Wild About Texas – October, 2007

Most parts of the country regard September as the beginning of fall. Here in Texas, when daytime highs linger persistently in the mid-nineties, it is quite a challenge to trust in the arrival of so-promised cooler temperatures of autumn.

Whether it is the slight shift in the length of daylight hours, increased rainfall, or subtle breaks in the heat, late summer and early fall present flushes of flowers that potentially rival spring displays. Gayfeather (Liatris spp.), eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii), agalinis (Agalinis spp.), wood-sorrel (Oxalis drummondii), Lindheimer senna (Senna lindheimeriana) and rainlily (Cooperia drummondii) give early hints that respite is on the horizon with blossoms from August into October. A number of spring bloomers such as lantana (L. urticoides), cherry sage (Salvia greggii), mealy-blue sage (Salvia farinacea), rock-rose pavonia (Pavonia lasiopetala), and blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), give welcome repeat performances this time of year.

As the season progresses, look out for these once-a-year floral treats:

Gray-golden aster (Heterotheca cancescens) shows saffron hued daisies on short, compact plants with silvery foliage.
Shrubby boneset (Ageratina havanensis) is one of the season’s best butterfly attractors.
Purple fall aster (Symphiotrichum oblongifolia) becomes a solid lavender ball of blossoms in mid-October.
Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata) with golden daisies on shrubby plants 3-5 feet tall.
Lindheimer muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) has graceful open flower plumes that are similar to Pampasgrass, but much safer to handle and are not invasive.
Gulf muhly (M. capillaris) produces clouds of pink misty flower tufts that are stunning when backlit in a garden.
Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) sport showy clusters of sulphur in September, overlapping in timing with the complementary purple of gayfeather. Prairie goldenrod (S. nemoralis) is recommended for limited spaces over tall goldenrod (S. canadensis).
Wild poinsettia (Euphorbia cyathophora) looks like a miniature version of the florist poinsettia. This charming little annual reseeds readily.

Whereas our fall foliage may seem dull compared to the emblazoned forests of the northeast, we do have a handful of native plants that provide a proper fall show:

Sumacs (Rhus spp.) offer bright reds and oranges, particularly if grown in full sun.
Texas red oak (Quercus texana) flaunts dark crimson foliage around Thanksgiving before ultimately dropping leaves in December.
Rattan vine (Berchemia scandens) is a twining climber with brilliant tangerine and lemon colored foliage.
Rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) is a small understory tree with glossy dark green leaves that transition to purple, red, and orange.
Virginia creeper or seven-leaf creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia, P. heptaphylla) provide lush green herbage in shade or sun, displaying the deepest reds and oranges in more light.
Big-tooth maple (Acer grandidentatum) is the darling of Lost Maples State Natural Area near Vanderpool, showing off bright orange, crimson, and gold foliage.
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), incidentally, is good for something besides nasty dermatitis! The white fruit are relished as an important food source for many birds, and vegetation growing in sunny locations turns stunning scarlet.

Many of these plants may be difficult to come by, but most will be available at our Fall Plant Sale and Gardening Festival, Oct. 13-14. Find our plant list on our Web site, www.wildflower.org.

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

The mission of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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