Wild About Texas
This is the time of year that many of our fragrant, flowering Texas native plants perfume the warm spring air, attracting various colorful insect pollinators. Most of these plants tend to be woody shrubs or trees, but our State Flower, the Texas bluebonnet, is an annual that, when experienced in quantity, will leave no doubt in anyone’s mind (and nose) that spring has arrived!
Which of these Texas native spring bloomers will become your favorites? Here are some cultivation tips to help you in your selections:
Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora): Native to south, central, and west Texas. A multi-trunked tree that typically grows to 15 feet tall, requires good drainage and will grow in full sun to part shade. Thick, glossy, evergreen leaves make a handsome backdrop for other plants. The purple flower clusters look vaguely like a bunch of grapes and smell unmistakably of grape bubble gum. But don’t eat it; it’s poisonous!
Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana): Occurs in central, north-central, and eastern parts of the state. Looks best in part sun as an understory tree and is typically found in river bottoms and on deep soils. Often grown as a single-trunked tree reaching 15 to 20 feet, but may sometimes be multi-trunked. Silvery striations on the bark make this an elegant focal point in the winter landscape. It seldom produces suckers that are characteristic of other plums. Sour edible fruit follow flowering and are ideal for making preserves and attracting wildlife.
Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens): Found clambering up trees and shrubs in woodlands of the eastern part of the state. This evergreen, twining vine can reach 25 feet or more. Prefers deep, rich, moist soils, but does well in dry conditions as well. Fragrant, golden flowers all but obscure the foliage in spring. Blooms best in full sun but will grow well in considerable shade.
Wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata): Native throughout the state in sunny or understory situations. This deciduous multi-trunked tree is a member of the citrus family and has strongly aromatic foliage. Other common names include skunk-bush, due to the scent of the leaves, and hop tree in reference to its papery disc-shaped fruit. Clusters of greenish-white flowers emerge with the foliage in spring, releasing a pleasant vanilla-like bouquet. Giant swallowtail butterflies use this plant (and other members of the citrus family) as their larval food source.
Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis): This species occurs over most of the state, but there are several other species in the genus Lupinus, all of which are considered the State Flower of Texas. Sow seed in late summer through fall in a sunny location with good drainage and little competition with other plants. If you are planting into an area that has not previously grown bluebonnets, consider using a rhizobium inoculant, which can be found through seed suppliers. Foliage rosettes will be green through the winter and unaffected by cold weather.
To find out more about these and other plants native to Texas and North America, join us at our Spring Plant Sale and Gardening Festival, April 9-10, and visit our Web site at www.wildflower.org.
About the author: Andrea DeLong-Amaya is Director of Gardens at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.