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The Plant of the Week
 
Current Plant-of-the-Week:
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Lonicera fragrantissima - Winter Honeysuckle - Shrub

There are flowers year-round in my landscape, even now, in late January.  These photographs were taken a few days after our recent ice storm.  And, though these blooms are small and lack pigment, their fragrance is a sensory delight.  They are borne by the hundreds on a large, mounding shrub, semi-evergreen in its mid-winter repose.  This native of China belongs to the genus, Lonicera, the Honeysuckles, but it does not engage in the family business of twining and climbing.  It is a shrub to 8' to 10' high by up to 12' wide in our area.  To find one, go to any of the old neighborhoods of San Antonio, get out of your car and follow your nose.

The "Plant of the Week" will be on vacation until I resume doing gardening shows on the radio.  Thank you for visiting this page.

Previous Plants-of-the-Week:

Quisqualis indica - Rangoon Creeper - Perennial Vine

I rank this as one of the top flowering vines for San Antonio and Austin. This tropical species can be seen in many old gardens, attesting to its hardiness and longevity.  In fact, my specimen along the southeast side of the house has not frozen back in three years.  And, it was still flowering when covered by ice earlier this week.  It generally blooms from April until the first hard freeze and its petals darken from white to red as the flowers age.  Grows in full sun to half-day sun.  It requires a tall and substantial tree or trellis to climb.  While it is drought-tolerant, it looks best (and bears more flowers) if given a deep watering every two weeks during a dry summer. 


Bignonia capreolata - Cross Vine - Vine

One of the showiest evergreen vines for our landscapes is also a native plant.  It climbs trees in a large zone of the eastern U. S. framed by lines connecting Texas, Florida, Virginia and Illinois.  This photograph shows two of the extremes in its range of floral tones.  The stems cling to almost any irregular surface with a network of clawed tendrils, but are not known to damage walls.  Though they generally are found in shady sites, they can prosper in almost full sun if ample irrigation is provided.

This species should not be confused with the related Trumpetvine, Campsis radicans, a pernicious weed with deciduous leaves.  It usually flowers in the summer, but the Cross Vine blooms in spring.


Salvia madrensis - Big Yellow Sage - Perennial

Named for the Sierra Madre, this is one of the giants of the root-hardy Salvias, reaching up to 10 feet in late fall as the large spikes of sticky, yellow blooms appear.  And, thanks to the mild weather so far this winter, this plant is still flowering the first week of 2007.  The sturdy stems are shaped like I-beams that alternate orientation at each node.  Each node bears a pair of large leaves displaying prominent venation.  Well-established clumps produce several upright stems, creating a massive presence in the landscape.  For best results, give it afternoon shade and mulch it deeply before a hard freeze. 


Pray for rain.

Dahlia imperialis - Imperial Tree Dahlia - Perennial

If the phrase, Tree Dahlia, strikes you as oxymoronic, you are not alone.  Few are aware that high in the Sierra Madre of Mexico live several species of Dahlia that do reach arboreal dimensions.  My tallest plants of this species have grown to just 16', about one-half of their genetic potential.  They thrive with late afternoon shade, good drainage, abundant fertilization during the growing season and a long, mild fall without early freezes.  Their only problem in our zone is the habit of starting to flower after the middle of October.   But even if you have just a week or two to enjoy their 6" to 8" diameter flowers, you have had several months to taunt your friends with frequent boasts of, "Mine is bigger than yours!"


Quercus buckleyi - Hill Country Red Oak, Spanish Oak, Texas Red Oak - Tree

First, the good news about this extraordinary tree.  Specimens of this species are showing truly spectacular fall color this week.  Now, the bad news.  They are not so attractive every year and some have brown, dead leaves that persist all winter until newly emerging leaves pop them off.  But, for the really bad news, Quercus buckleyi is the Typhoid Mary of the current epiphytotic of Oak Wilt in this region.  So, if you still want one for your landscape, go to your favorite nursery today and select one with the best genetics for fall foliage (see range of variation in fall color in these photographs). 

Other Oaks with similar foliage and the same susceptibility to Oak Wilt include:  Quercus canbyi (Canby's Oak, Sierra Red Oak), Quercus gracilliformis (Chisos Red Oak), Quercus sartorii (Sartor's Oak) and Quercus sillae (Saddle Mountain Oak).  The above recommendations to not apply to Shumard's Red Oak, Quercus shumardii, it does best in east Texas. 


