Page 1

Plants for Subtropical Texas by Richard Travis

An illustrated guide to landscape plants suitable for outdoor cultivation in the southermost portion of Texas Copyright 2008

“Why grow Chinaberry trees, Spiraea and Honeysuckle in a land that will produce the lordly palm, beautiful Orchid tree or showy Flame vine?� - W. H. Friend



It has always been a goal to have a pictorial plant book which is suited strictly for the subtropical southern area of the state. It is frustrating to see so many plant books that try and cover such broad regions that they ultimately are of little practical use down here. While other books have done a decent job of covering common cultural problems and solutions, the aim of this book is strictly to demonstrate in pictures the wide variety of plants which will thrive in this part of the state. Its usefulness may prove limited at best for gardeners north of Corpus or Laredo but that’s the point: there is plenty of literature available to the gardener in Austin or Dallas already. The advent of digital publishing on demand has made a book like this possible; this project simply would not have been feasible even a few years ago. A few notes should be made about growing plants here under the conditions of the Lower Rio Grande region. While the soil is generally rich and freezing temperatures rarely occur, it can actually be quite a challenge to grow things here. The major problems to plant growth are the alkalinity of most soils and occasionally high salinity of the irrigation water, the almost year-round high temperatures and wind which can cause considerable dessication to unprotected plants, and much less frequent but existent risk of a hard freeze, flood, or extreme winds from tropical storms. The soil disease cotton root rot can also be a problem in some areas. A good general strategy to follow is to use plants which are already adapted to the day-to-day local conditions of alkalinity, drought, and heat. Plants from temperate regions are a lost cause here; if you want to grow azaleas and conifers you’re living in the wrong place. Even plants used in other parts of Texas such as Indian hawthorn are not good choices for here unless the best varieties are chosen. And though there are some really special plants such as crotons or ixora that require pampering here to thrive, they are so beautiful that many people feel they are worth the effort. They are still easier and certainly more rewarding than, for instance, a rose garden. Getting rid of the temperate mentality is the first step to a beautiful landscape here.


The problems of heavy flooding should be dealt with before planting. If a plant requires good drainage care should be taken to locate it in an area that is not low and drains well, even during heavy rains. If that can’t be guaranteed it may be worth the trouble to build a raised bed of some kind. Other plants such as Chinese fan palms will thrive in poorly drained areas and any low areas should be reserved for plants that can take temporary periods of “wet feet”. Dealing with the risk of high winds usually is more difficult. Areas that are normally prone to high winds, such as open


The idea for this book began over a decade ago on several trips to the Lower Rio Grande Valley while admiring the marvelous plants that only grew at the southern end of Texas. Since those first early trips in the 1980s the area has enjoyed many warm years and the lure of the vegetation, both native and planted, became too great to pass up.

exposed sites, are going to be particularly vulnerable in storms. Exceptionally high winds such as those experienced when a major hurricane passes directly through an area are devastating to everything in the region, but these events are quite rare and usually more localized than events such as cold; an indirect hit or a smaller storm is much more likely. Plants used at the coast above all need to be able to withstand the nearly constant winds and salt spray, which injures many more plants there than the rare cold snap. For most of the region, however, that rare hard freeze is probably the single most limiting factor to what can be grown here. If it were not for a few nights during the last century this area would truly look as subtropical as anywhere else at similar latitudes, with massive figs and eucalyptus amongst towering queen or even royal palms. It is still possible to grow these plants if you’re aware that they may die back to the ground or even be completely killed here in a worst-case scenario, but it is not wise to be using massive tropical trees here on a large scale without acknowledging their potential fate. Far too many have been using Benjamin figs for shade trees lately and may not realize that they can be killed completely in just a moderate freeze. Unfortunately, many people go to the other extreme and think the only things that should be used are ashes or yaupons or crepe myrtles. This may be even worse, since it really is a waste of our climate. There exists a compromise of mixing conservative but reliable shade trees such as oaks and ebonies and hardy palms together with a few tropical flowering or foliage trees (especially smaller ones which can be easily pruned if needed). With shrubs, vines and ground covers it is possible to be a little more liberal; they are easy to cut back if damaged by cold and often look better with an occasional “haircut�. The recent flourish of new and interesting plants appearing in Arizona landscapes should be followed carefully, since many of them should grow with few problems here. Palms have a very special place in our landscape and there is really a substantial number that will grow here; if you are interested in them it may be useful to purchase a book dedicated specifically to this unique group of plants. Many gardeners here are interested in them as well as other subtropical plants such as rare flowering trees, fruit trees or bamboos. A word must be put in about the native plants of this region. We have a number of truly beautiful native plants such as the ebony, palmetto, and wild olive, and for the most part these are well represented in the local nursery trade. What is lacking, unfortunately, are some of the really nice and unique but rarely used native plants. Many make useful screening plants or specimens if pruned. The guayacan and adelia make excellent specimens, and our palo verde, Parkinsonia (Cercidium) texana, is as showy in bloom as many tropicals (not to be confused with the related but weedy retama). They are hard to find but a few


