Posts Tagged ‘NICE!’

Possumhaw, the native holiday holly

Posted on November 2nd, 2010 by Bill Ward

“Deck the halls with boughs of possumhaw, tra la la….”

Yes, possumhaw (Ilex decidua)!  This is the native holly of Texas.

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Lindheimer muhly, a native accent grass

Posted on June 25th, 2010 by Bill Ward

For many people, the thought of grass in the “flower bed” is  anathema. For others, any mention of grass for landscaping brings to mind pampas grass, a commonly used exotic.
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A nice bloomer during the hot summer

Posted on June 1st, 2010 by Bill Ward

Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) is a bushy member of the Malvaceae family, which includes all the various mallows, rose pavonia, winecup, hibiscus, okra, cotton, and hollyhock, among others. The bright-red flower of Turk’s cap, however, is not the regular “mallow-like” open five-petal bloom.

Turk’s cap  continues to flower through the summer heat and on into the fall, and it is fairly drought-resistant. It has been used as a garden plant for a long time and so is generally available at local nurseries.

Turk's cap in bloom. (photo by Bill Ward).

Turk’s cap in bloom. (photo by Bill Ward).

In Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country,  Marshall Enquist describes the flower as consisting of one- to two-inch-long petals that “stand erect and are folded into one another,” making a tight irregular bloom. A long red staminate column juts out from the center of the flower. The bright-green leaves are two to four inches long and wide, shallowly lobed, and slightly fuzzy on the underside.

It is not uncommon these days to find white-blooming Turk’s cap for sale at nurseries, and pink cultivars occasionally are available. My preference is the “natural” red, which seems to draw the hummingbirds and butterflies.

Turk’s cap is native to East, South, and Central Texas as well as the eastern part of the Edwards Plateau. This distribution proves it can adjust to a variety of soil types and moisture regimes. Where I’ve noticed it in Kendall County, wild Turk’s cap grows in shady, well-drained areas along stream banks and limestone canyon walls.

In the garden it can grow almost anywhere, from full sun to deep shade. Turk’s cap grows into a multi-branching bush a few feet high. If it gets too much care after it is established, Turk’s cap might need to be cut back occasionally. Most winters our Turk’s cap dies back to the ground, but even last winter’s deep freeze didn’t kill it. The white-tail deer in our neighborhood have an appetite for Turk’s cap leaves, and the plant won’t survive in our yard without an exclosure.

Whoever gave Turk’s cap its informal name apparently thought the flower resembles a fez, the red felt hat formerly worn by Turkish men (now I think mostly worn for Shriner parades in the US). Other vernacular names include Texas mallow, red mallow, bleeding heart, and Drummond wax-mallow. Its variety name is in honor of Thomas Drummond, a Scottish botanist who collected in Texas when it was still a part of northern Mexico.

Close up of semiclosed Turk's cap flower. This flower can be pollinated by hummingbirds. (Photo by Bill Ward).

Close up of semiclosed Turk’s cap flower. This flower can be pollinated by hummingbirds. (Photo by Bill Ward).

Thomas Drummond was curator of the Belfast Botanic Garden during the early 1800s. In 1825 he went with a natural-history collecting expedition to the Hudson Bay area of Canada. It was a trip of hardship and near starvation. By 1831, he reached New York and slowly made his way southwest to Texas, arriving in 1833, three years before the revolution. It is said he brought with him two tons of paper in which he hoped to preserve a collection of Texas flora. During 21 months of 1833 and 1834, Drummond collected 750 species (2,000-3,000 specimens) of plants. He sent these to Sir William Jackson Hooker, founder of Kew Botanical Gardens in London. Drummond also made collections of birds, snakes, land shells, and seeds.

Drummond’s collecting trips in Texas were made at great peril to his health. More than once he almost starved to death, he barely survived cholera, and he endured fevers, boils, hand infections, and ulcerated legs. Drummond made his way from Texas to Cuba, where he died mysteriously in 1835.

Among the plants Hooker described from Thomas Drummond’s collection are the Texas bluebonnet and Drummond’s phlox. The phlox from Texas was enthusiastically grown in Europe, and it was soon “improved” into several color strains now growing in gardens around the world. Twenty-eight other Texas plant species are named in honor of Thomas Drummond. His collection was the first from Texas to be distributed widely among museums and scientific institutions of the world.

Esperanza – a hope for summer blooms

Posted on May 7th, 2010 by Bill Ward

As its common name “esperanza” (Spanish for “hope”) seems to suggest, Tecoma stans is our great hope for showy flowers during the heat of late summer.

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An American beauty

Posted on April 12th, 2010 by Bill Ward

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana ) is an easy-to-grow shrub that does well in the shade of large trees. Beautyberry commonly reaches four to six feet high, sometimes higher, and spreads laterally for many feet. This large bush needs a little room to spread. During early fall, the limbs become shish kebabs of bright purple berries.

Limbs of American beautyberry bend under the weight of purple berries during early fall.  (Photo by Bill Ward)

Limbs of American beautyberry bend under the weight of purple berries during early fall. (Photo by Bill Ward)

American beautyberry is multi-branched and has large light-green ovate leaves. Patches of tiny white, pink, or blue flowers develop along the limbs during late spring. The flowers soon give way to clusters of green berries that presently turn magenta-purple.

This shrub can provide a good screen from spring to early winter.  During some falls the leaves are bright lemon-yellow, but the autumn color is not dependable. Winter limbs are bare, but clusters of purple berries may remain even after the leaves fall. How long the berries stay depends on the birds in the vicinity. Mockingbirds, cardinals, and summer tanagers find the berries on our large backyard beautyberry too good to resist.

I first took notice of American beautyberry over 50 years ago when we moved to East Texas as newlyweds. My geologic mapping took me into the piney woods, where I discovered a whole set of plants unknown to a boy from Central Texas. In those damp eastern woods, American beautyberry grows with ferns, wild azaleas, and flowering dogwood.

Long before there was a Native Plant Society of Texas, I discovered that some of those piney-woods plants can be good landscape plants. Our backyard in Tyler had many trees, shrubs, and flowers that were transplanted from the nearby woods. One of our favorites was the American beautyberry or, as they called it in East Texas , “French mulberry.”  After we moved to New Orleans , we continued the practice of landscaping with native plants, including American beautyberry, which there was called “Spanish mulberry.”

When we came to the Boerne area many years ago, I was startled to see a healthy growth of American beautyberry on stream terraces at the Cibolo Nature Center. I had thought this was an eastern plant that needed acid soil. I was pleased to learn that the western limit of its range extends to Kendall and Bexar Counties, where it does just fine in the moist soils of canyons and bottomlands.

What pleased me even more was to find that American beautyberry is readily available at local nurseries, and we could continue to have it as a yard plant. Besides that, white American beautyberry (C. americana var.lactea) sometimes can be found at local nurseries. Its white berries are an interesting contrast to the usual purple clusters.

As I learned through the years, American beautyberry is easy to transplant and can be cultivated in a variety of soil types. It is fairly drought-tolerant if grown in the shade.  Even in shady spots, however, the leaves may look droopy in midday summer heat. Beautyberries grown in the sun require more water.  Severe heat and drought may cause this plant to temporarily defoliate.

In many places in the wild, American beautyberry seems to escape heavy browsing by deer. However, in our neighborhood, American beautyberry is snipped by deer, at least during dry periods. All of our beautyberries have to grow inside wire-fence exclosures. If we are to have interesting diversity among our landscape plants in this area of deer over-population, then exclosures are necessary. Besides, I hardly notice the wire fences anymore, and I’m certainly glad to be able to enjoy the various plants.