Odontonema strictum - Firespike, Guatemalan Hummingbird Bush, Hummingbird Bush - Perennial

Season's greetings from Central America!  What a spectacular late fall to early winter floral display that ends so suddenly with the first freeze.  Or, it could continue in a greenhouse or very protected microhabitat.   This relative of the Shrimp Plant is a root-hardy perennial but, regrettably,  its late season bloom seldom runs its course in our latitude.  But that doesn't stop me from including it in some of the afternoon-shade borders in our landscape.  Though it freezes to the ground most winters, it can still reach 6' by late fall and usually provides at least 2 to 3 weeks of tubular flowers before all its aerial parts are blackened by an arctic blast.  It grows best with 3 to 4 deep soakings per month during the growing season and 2 to 3 feedings with 15-5-10  fertilizer in spring and summer.  And, if the current 12,000 year trend of global warming during this interglacial period continues, it will have an even longer blooming season here in central Texas.


Citrus X Changsha - Citrus reticulata X Citrus ichangensis - ChangSha Tangerine - Shrub

The 2" to 3" diameter fruit (up to 4" diameter if thinned), which ripens mid- to late-November, has less flavor than supermarket tangerines and is seedy.  So, why do we grow it?  Because it is the cold-hardiest, commercially available, edible citrus for San Antonio and Austin.  If acclimated, it is hardy to 15º F. or lower (seedling plants, but not grafted ones, have resprouted from below after the tops were killed at 4º F.).  Old specimens in this area grow to almost 20 feet high and almost as wide, if not pruned.  The Changsha Tangerine also makes an outstanding hedge if planted 8' apart.  Caution, branches heavily laden with fruit (see photograph) will bend down and could break during a storm!

It is thought to be a very old hybrid of Citrus reticulata, the Mandarin or Tangerine, which if acclimated, is hardy to 20º F., and Citrus ichangensis, the Ichang Papeda, a tree with inedible fruits. If acclimated, hardy to 0º F.

Does best in full sun, in soils with good internal drainage.  Performs best if given a deep watering every two weeks during a dry summer. 


Eupatorium odoratum - Fragrant Boneset - Perennial

The specimens of this native perennial in my collection are propagations from plants collected near the northernmost location of this primarily tropical American species, in a rattlesnake-infested prairie near Goliad.  Though they do not grow as large as those seen farther south, they will become 6' to 8' high and wide mounds of lavender-blue flowers in October, just in time to provide nectar for the multitude of Monarch butterflies returning to the high mountains of southern Mexico for the winter.  I am thankful that this year, they are still blooming here on Thanksgiving weekend.  They are quite adaptable, growing in full sun to half-day sun and are drought-tolerant once established, as well as being tolerant of rocky soils. 


Cassia splendida - Golden Wonder - Shrubby Perennial

While it can grow up to 8' to 10' high and wide, I include it with perennials since I cut mine back to the ground whenever it gets too big or we have had a severe winter.  These are often seen in old gardens because they are so durable and can survive with no human attention once they are well established.  Do not fertilize them since they are in the Legume Family, but do provide mulch around their base.  They grow and bloom best in full sun but they can also provide an acceptable floral display in half-day sun.  If you had one in your landscape, it would be spectacular this fall! 
 


Alstroemeria psittacina 'Variegata' - Variegated Peruvian  Lily - Perennial

Most members of the genus Alstroemeria will not survive too long in our soils and climate.  This Brazilian species is one of the rare exceptions.  Both the standard and variegated forms grow well here and soon increase by underground stems to form attractive clumps to 3' high.   After the maroon-red and green blooms occur on the elongated stems in late spring, the plants go dormant.  Their aerial parts return with the fall rains and grow through the winter.  Both forms do best with regular watering and some protection from drying winds.  They also need protection from forgetful gardeners who might plant something else in their apparently vacant territory while they are dormant to avoid our summer heat. 
 