Our native palo verde makes a beautiful show in full bloom nurserymen specialize in these plants. A few natives such as the wonderful Esenbeckia make really handsome tropical trees but have unfortunately proven rather difficult to raise. A few nurserymen are also interested in some of the very nice plants native just south of the border in Tamaulipas and these will hopefully further make their way into the local trade in significant numbers. Some noteworthy examples include the trees Myrcianthes and Casimiroa. Some common diseases to look out for here are alkalinity intolerance, which shows up as a yellowing of the plant, salt burn, which typically manifests as tip browning around the leaf edges, and the fatal cotton root rot, which usually shows up as a sudden wilting of the leaves not caused by ordinary drought. The first two problems can be corrected (at least temporarily on a small scale), but cotton root rot is probably the most frustrating. It tends to occur in alkaline soils low in organic matter. Enriching the soil provides some protection, but not immunity, against all of these problems. Most plants which are well adapted to the alluvial or heavier soils of our region can resist these conditions, especially if they originate from hot subtropical semihumid regions with a pronounced dry season (usually in winter-spring).


Palms and other monocots such as agaves have the added problem of attack by the rhino beetle or giant beetle Strategus aloeus. Plants that have their growing point below or near ground level are most affected, and if the beetles are allowed to eat enough of the plant’s growing point it can result in death or stunting. Agave collections in particular can be devastated if not caught in time. The telltale sign is a small hole in the ground near the base of the plant, though sometimes this is hidden. Plants will begin to shrivel or wilt, and in many cases the center spear may pull out, not a good sign. Insecticides can control the beetle, and palms at least tend to become more resistant with age. They tend to be more of a problem in rural or less urbanized areas.


RIGHT - Acacia berlandieri Guajillo A hardy native feathery nearly thornless shrub with cream colored spring flowers BELOW - Acacia minuta (A. farnesiana) Huisache Very common thorny native tree with yellow flowers in early spring LOWER RIGHT - Acacia rigidula Blackbrush Dark green thorny shrubby acacia with early cream flowers and a twisted look, sometimes confused for a young ebony


Acalypha wilkesiana Copper plant Shrubby ornamental bedding plants with red mottled foliage. They like water and good soil, a frost may kill them

Acacia species (African) Medium to large thorny but attractive trees, several of which appear to be well adapted here. Monkey thorn, A. galpinii (above) seems to be one of the best in trials so far. Others are ornamental and fast but simply too thorny. Very high winds may damage tall trees Acacia stenophylla Shoestring acacia This Australian native is a popular landscape plant in Arizona with potential for our area. Thornless and fast with an airy willowy appearance. Other Australian species should do well here 8

Acanthocereus species Barbed wire cactus Columnar cacti from South Texas and the Caribbean. Our native A. pentagonus is smaller, other species tend to be larger. All can potentially freeze back but will recover LOWER RIGHT - Acca (Feijoa) sellowiana Pineapple guava Hardy evergreen silvery South American shrub. Adapted to most good soils here if not too dry Acoelorraphe wrightii Everglades palm A clustering fan palm with many thin trunks. Can be kept dense and bushy or thinned as shown. Likes irrigated sites. May freeze back in a severe winter


ABOVE - Acrocomia aculeata Gru-gru palm Very spiny but handsome tropical feather palms from Mexico to South America. The Mexican form, sometimes called A. mexicana (pictured), and the hardier Argentine form A. totai are most common here UPPER LEFT - Adelia vaseyi Vasey adelia Bold looking native shrub with a wonderful twisted sculptured form, especially when younger. A dramatic choice for a specimen plant Adenium obesum Desert rose Beautiful low African shrubs with swollen bases, shiny leaves and attractive flowers much like the related oleander. It needs good drainage and generally dry conditions here to avoid potential rot. It is not very hardy; a light to moderate freeze can kill a plant back to its base


