Wild About Texas – October, 2007

Drab and wan does not have to describe your winter garden. Texas provides us with a healthy selection of native options for a winter garden including evergreen plants of varying shades of greens and silvers, architectural forms of grasses and succulents, and woody plants with intriguing bark.

Winter is the ideal time in Texas for planting trees and shrubs. When selecting trees and shrubs for our landscapes, consider the ornamental qualities trunks can offer. Depending on the species you are working with, here are a few tips to consider:

Deciduous trees or shrubs generally flaunt their bark better in the winter. Evergreens with high canopies can better show their trunks than those with lower foliage.
Position plants where they catch rich morning or late afternoon light, especially in winter.
Some trees, such as Mexican plum, have bark with subtle textures. These are best observed at close range near a walkway.
Set off elegant trunk shapes and patterns of trees such as Texas persimmon or possumhaw, against an unornamented blank wall of contrasting value (light or dark).
Get inventive with your lighting techniques to create dramatic silhouettes.

Upon close observation it becomes evident that pretty much all bark has its unique characteristics. These plants, however, have especially “groovy” bark:

Osage-orange or bois d’arc (Maclura pomifera) – Deep vertical fissures swirl around ochre trunk and branches, providing an unexpected source of visual dynamism.

Box elder (Acer negundo) – Young shoots and stems are bright anole green and smooth. Try pollarding or coppicing (two techniques involving hard pruning) to promote lush new colorful growth each year, and one of the rare instances where it is an option.

Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana) – Horizontal striations of shiny silvers and browns and conspicuous lenticels are common in members of this genus.

Wafer ash or hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) – This multi-trunked understory tree has reddish-brown and grey blotches.

Texas madrone (Arbutus xalapensis) – If you are lucky enough to have special soils capable of supporting Madrones, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the smooth skin-like texture and peeling white and red bark.

Cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) – It is the strangest thing to see the corky “wings” on the branches of this shade tree, particularly on young twigs. A real conversation starter!

Goldenball leadtree (Leucaena retusa) – Vertical splits in the gray bark reveal bright orange underneath.

Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) – Silvery white trunks are a perfect foil for the bright red or orange fruits ornamenting this deciduous multi-trunked small tree in winter.

Ash juniper or cedar (Juniperus ashei) – Overcome some of your negative feelings about this native evergreen by appreciating the rustic dark brown peeling bark of mature trees that provide critical nesting material for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. Pale bands are diagnostic and glow lavender in the light of dusk.

Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) – These muscular, multi-trunked small trees share the form and texture of crape myrtles. The smooth bark often peels off in large sheets to reveal rich cinnamon underneath.

For more information about Texas native plants, visit the Wildflower Center’s Web site at www.wildflower.org

About the author: Andrea DeLong-Amaya is the Director of Horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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