Agave victoriae-reginae (includes forms called Agave fernandi-regis) - Queen Victoria's Agave - Hardy Succulent

The sculptural beauty of plants is especially apparent in succulents.  When reduced to their essential elements, to survive in harsh climates, their forms become works of art.  Queen Victoria's Agave is such a masterpiece.  In our area, it grows best if given 8 to 10 hours of sun, along with a well-drained root run.  Their rate of growth is slow and their ultimate size is under 2 feet in diameter.  They flower after about 2 decades of growth and most forms are killed by the effort.  The few forms that survive blooming develop secondary rosettes from underground stems to perpetuate the clone.  The handsome and variable progeny of the A. victoriae-reginae X A. scabra cross are also well worth cultivating.


Zantedeschia aethiopica - Calla Lily - Perennial

Some say floral elegance comes in many colors and forms.  Others, of refined and exquisite aesthetics, state it occurs in very few members of the Vegetal Kingdom and not ever polychrome.  But, regardless of your stance, most do agree the Calla Lily is the essence of elegance.  Despite its species name, it is native to South Africa, to boggy or streamside habitats.  In cultivation in our zone, it also prefers 4 to 6 hours of sun (with protection from the most intense afternoon sun).  They spread by underground stems and soon form colonies if provided with adequate nutrition.   Their aerial parts freeze and recovery can be slow the following spring.  I would mention their fragrance, but some might think less of them for employing olfactory advertising to announce their exposing their reproductive organs. 


Quercus rysophylla - Loquat-Leaf Oak - Tree

This is one of the magnificent oaks of Mexico.  Specimens cultivated in Texas are usually derived from acorns collected at several sites south of Monterrey, where it is usually found from 4,600' to 6,200' elevation in the Sierra Madre Oriental.  It is a 50 to 80 foot tall tree with thick evergreen leaves said to be similar in their texture and prominent venation to the Loquat.  While it generally grows near the streams that cascade down the narrow valleys facing the Gulf of Mexico, carrying torrents of rain wrung from the clouds through orographic lifting, it does exhibit some drought-tolerance.  This last dry year-and-one-half, my grove of seven trees fared as well as the Q. polymorpha from the Devils River of Texas and better than Q. polymorpha from Mexico.  Though local vendors rarely sell this tree, it is often found in specialist nurseries in the Houston area. 

The spelling of the species used above is the correct version (as found in the original publication of the name in 1910 by Weatherby), numerous variant spellings are employed by ignorant individuals.


Adiantum capillus-veneris - Maidenhair Fern - Perennial Fern

A plant is said to be cosmopolitan, not because it has been featured in a publication by that name, but because it has an extensive range, especially one covering several continents.  This delicate fern is such a globe-trotter.  Though it ranges from North and South America to the Eurasian land-mass, its distribution is spotty.  If you find moist ledges, or rocks irrigated by a seep or spring, you should generally see this plant.  The colony illustrated here is in Kendall County, near the spray of a waterfall cutting a channel through limestone.  If those are its needs, can it be domesticated?  Yes, it thrives near a water feature in the landscape and will even grow on the sides of a natural stone fountain.  Its specific epithet means, "hair of Venus" and thus shares the same ancient root as "venerate" and "venereal." 


Begonia X 'Barbara Rogers' - 'Barbara Rogers' Begonia - Perennial

While I avoid using bedding plants, especially annuals, around my home.  My landscape still contains familiar elements.  However, mine are the perennial relatives of those common bedding plants.  Having so many shady beds (with varying degrees of shade), the genus, Begonia, is well represented in our collections.  This particular cultivar grows best with morning sun and shade after 1:00 to 2:00 PM in our semi-arid climate.  Unlike its bedding plant relations, this hybrid grows 2' to 4' high.  And, best of all, I bought it once and have it return every spring.  Do your begonias do likewise?


Aster oblongifolium - Fall Aster, Mexican Aster - Perennial

Fall flowers, especially if displayed by members of the Sunflower Family, tend to toward the garish, Halloweeny side of the spectrum.  The so-called mums are anything but mum when in bloom.  This plant, however, a mainstay of old-fashioned gardens in south-central Texas, requires no glacier goggles for viewing.  Also, its presence in the landscape does not call for a repeal of the time-honored Laws of Color Harmony.

Unlike the New England Asters sold locally by the big box stores and corporate-clone nurseries, this one will actually thrive in our area.  It needs full to half-day sun and is very drought-tolerant once established.  However, it does look best if given a deep watering every week during a dry summer.