Aechmea distichantha Tough hardy Argentine bromeliad with an attractive bloom spike and stiff leaves. Easily grown in South Texas in sun or shade. A number of its hybrids are also well adapted to our area. Aechmea bromeliifolia var rubra seems to be another good aechmea for deep South Texas (right)

Allamanda species Showy tropical vines or shrubs with glossy leaves and usually yellow flowers. Most popular here is A. cathartica (above), which likes good soil and sufficient water. An excellent choice for our area is the wild allamanda from South Florida, Urechites (Pentalinon) lutea, pictured right. It is very easy to grow in most soils and tolerant of full sun but not heavy frost 11

Agave species

Century plants, maguey

Attractive ornamental plants from Mexico and the southwestern United States. A number of varieties are successful in South Texas, though some are subject to attack by rhino beetles and all need well drained conditions. Some tropical species, such as A. desmettiana or angustifolia, may suffer foliage damage in a freeze but recover quickly the following spring A. americana protamericana

A. parryi Agave americana A. americana ‘Variegata’

A. potatorum nana


A. macroacantha

A. angustifolia ‘Marginata’ A. lophantha

A. desmettiana ‘Variegata’ A. striata

A. guiengola A. titanota (Hort)


A. xylonacantha

A. victoria-reginae

Aloe species


Small to large African succulents, several of which do well in South Texas. Most of them will freeze back in a severe winter, which makes clumping varieties more useful for permanent landscapes. Some desert species are also prone to rot here if planted in less than perfect conditions UPPER LEFT - Aloe barbadensis Aloe vera The most common aloe in the Valley, widely used for medicinal purposes Alocasia cucullata Chinese taro A smaller aroid with attractive heart shaped leaves. Likes water and is tolerant of heavy soils. Can be grown in full sun but usually looks better with a little shade

UPPER RIGHT - Aloe arborescens Torch aloe A low clumping aloe occasionally seen here. Certain forms seen better adapted to our humidity here LOWER LEFT - Aloe maculata (A. saponaria) Soap aloe Common very well adapted aloe which blooms frequently here. The easiest aloe for South Texas, comes in many sizes LOWER RIGHT - Aloe barberae (A. bainesii) Tree aloe Impressive treelike aloe commonly seen in California but does well here too between severe frosts. Several hybrids have been made with this massive aloe

Aloe hybrid

A. ferox

A. vanbelenii

Many other aloes have done well here, including Aloe dawei, ferox, vanbelenii, and many other species and hybrids 14


LEFT - Allagoptera arenaria Seashore palm A trunkless feather palm from the Brazilian coast. It should be root hardy in extreme cold and tolerate our alkaline soils and some coastal exposure LOWER LEFT - Alpinia zerumbet Shell ginger Tropical leafy plant grown more for its foliage than the white flowers. The variegated form is most common. Needs irrigated conditions and fertile soil out of excessively hot direct sun BELOW - Amyris madrensis Torchwood Native evergreen shrub or miniature tree with fine elegant foliage, useful as a background plant, hedge, or specimen


ABOVE - Antigonon leptopus Queen’s crown Vigorous rambling vine with attractive pink to white flowers most of the year. Easy to grow and well adapted UPPER RIGHT - Anthurium species Bird’s nest fern Tropical aroid resembling a large fern. The species/forms with smaller ruffled leaves seem to do better here. Best in protected humid sites Aptenia cordifolia Rock rose The easiest “ice plant” to grow in South Texas and the only one commonly seen here. A good ground cover for sunny areas in most well drained sites


Archontophoenix cunninghamiana

Araucaria heterophylla Norfolk Island pine A tender conifer seen throughout many tropical areas. They grow easily in South Texas and tolerate ordinary winters but not the hardest freezes. A. columnaris is similar Archontophoenix cunninghamiana King palm Slender tall feather palm which does fairly well in our area. They look best out of the wind and tolerate light frost, especially under trees, but not hard freezes RIGHT - Ardisia escallonioides Marlberry Evergreen shrub from Florida with thick green leaves and black fruits, rarely seen here but does well due to its adaptability to alkaline/saline conditions


