Everyone in Texas wants bluebonnets. Their velvety leaves topped with blue flowers announce that spring is here. I have a friend who plants them in pockets around his yard and then mows around them until they have dropped their seeds.
Bluebonnets are not the only wildflowers native to Texas. In fact there is a long list of beautiful plants and flowers that thrive in the fertile soils of southeast Texas and particularly in Montgomery County
Another friend has planted wildflower seeds in garden beds alongside more exotic species.
I on the other hand, am actually making new beds just for wildflowers. Several of my neighbors, used to our water-guzzling St. Augustine lawns, have looked askance at my antics, as I ripped out large patches of the weed and replaced it with some good organic soil. My objective: eventually to have a yard full of native and drought-adapted plants.
My back yard is already that way. I have Texas star hibiscus, both red and pink Turk’s cap, passion vine, American beautyberry, lantana, coral bean, wood fern, lanceleaf coreopsis, angel’s trumpet and salvia. Several small red buds and a Mexican plum live there as well. My backyard also sports a raised 4 foot by 20 foot vegetable garden, placed to receive maximum sun in my shady backyard.
My front yard is slowly becoming something like my backyard. Already bushy bluestem and inland sea oats, both unique and beautiful native grasses, grow there – as do porterweed, verbena, parsley hawthorn, salvia, Louisiana irises, milkweed, native roses, and more lantana.
In the spring, the patches of soil I’ve laid bare will sprout wildflowers. Lots of them.
I’m doing this not only because I like wildflowers. I’m also doing it because native wildflowers are easy to grow here. After all, for millennia before humans ever set foot in Texas, these plants have been existing and thriving…watered only by rain and fertilized by the rich soil of this area.
Although Montgomery County is technically in the southwestern corner of the Pineywoods Region of Texas, three other distinct ecosystems exist on its borders -the Blackland Prairies and Post Oak Savannah in the northwest and the Gulf Prairies and Marshes to the south and southwest.
These four ecosystems have created a widely diverse collection of plants which do extraordinarily well in gardens here.
Take for instance the purple coneflower. Native not only to Texas, but to all of the southeastern U.S. and much of the Midwest, it is a great accent plant, especially when planted in groups. There are also hybrid varieties now which feature light pink and white.
Or black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). This plant loves to reseed itself and rewards with some spectacular blooms that continue well into the summer.
Indian blanket is one of my favorite plants. It’s scientific name is Gaillardia pulchella (pulchella being the Latin word for “pretty.”) And it certainly is a pretty plant.
Here are some other natives or adapted wildflowers:
In addition to beauty, many of these plants are hosts to the larval stage of desirable butterflies. Others provide nectar for adult butterflies and hummingbirds. The dried seed heads provide food for birds during the winter.
As I see it, there’s no downside to wildflowers and native plants. A beautiful palette of colors and shapes grace my yard, the flowers attract desirable flora and fauna. I save money by not having to provide water, fertilizer and other chemicals to an always thirsty and hungry lawn, much less mow it. And I give my neighbors something to talk about. Everyone wins.
Two valuable books on wildflowers that you might want to own:
Wildflowers of Houston and Southeast Texas, John and Gloria Tveten, University of Texas Press
A Field Guide to Texas Wildflowers by Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller, University of Texas Press.