Heimia salicifolia - Huachinal - Shrub

This is another of the treasures of the Sierra Madre.  It's name might not ring any bells, but it will be planted in more and more gardens in our area.  Forms collected from high elevations tend to be evergreen (except in extremely cold winters).  The 1" yellow blooms are borne throughout the growing season if water is provided every two weeks.  And, it has no known pests or diseases.  I maintain mine at 4' to 6' high, to see their blooms better.  It is a member of the Family, Lythraceae, thus related to Cuphea and Crepe Myrtle.  Hark, I believe I'm starting to hear distant tintinnabulation or is it a tocsin, perhaps? 


Oxalis crassipes - Pink Oxalis - Perennial

The mere mention of the word, oxalis, and gardeners head for the potting shed in search of an herbicide.  I do the same when dealing with the native, yellow-flowered weed by that name.  However, the species illustrated here is far from being a weed.  In fact, it is a perennial long-cultivated and desired in our region.  It is also an extremely clever plant.  It endures our hot, dry summers by going dormant.  Its aerial portions disappear with the last of the spring rains and do not emerge until September's rains awaken them.  This species is also represented in gardens with a white-flowered form as well as a clone with bi-colored petals (pink grading to white).  Give these low-growing gems at least half-day sun and a well-drained spot. 


Pseudogynoxis chenopodioides - Mexican Flame Vine - Perennial Vine

Though older books call this Mexican plant, Senecio confusus, I use its new name to avoid confusion.  Its 2.5" to 3" orange to orange-red flower heads are most abundant when it is hot, but its fall floral display can be spectacular some years.  A perennial vine is one that usually freezes to the roots each winter and recovers the following spring.  However, the one I have near a southeast-facing limestone wall has not been killed to the ground for 4 years - neither has the Rangoon Creeper overhead.  It grows best in full sun to at least 6 hours of sun each day and requires a tree or trellis to climb.  Or, it can be allowed to spill down from above from the top of a retaining wall.


Acer grandidentatum - Big Tooth Maple - Tree

Maples, especially to those who grew up in the northern parts of the U.S., are desired landscape trees.  However, here in south-central Texas, their winter chilling requirements and usual intolerance of high summer heat make them undesirable.  I am thankful there are a few exceptions.  The Big Tooth Maples of the Hill Country and mountains of northeast Mexico are adapted to this area IF they are given supplemental watering during droughts. Acer skutchii, the Cloud Forest Maple of Mexico and Central America, requires even more watering, and Acer truncatum, the Shantung Maple, is intermediate in its irrigation requirements.


Indigofera kirilowii - Pink Indigo - Perennial

Based on its native habitat of northern China and Korea, this legume seemed an unlikely candidate to grow in semi-arid south-central Texas.  It is a deciduous shrub most years and becomes a perennial only when a severe freeze catches it before it has become winter-acclimated.  It is quite drought-tolerant in afternoon shade sites and has the ability to grow in more sun if given enough water.  My most robust plants are almost 3' tall, but most stay under 2'.  The pink flowers occur on pendant stems from spring to mid-summer.  I first acquired this species to use as an understory groundcover beneath tall bamboo - to embellish the area as well as to nourish the bamboo.   Since Pink Indigo is too beautiful just back there, it has been transplanted to several other more prominent sites in our woodland garden.


Agave bracteosa - Soft Agave - Hardy Succulent

Soft leaves, no thorns - so unlike its kin, the Century Plants.  This is one of my favorite plants for a large outdoor container, since it NEVER needs to be watered (though you could water it once each month during the growing season).  Individual rosettes can grow to over 2' in diameter and they do eventually branch from below to form clumps.  Grows best with some protection from intense afternoon sun, in a location with good drainage.  Requires no supplemental irrigation once established.  Again, these are perfect plants for containers!


Silphium simpsonii var. wrightii - Golden Rosinweed - Perennial

A native Texas relative of the 'Compass Plant' (Silphium laciniatum) with one to several 5' to 6' flower spikes in late spring to early summer.  The flowering heads are surrounded by golden-yellow ray flowers - but non-botanists would call them "petals".  This prairie perennial is not browsed by deer and looks good in combination with: Cherry Sage, Copper Canyon Daisy, Hybrid Coral Bean (Erythrina X bidwillii), Lantana, Red Yucca, Rosemary, Ruby Muhly, the larger Century Plants and Yuccas.  Grows in full sun.  Looks best if given a deep watering every two weeks during a dry summer, but can survive with no supplemental irrigation if well-established in deep soils.