Arenga engleri

Dwarf sugar palm

Clumping, fairly hardy feather palms suitable for cultivation here in South Texas. Severe frost may damage the leaves but plants recover. Arenga australasica is larger and very tropical looking and impressive but more tender to cold Attalea cohune

Cohune palm, coquito

Tropical collector’s palm from western Mexico with nice big coconut-like leaves. Plants here do not seem to develop trunks and can regrow their leaves from below ground following a freeze. They like some shade when young

Astrophytum species Bishop’s cap, Monk’s hood Small ornamental easy cacti well suited to dry well drained beds. Most popular are A. ornatum (left) and A. myriostigma (right)


Asparagus species

Asparagus ferns

Low growing African ground covers to rambling shrubs or weak vines. Most are very well adapted to South Texas and grow here with little extra care. The most popular is A. densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ (upper left), a nearly carefree tall ground cover, followed by the foxtail fern A. densiflorus ‘Meyersii’ (upper right). The sicklethorn, A. falcatus (lower left), makes a ground cover or weak vine. The most delicate looking species is A. plumosus (A. setaceus) which is sometimes substituted for a fern in the landscape (lower right)


Bambusa species

Clumping bamboo

Large noninvasive bamboos used as ornamentals or screens in our area. One of the most common and best adapted is B. tuldoides (above), which requires little more than extra water in dry times. Among the most ornamental species are the more tropical types with colorful culms, such as the beautiful black bamboo, B. lako (upper left), a number of yellow striped varieties such as B. vulgaris ‘Vittata’ (middle), and the powdery blue B. chungii (lower) 21

Bauhinia species Orchid trees, pata de vaca

Barleria repens

Coral creeper

Recently introduced ground cover which appears to grow reasonably well under good irrigated conditions in South Texas. It features attractive salmon colored flowers. Presumably root-hardy in severe cold

A large genus containing many ornamental flowering trees and shrubs. The most commonly used species here are B. xblakeana (upper left), a probable hybrid with striking purple flowers throughout the cooler months, B. variegata (lower left and right), an easily grown tree with lavender or white flowers in spring, and B. purpurea, which is similar to B. variegata but blooms in late fall. All are root hardy in a severe freeze, with B. xblakeana perhaps the most tender of the group Also common in South Texas is B. divaricata (B. mexicana), upper right, a Mexican species which naturalizes here. It has smaller white flowers scattered throughout the year and is hardier than the Asian orchid trees. Another rare Bauhinia from Mexico with potential is B. bartlettii with small purple flowers and glossy leaves. It is hardy to Central Texas. The semivining B. galpinii from Africa is also grown here. It has nice orange-red flowers



Beaucarnea recurvata

Ponytail palm

This curious Mexican plant grows well in South Texas if not planted in heavy or poorly drained soils. Generally tolerant of abuse, a freeze can damage the leaves and an extremely severe frost can kill back the smaller branches of unprotected plants but they recover. A good choice for our area

Bismarkia nobilis

Bismarkia palm

Stunning fan palm with massively pale, almost white leaves. Well adapted to culture in South Texas, a significant freeze may defoliate them; a worst case scenario could kill unprotected plants. May fall over in very high winds when young. Difficult to transplant, planting from containers is recommended


Bougainvillea species

Bougainvillea, bugambilia

This extremely common landscape plant in South Texas makes a wonderful blooming shrub or sprawling vine. Most types are hybrids or cultivars and have brilliantly colored bracts (not flowers) in many colors from orange to red and purple to white. Well drained soil and sun are its main requirements for success here. Should be container grown as they do not transplant. A freeze can damage the foliage or kill plants back to the root but they recover well enough to be used even north of our region


Brahea armata Blue palm Very attractive hardy fan palm with striking silvery blue leaves. Slow growing and demanding of well drained soils - it is possible to kill them by overwatering. They transplant poorly, buy in containers

Brahea brandegeei Green hesper palm A taller, more slender greener relative of the blue palm. It is more tolerant of water and humidity LEFT - Brahea dulcis Rock palm Slow growing palm from the mountains of Mexico. Well adapted here with good drainage. Hardy but slow


