favorite perennials to wow us again for another year. You can use Flame Acanthus in ground beds or pots and as the nickname suggests, migratory hummingbirds will flock to the flowers.
Purple Coneflower – Echinacea purpurea
Coneflower is perennial, and offers a lovely filler for all kinds of landscape applications. On top of tall stems flowers bloom with spiked brown and orange centers, and lavender to purple drooping petals. The flowers of Echinacea species are used to make an extremely popular herbal tea, purported to help strengthen the immune system, and the showy blooms attract pollinators in droves.
Red Yucca – Hesperaloe parviflora
I am certain you have noticed the recent popularity of Red Yucca locally, and for good reason. This ornamental-grass-like desert beauty with the tall flower shoots is nearly drought immune and looks fabulous in home and retail landscaping. It is not a true yucca, but a member of the century plant family that produces soft, evergreen leaves and a 5-foot-tall flower spike with coral cluster flowers at the tip. Foliage is plum to purple in winter, and grey-green at other times.
Silver Ponyfoot – Dichondra argentea
This Texas native was new to me in 2021, and I am thus far pleased by the silver-blue foliage and versatility. This beauty can act as a ground cover, spreading with rooting surface shoots, as a hanging basket spill, or as a creative filler in rock gardening.
If you are looking to make the switch to a more sustainable, native Texas garden check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas A&M Extension offices, and other agencies dedicated to compiling lists of native Texas garden options to get started. Seeds can often be obtained at the Wildflower Center in person or via the web, and many local growers and retailers are stocking native plants among the more common items we are used to seeing in our yards. Even if you dedicate a small portion of your yard to a scattering of Texas wildflower seeds, I am absolutely certain you will be delighted by the results.
Until next time, friends, please keep growing beautifully.
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