Aristolochia fimbriata - Fringed Pipe Vine - Perennial, Vine

If you wish to have Pipe Vine Swallowtail butterflies in your landscape, you have to grow Pipe Vines or, as some call them, Dutchman's Pipe.  Botanically, they are members of the genus Aristolochia.  This species is the most diminutive one hardy in our climate.  While it can climb to over 12' in the tropics, here it behaves more as a perennial groundcover in shady spots.  It is native to southern Brazil and adjacent areas of Argentina and Paraguay and disappears after a freeze, returning from the underground parts in early spring.  One more thing, if you truly want the butterflies, you must share the variegated foliage with their distinctive caterpillars!


Strelitzia reginae - Bird-of-Paradise - Tender Perennial

While this icon of tropical landscapes is usually associated with practically frost-free sites, this specimen was photographed in San Antonio.  It is, of course, growing in the ground in a very protected atrium.  Like bananas, their distant relatives, they have no aerial stems.  The parts visible above ground are leaf bases and leaf blades, with an inflorescence or two from time to time.  They grow best with afternoon shade and evenly moist soils.  Green sand (glauconite), volcanic minerals and paramagnetic minerals should be incorporated into the medium around their roots.  And please, have a "Plan B" in case temperatures are likely to go below freezing for more than a few hours in their protected micro-habitat.  My Plan B would be to dig up the clump,  place the root-ball in a 15 to 20 gallon pot and bring it inside until the arctic blast subsides. 


Crinum procerum 'Splendens' - Red-Leaf Crinum - Tender Perennial

This splendid tropical Crinum is a perfect choice for a pool-side planter.  Just make sure you wheel it to a protected enclosure when temperatures approach freezing.  In fact, it will require a heated sanctuary if prolonged freezing weather is in the forecast.  Otherwise, it is an almost perfect container specimen.  My established Crinum procerum 'Splendens' live in 15 or 20 gallon pots and grow 6' high and wide by late summer.  I try to remember to feed them at least 4 times during the growing season with a water-soluble fertilizer (in addition to the 8 to 10 Agriform 2-year tablets each pot receives in spring).  Give them 6 to 8 hours of sun each day and a soaking when the huge leaves start to wilt.


Opuntia imbricata - Tree Cholla - Shrub, Hardy Cactus

Tree Cholla is the most cold-hardy large cactus of west Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.  The largest specimens reach almost 8' high and wide, composed of branching and re-branching cylindrical stem sections.  While it is in the same genus, Opuntia, as prickly pears, that relationship is not apparent to the untrained eye.  Its purplish blooms of late spring give way to yellow "fruits" consumed by wildlife.  It should be planted only in sites receiving sun all day and having perfect drainage.  Propagation is very easy from stem sections placed horizontally on the ground, or propped up vertically with rocks or sticks. 


Hibiscus dasycalyx - Neches River Rose Mallow - Perennial

Hibiscus dasycalyx, or more correctly, Hibiscus laevis var. dasycalyx*, is a very localized variant found only in east Texas in Cherokee, Harrison, Houston and Trinity counties.  It occurs in seasonally flooded sites associated with the Angelina, Neches and Trinity Rivers.  The 4' to 7' stems bear many flowers (4" to 6" across) during the hottest months of the year.   Like its relatives, H. coccineus, H. laevis (militaris), H. grandiflorus and H. moscheutos, its stems die back in late fall and resume growth from the rootstock in March to April.  For best floral development, all of these perennial mallows must be grown in full sun.  While they are native to areas that are flooded during part of the growing season, they do very well in cultivation with weekly watering.

*American Journal of Botany, Vol. 82, No. 11 (Nov., 1995) , pp. 1463 - 1472.