Bromelia balansae Heart of flame, wild pineapple An easily grown but vicious bromeliad with sharp teeth which make it useful as a barrier plant. The center often turns a brilliant red prior to blooming. Most bromelias in cultivation are probably not true B. balansae

Brasiliopuntia brasiliensis Brazilian prickly pear A tender Opuntia relative which grows very easily in our area between hard freezes. Will tolerate some shade and more water than most cacti

Bulbine frutescens



Commonly used border plant in local landscapes, easily grown here. Flowers almost constantly. There are several other interesting bulbines from South Africa which would also be worth trying here

LEFT - Bumelia (Sideroxylon) celastrina Coma Small native tree somewhat resembling a live oak. Older trees often have a handsome drooping crown. Very tough and hardy but slow growing. Grows well near the coast LOWER LEFT - Bumelia laetevirens (Sideroxylon palmeri) Tamaulipan coma Attractive lush evergreen Tamaulipan tree infrequently seen on the US side of the border but not as rare in Mexico. Well adapted, the very hardest freezes can cause some small branch dieback but the trees recover. A nice underused tree BELOW - Butia capitata Pindo palm Stocky hardy feather palm with grey upright leaves. It prefers sandy nonalkaline soil which may need amending here

OPPOSITE PAGE - Buxus microphylla Boxwood Hardy conservative evergreen shrub used in most of the state, including our region where it adapts to cultivation in a yard or irrigated area with good soil


Caesalpinia pulcherrima Dwarf poinciana Prolifically blooming shrub with orange-red or occasionally yellow flowers. Does best in full sun and is tolerant of considerable heat. Dies back in severe cold but recovers well



Caesalpinia mexicana Mexican bird of paradise A large shrub or small tree with yellow flowers throughout the year. Easily grown here and generally hardy. The cascalote, C. cacalaco (below) is similar but has larger, more impressive and more frequent blooms. It is readily available from Arizona

Calliandra species Powderpuff Tropical to subtropical shrubs with pink to red flowers over a long period, including cooler months. The species most frequent here is C. haematocephala (above), though the more xeric species such as C. californica (left) should see much wider use Callistemon viminalis


Shrubs to small evergreen Australian trees with handsome red flowers, usually in spring, which resemble bottlebrushes. The species is typically a tree but useful dwarf forms exist such as ‘Little John’ (below). Callistemon citrinus is sometimes seen here but may have occasional chlorosis problems. Other species have been grown here and the genus has potential for our area


Callisia fragrans Basket plant Vigorous ground cover or bedding plant. Not always offered in nurseries but easily propagated by division BELOW - Caryota mitis Fishtail palm Tropical clustering bipinnate feather palm which tolerates our water and soil well. Leaves and trunks are tender to freezes but plants recover from the root. Caryota urens is a giant single trunked species LOWER RIGHT - Casimiroa pringlei Chapotillo Attractive subtropical but hardy Tamaulipan tree easily grown in almost any conditions in South Texas


LEFT - Carissa macrocarpa Natal plum An excellent evergreen African shrub with white flowers, extremely well suited to our climate and can persist for years here if left on its own. A severe frost can kill it back but it recovers. There are some dwarf forms (below) used for ground covers. Good on the coast BELOW - Carnegiea saguaro Saguaro Emblematic Arizona cactus which needs perfectly drained gravelly soil and dry conditions to survive in most of the Valley. From Starr County west it is easier to grow. Fairly hardy if kept absolutely dry in winter. For most gardens Neobuxbaumia is an easier choice for cultivation


Casuarina cunninghamiana

Australian pine

Pinelike Australian tree used mainly for windbreaks or screening. It is not as salt tolerant as C. glauca but usually takes more cold. It does not spread and is more commonly seen on the Mexican side of the border. Both species are virtually impossible to garden under and both look out of place in some landscapes


Casuarina glauca

Australian pine

The more common Australian pine seen in South Texas, it is very well adapted to almost any soil condition here and will tolerate saline soils and reasonable coastal exposure. It can spread by the roots to form a small colony but is not a nuisance like in Florida. Hard freezes can kill them back

LEFT - Ceratozamia species Ornamental Mexican cycads with large leaves. They generally like filtered sun, decent water, and protection from wind. One unusual type is C. hildae (below) BELOW - Cereus species Cereus, Apple cactus A group of treelike South American columnar cacti easily grown in South Texas and other humid regions in well drained soils. Fairly hardy but severe cold can kill it back. The species are confusing and often lumped under the old name Cereus peruvianus