Russelia sp. (San Carlos Mountains) - Coral Firecracker Bush - Perennial 

Is it hotter than a firecracker on the 4th of July?  Yes, and safer too.  This species from the San Carlos Mountains of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas is much larger than the common Firecracker Bush, R. equisetiformis, reaching up to 6' high and wide (if never trimmed).  This plant can be tall and self-supporting in very sunny sites or sprawling and pendent in shade. Grows in full sun to less than half-day sun, and it looks best if given a deep watering every two weeks during a dry summer.  Its best use is as a large-scale groundcover, especially on slopes where its spreading and colonizing habit is used to advantage.


Justicia aurea - Giant Golden Shrimp Plant - Perennial 

This native of Mexico and central America is the second tallest member of the Shrimp Plant clan in my collection.  Only Megaskepasma erythrochlamys, 'Brazilian Red-Cloak', grows taller.   While it can grow to over 12' in its tropical homeland, it manages to grow only to slightly over 8' here in San Antonio.  In a word, it is spectacular.  It starts to flower in late spring and by late June, it is a 4' to 6' multi-stemmed shrub with a 6" to 8" "cone" of numerous 2.25"-long golden blooms at the top of each stem.  It grows best in this area with dappled morning sun and afternoon shade and twice-weekly irrigation during summer droughts.  Do not let its water requirement keep you from growing this giant, it is worth the 10 gallons per week!  As with most tropical perennials, mulch it deeply in late October and remove the mulch in early March.  Feed it twice in spring with 15-5-10 (6 weeks apart) to hasten its recovery.


Salvia guaranitica 'Black & Blue' - 'Black & Blue' Sage, 'Domestic Violence' Sage,  'Domestic Violence' Anise Sage - Perennial 

Salvia guaranitica is the best blue-flowered shrub sage for semi-sunny sites with good levels of soil moisture.  The floral tubes are a beautiful shade of blue and the calyx (floral cup) is almost black. In protected microhabitats, or after a mild winter, this sage will begin flowering in April.  Elsewhere, it re-emerges in early spring and starts to bloom in mid- to late-summer.  The leafy stems can reach 8' tall by late fall with ideal levels of fertilization (15-5-10 three times during the growing season).   Other commercially available cultivars and selections of this species include: 'Argentina Skies', 'Blue Ensign', Brazil & Costa Rica. 


Begonia grandis 'Heron's Pirouette' - 'Heron's Pirouette' Begonia - Perennial

As described by Daniel J. Hinkley, "We are very excited about this selection of the hardy Begonia that was a standout amongst seedlings raised from our wild collections in Japan in 1997. The inflorescence of hot pink flowers is over twice as long as the typical species, to a full 12", and tumbles gracefully downward from stems to 15" clad in lovely triangular foliage. Later, even the seed heads transition to striking tones of pink. Best in partial shade and well-drained soil. You will not be disappointed by this selection."

Dan Hinkley founded the Heronswood Nursery in Kingston, Washington in the late 1980's and began offering plants propagated from his vast collection by mail-order in 1991.  That collection expanded greatly as he traveled the world, searching for new and worthwhile specimens. 

This photograph of 'Heron's Pirouette' was taken this afternoon (9 June 2006) in a shady corner of my yard.  It commences flowering in May and continues until first frost.  It is included here to honor the many contributions to horticulture by Heronswood Nursery, as well as to note, with sadness, the news of its abrupt closing.

 

Habranthus robustus - Giant Pink Rain Lily - Perennial Bulb

Our native Prairie Rain Lily* bears white flowers a few days after thunderstorms.  It is so common, some even consider it a weed, especially when it occurs in a lawn.  This species, from southern Brazil, blooms likewise.  However, its blooms are larger, pink and are borne on taller stalks.  Though the specific name is, robustus, 'robust' in Latin, it is not the most robust one available.  Some selections of Habranthus brachyandrus are more robust, as is the cultivar, Habranthus robustus 'Russell Manning'.  All of these pink Habranthus, as well as their hybrids, grow in full sun to half-day sun in well-drained soil.  All expand to form clumps (both by branching and division of the bulbs, as well as by the germination of seed), giving you a surplus to share (or sell).

* It is known by two names, Cooperia pedunculata or Zephyranthes drummondii


Salvia greggii X muelleri - Violet Cherry Sage - Perennial

A robust hybrid much like Cherry Sage, Salvia greggii.  It differs in flower color and most clones usually have the aromatic and resinous leaves of S. muelleri.  Hybrid vigor allows it to grow to 3' high and wide.  It looks best if grown in full sun, but will still provide some blooms in half-day sun.  Probable cultivars and forms in cultivation are named: 'Burgundy', 'Dark Dancer' & 'Diane'. 


Clerodendrum bungei - Mexican Hydrangea - Perennial

It is not a real "hydrangea" nor is it from Mexico*, but it's still attractive, even if misnamed.  Please, just don't crush the leaves of this deer-proof plant, they are as malodorous as those of other ornamental species of this genus!  The flower heads, produced at the tops of 4' to 6' stems, occur from spring to late summer and can be up to 8" in diameter.  It does spread by rhizomes (underground stems), thus forming a colony.  Plant it where that habit will not create a problem. While it can grow in full sun, it needs far less water in half-day sun sites.

*Native to the misnamed, People's Republic of China.  It belongs to the Verbena Family.


Quercus macrocarpa - Bur Oak - Tree 

Bur Oak leaves, like the leaves of other trees, contain the machinery of photosynthesis within structures called chloroplasts.  Employing an alchemy energized by light, plants join water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) to make sugars and oxygen (O2).  Those sugars feed them, as well as animals and parasites.  Many humans (with pruners in hand) seem ignorant of this basic fact of biology.  They remove too many leaf-bearing branches too soon.  Trees DO NOT form superfluous branches with supernumerary quantities of leaves.  Please do not decimate your trees.  Follow the Trashy Trunk Technique and do not remove secondary branches until they are 1" in diameter.  The premature removal of secondary branches starves saplings. 


Ratibida columnaris - Mexican Hat - Perennial

This showy prairie perennial can grow to 4' tall, and is most abundant on soils derived from limestone.  As a wildflower, it has one of the longest flowering times since it can bloom from April to first frost, if rain is sufficient.  Being a member in good standing of the Asteraceae, the Sunflower Family, its "flower" is really a compound structure bearing many individual flowers.  The "petals" are ray flowers (with no reproductive parts) and the inner blooms are disk flowers with the potential to form achenes ("seeds").  The rays can be all yellow to red-brown with a yellow edge or tip or entirely red-brown.  Please feel free to pull out excess seedlings, especially those with ray flowers that clash with with your preferred floral color scheme.

This is also called Ratibida columnifera.


Sprekelia formosissima 'Orient Red' - 'Orient Red' Aztec Lily, Jacobean Lily - Perennial Bulb

Sprekelia is truly one of the most spectacular flowers one can cultivate in San Antonio.  This amaryllis relative is native to the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico and is usually found on rocky slopes.  My best flowering specimen is planted just a few inches from a west-facing concrete sidewalk.  Others report great results from bulbs grown in rock gardens.  It loves a hot exposure and blooms in response to thunderstorms in late spring, summer and fall.  The cultivar, 'Orient Red', is much more floriferous than the typical selection. 


Mimosa borealis - Cat's Claw, Mimosa, Pink Mimosa  - Shrub

This spring-blooming native is a real Mimosa.  The other one, the short-lived, shallow-rooted, weak-wooded, borer-bait Asian tree called "Mimosa" is actually in the genus, Albizia.  That abomination is known correctly as, Albizia julibrissin.  This mimosa occurs throughout the Hill Country of central Texas, as well as in west Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.  It is deciduous during its winter dormant period and can also defoliate during long droughts.  Though this 4' to 6' shrub is very attractive when in flower, its numerous recurved thorns (one author tried to diminish them by calling them prickles) discourage me from including it in my landscape.  Though that very quality would be an asset if one were trying to keep out vagrants and trespassers. 


Salvia regla - Mountain Sage - Perennial

While Mountain Sage is one of the best fall-blooming salvias for central Texas, it can also flower in spring after a winter with few freezes.  The cultivated clones from the Chisos Mountains in the Big Bend area of Texas are cold-hardier, but forms collected in high elevation sites just southeast of Saltillo (in northeast Mexico) are showier. This woody sage can grow 4' to 8' tall, and needs perfect drainage plus afternoon shade.  Cultivars and selections include: Hidalgo, Jame, 'Mount Emory' & 'Warnock's Choice'.  And please, water this hummingbird plant only if wilted!
 