Chamaedorea species

Bamboo palms

Small Mexican feather palms, generally from wet tropical areas though some can grow in South Texas. Most common is C. seifrizii (right), a root hardy clumping species which is best adapted to our soils and water if planted in shade. Chamedorea microspadix is similar in appearance and hardier but not as salt or drought tolerant. Sometimes successful is C. radicalis (lower right) from Tamaulipas, a nonclumping mostly trunkless species which is very cold hardy. The cat palm, C. cataractarum (below), is also rarely seen here. It is a low clumper that likes a shady moist protected site


Chamaerops humilis

Mediterranean fan palm

Bushy clumping hardy fan palms well suited to South Texas. Drought and cold tolerant. A very attractive blue variety, cerifera, has become popular recently

Chilopsis linearis Desert willow

Chlorophytum comosum Spider plant Common houseplant that grows well outdoors here, preferring a shaded spot with some water

This popular landscape tree in Central and West Texas has trouble in coastal counties here but does better around McAllen. Mainly useful as a drought tolerant flowering tree. Pruning will keep it attractive 36

Chorisia (Ceiba) species Kapok, floss silk trees Vigorous subtropical trees with attractive thorny green trunks and abundant white to purple flowers in late summer to fall. The most common species here is C. speciosa which has the nicest colored flowers. Chorisia insignis (Ceiba chodatii) has less showy white and yellow flowers but is slightly hardier and has an impressive swollen trunk. Both recover quickly from cold damage. A few more tropical species of Ceiba are easily grown here but are much more tender and can be difficult to remove or trim due to their large size

Chrysophyllum oliviforme


South Florida native tree which grows well in South Texas. It is sensitive to cold - a freeze can cut the plants to the ground and it is probably best kept as a shrub here. Can be sheared. Easily distinguished by the dark shiny leaves with a felty rust colored underside 37

Citharexylum berlandieri Fiddlewood Evergreen slightly tender native shrub or tree. It needs to be pruned regularly to fit into a more traditional landscape Citrus species Citrus Important local fruit crops which are also used as ornamentals. The easiest type to grow here is sour orange, C. aurantium (lower right), which is used as a rootstock. Grapefruit and orange trees look very similar. One particularly ornamental citrus is the calomondin (right). A rarely used citrus relative is the box orange, Severinia buxifolia (below), which makes a good hedge


Clerodendrum species

Glory bowers

Shrubs or vines grown for their attractive flowers. One of the nicest is C. xspeciosum (pictured) with its red and pink flowers. Many other species grow here also Cleistocactus species Firecracker cactus Short to medium sprawling thin columnar cacti covered with fine white or yellow spines and colorful flowers. Most are very well adapted to South Texas conditions and grow with little care in well drained soil. Generallly cold hardy, a severe freeze can set them back but most species recover


Coccoloba uvifera Sea grape Frost tender shrub suitable for coastal areas. Good salt tolerance and a reliable plant on the island

ABOVE - Coccothrinax/Thrinax species Thatch palms Small tropical fan palms from the Caribbean area that do well in our area between freezes. Two of the hardiest are C. argentata and the old man palm C. miraguama. Thrinax radiata (pictured) is the most available but one of the most tender LEFT - Cocos nucifera Coconut The palm most associated with the tropics, it is too tender to use in much of the Valley but is suitable as a temporary landscape plant between major freezes along the coast. Can be difficult to find for sale 40

Codiaeum variegatum


Showy tropical shrubs grown for their boldy extravagant colorful foliage. They do well here if planted in good soil and irrigated sufficiently. It may be best to cover or bring them in should a freeze occur. They may resprout after cold damage but are often slow to regrow. One of the toughest is the variety ‘Aureomaculatum’ (upper right). One of the hardier cultivars with good color is ‘Stoplight’ (below). Assorted popular varieties are shown lower right


Condalia hookeri


Small interesting native tree with bright green foliage. Hardy and easily grown in almost any situation, useful as a specimen tree, shrub or hedge

Copernicia alba A recent introduction to South Texas, this Argentine palm appears to do well here so far. The leaves vary in color from green to silver. Should be hardy enough for general use in the Valley. Several palm collectors have had luck growing some of the dramatic Cuban copernicias


Cordia alba Jackwood, baboso Easy well adapted shrub or small tree from Tamaulipas. It has scattered yellow flowers over a long period and white fruit. May die back in extreme cold but usually recovers Cordia parvifolia Little leaf cordia Smaller hardy shrub from the Chihuahuan desert with small grey leaves and white flowers which resemble a smaller version of our native wild olive. Drought tolerant and should be planted in loose well drained soil and not over-irrigated


Cordia boissieri Wild olive, anacahuita Very popular small native tree with fresh white and yellow flowers over a long period throughout the year. Needs well drained soil and not too much water. Very hard freezes may cause some twig loss which quickly gets replaced in spring

Cordyline fruticosa (terminalis) Ti plants Slow to moderate tropicals grown for their attractively colored foliage. Performance varies among cultivars. Among the best are ‘Hilo Rainbow’ (upper right), ‘Nigra’ (upper left), and most forms with green leaves. A hard freeze can cut them to the ground. They do best under irrigated conditions in a fairly sheltered site. They are sometimes mislabeled Dracaena, which are more drought tolerant but also more tender to frost


Costus species Spiral gingers Interesting gingers, often with spiraled leaves and colorful cones which bear the flowers. Give a protected site, good soil and irrigation and they can succeed here for many years

Crinum asiaticum

Giant crinum

Tough lilylike plant surprisingly easy in South Texas, tolerant to our soil and water and even some drought and coastal exposure once established. Other crinums are grown here, including some dramatic forms with purple leaves (inset) 45

Cryptostegia grandifora Rubber vine Good looking but vigorous aggresive tropical vine which may take over in areas wetter than South Texas. Easy

Cupaniopsis anacardiodes Carrotwood Well adapted infrequent subtropical tree grown for its attractive evergreen foliage. Resembles a sausage tree when not in bloom but takes more cold

Cuphea species Floriferous small perennial shrub commonly used throughout the southern US. Best for here are the popular Mexican heather, C. hyssopifolia (above), which likes good amended soil, and the cigar plant C. ignea (below), which grows easily. They may need pruning back to keep looking fresh and clean 46

Cycas species Sago palms Asian cycads widely grown in South Texas. Most frequent is C. revoluta (above), which is unfortunately highly susceptible to Asian scale. This has become a major problem to its cultivation. The more tropical queen sago C. rumphii (C. circinalis), upper right, is more tender and looks better with some protection from wind


RIGHT - Cylindropuntia species Chollas Unique cacti closely related to prickly pears but with cylindrical pads. One of the most ornamental is the Teddy bear cholla from Arizona C. bigelovii (pictured). They are hardy in South Texas. Austrocylindropuntia subulata (far right) makes an interesting specimen plant

Cyrtomium falcatum Holly fern One of the easier ferns to grow in South Texas if given a shaded relatively moist area. Likes good soil and is hardy

Dasylirion species

Spoonwheels, sotol

A genus of ornamental hardy Mexican and Texan grasslike plants. Most are well adapted here. Probably the most popular and ornamental is the Mexican grass tree, D. longissimum (quadrangulatum), pictured above. Also suitable is D. berlandieri (middle) from the Sierra Madre Oriental. It is often very blue and more tolerant of humidity than the similar but more frequently offered D. wheeleri from far West Texas. There are also a number of various species or hybrids floating around, usually green in color (right)


Delonix regia

Royal poinciana, flamboyan

Brilliant but tender tropical tree with spectacular red flowers in late spring-early summer. They are easily grown here when not damaged by frost


Dendrocalamus species Giant tropical bamboo Large vigorous tropical clumping bamboos which like good soil and irrigation. Hard freezes can kill them to the ground. Pictured is D. giganteus

Dietes iridioides African iris Another grasslike plant with white to yellow flowers throughout much of the year. Previously known as Moraea

Dianella tasmanica Variegated flax lily Attractive grassy plant with white variegated leaves. Seems to do fairly well here if not in hot dry areas. Watch for scale. The species name tasmanica is probably incorrect but still used in the trade 50

Dioon species Mexican sagos, chamal Mexican cycads sometimes seen here in landscapes. The hardiest and slowest is D. edule (upper left) from Tamaulipas. Dioon purpusii (upper right) is similar but has a more attractive overlapping leaflet pattern. The fastest and most tropical species in the genus is D. spinulosum (above)