Consolida ambigua - Annual Larkspur, Rocket Larkspur - Winter Annual

A winter annual sprouts from seed in late summer and fall, grows through the winter, and bolts, flowers and sets seed in spring.  Texas Bluebonnets and many other wildflowers behave as winter annuals.  Both Consolida and a related genus, Delphinium, have been given the same common name of 'Larkspur'.  The perennial Larkspurs, one is native to this area, are usually Delphinium.  This annual species is originally from the Mediterranean region, though it is now naturalized in many parts of Asia and North America.  A pink flowered form of this species is also in cultivation.  Rocket Larkspur does best in full sun and can grow to 3 feet high in well-drained sites.
 


Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana - Hinckley's Columbine - Perennial

Though very few have seen Capote Falls, many have seen a plant endemic to that oasis about 40 miles west of Marfa.  I obtained my first specimens of Hinckley's Columbine in 1978 and cannot imagine a spring garden without its graceful presence.  A well-fed plant of this phenomenal perennial can grow to 5 feet wide and almost 3 feet high.  All it needs is afternoon shade, excellent drainage and high levels of fertilization during its winter growing season.   The spurred blooms appear from late February to early June. 


Muscari neglectum - Grape Hyacinth - Perennial Bulb

If you want to grow a Grape Hyacinth, go to any nursery or mass merchant in the fall and buy all the bulbs you can afford.  If, however, you want a type of Grape Hyacinth that thrives in our climate and limestone-derived alkaline soils, this is the only one.  Yes, some of the other species and hybrids will linger here for a few years, but their fate is to decline and eventually die out. 

Though these plants are small, 6" to 8" high, they multiply and self-sow to form large colonies in time.  In spite of their size, they are quite prominent this year since the Texas Bluebonnets are scarce after a dry fall and winter.  Mine have been in bloom since mid-February and should continue until early April.  This Grape Hyacinth is dormant in summers and grows from November to April.  If you acquire some of these bulbs, make sure they are planted where they receive at least half-day sun during their growing period.
 


Setaria poiretiana - Mexican Palm Grass - Perennial to Half-Hardy Ornamental Grass

This outstanding ornamental grass has leaves pleated like palm foliage.  The clumps, if well fed, can grow to 6' wide and 3' high, but are usually only 4' across.  The selections of this species grown from seed I have collected in high-elevation, cloud forest habitats in central Mexico grow very well in San Antonio and Austin.  They will often self-sow and re-sprout from below after all but the coldest winters. S. poiretiana is significantly more cold-hardy than Setaria palmifolia, the Asian species of Palm Grass usually sold in the U.S.  Grows best with shade in late afternoon.  And, it looks best if given a deep watering every week during a dry summer (though it needs less water in more shade).  Mulch deeply in late fall to provide winter protection and remove the excess mulch in late winter.


Aquilegia dichroa - Lusitanian Columbine - Perennial

To me, the word 'Columbine' evokes images of montane meadows, slopes of tall conifers and snowy peaks.  And that association is true for many species of the genus.  Those are the ones that will die if planted in south-central Texas.  This one, however, is a durable Columbine.  It thrives in our winters and survives our summer heat.  This remarkable spring-blooming native of Portugal requires a shady site, good drainage (add decomposed granite) and a deep watering every two weeks during dry spells.  It will self-sow in ideal locations. 
 


Tetrapanax papyrifera - Rice Paper Plant - Perennial

It's the amazing mathematics plant!  It multiplies.  It adds.  It even responds to division! And it truly will subtract from the space available for nearby plants. 

In other words, it spreads - increasing mightily by underground stems.  Ordinarily, I dislike such botanical abundance.  But, I have made an exception for just one particular clone of this species. 

The typical Rice Paper Plant grows 8' to 10' high with large leaves resembling those of the Castor Bean Plant.  This gigantic clone can reach up to 25' high with 3' to 5' leaves.  Its spreading by rhizomes is not a problem for me since any wayward stems are dug up and potted.  I react to their emergence exactly as a child does to Christmas presents. 

Both the standard and giant forms do best with dappled sun or morning sun/afternoon shade and prefer a deep watering every week during a dry summer.  All respond well to generous levels of fertilization and rich soil.

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The botanical images on this site were produced by The Photon Hunt.

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Copyright at Common Law by Manuel Flores