Diospyros texana Texas persimmon Small slow growing tree native to South Texas, sometimes used as a specimen tree

Doxantha unguis-cati Cat’s claw vine Very vigorous easily grown vine with yellow spring flowers. Takes over in wetter climates

Dracaena marginata

D. arborea

D. reflexa

Duranta erecta (repens) Dewdrop Easy, very commonly planted profusely flowering hedge, evergreen unless killed back by hard frost. Certain cultivars have nicer flowers (pictured) Dracaena species Dracaenas Tropical yuccalike plants which grow well here though easily damaged by freezes. Dracaena marginata is most popular; D. reflexa and fragrans are houseplants that are used outside; the dragon tree D. drago is sometimes confused with D. arborea


Dypsis (Chrysalidocarpus) lutescens Areca palm Cold sensitive clustering feather palm, easily available and useful in pots or very warm areas generally free from frost

Dypsis decaryi Triangle palm Tender feather palm which is attractive when young but develops into an odd looking plant with leaves arranged in the shape of a Y Ebenopsis ebano (Pithecellobium flexicaule) Texas ebony, ebano


Beautiful native tree useful in a variety of situations. Tolerant of most Valley conditions except poorly drained areas. Can be clipped to make a dense hedge. May freeze back some in extreme cold, mainly north of the border counties

Echinocactus grusonii Golden barrel cactus Low generally hardy semispherical Mexican cactus easily grown here and very popular. The much smaller E. texensis and many others in the genus can grow here too Echinocereus species Hedgehog cactus Tiny clumping columnar cacti with showy flowers. Easily grown in cactus beds, many like some shade

Echinopsis sp

Echeveria pallida One of the few echeverias that thrive in our humid climate, it seems easy to raise in a dry garden bed. Many “echeverias� seen here are often the tougher xGraptoveria Echinopsis (Trichocereus) species A vast group of small to large South American cacti, often hybridized for showy flowers. Many of the lower growing species are well adapted to dry beds here, and the huge Argentine E. (Trichocereus) terscheckii, is similar to the saguaro but a little easier to grow

Echinopsis hybrid

E. terscheckii 54

ABOVE - Ehretia anaqua Anacua Tough hardy near-evergreen native shade tree with brief small white flowers. Easily grown but somewhat susceptible to very high winds. The tropical anaqua E. tinifolia (upper right) is a nice looking tropical tree which takes most cold here but can freeze down in an extremely severe winter. It could be used more


RIGHT - Elaeagnus pungens Silverthorn Popular evergreen shrub in Texas landscapes which does fairly well here also. The silver foliage is its biggest appeal. Hardy but prone to occasional dieback

Elaeocarpus decipiens Blueberry tree A recently introduced small lush evergreen tree or large hedge from China which has grown fairly well in South Texas provided it is planted in good soil and irrigated well Encephelartos species African cycads, usually with prickly foliage, many of which do well here if given good drainage. Usually seen are the fairly large E. gratus and the hollylike E. ferox. Both look best with good soil in filtered sun. The blue types tend to be harder to grow; E. lehmanii is probably the easiest E. ferox

E. lehmanii

Epiphyllum oxypetalum E. gratus

Queen of the night Easily grown but tender climbing or rambling thornless cacti with large white nocturnal flowers 56

Epipremnum pinnatum Pothos ivy Well adapted tropical vines which have small leaves when young turning much larger when mature. Most popular is the variegated form seen and sold virtually everywhere as E. aureum (right). Less common is the typical species (below). Frozen plants recover well


Erythrina species Coral trees Large shrubs or small trees with red flowers. Many will grow here and are hard to tell apart but the genus is easy to identify by its trifoliate leaves

Esenbeckia runyonii Limoncillo Extremely rare beautiful native tree with lush evergreen tropical looking foliage. Slow growing and difficult to find for sale

Eucalyptus camaldulensis Red gum The only common eucalyptus in South Texas, it is a rapid grower in the right soil but freezes back in hard winters. Variety obtusa (pictured right) is more attractive and better adapted here. Coolibah, E. coolabah (left), is another well adapted eucalypt for our area LOWER LEFT - Eugenia uniflora Surinam cherry Evergreen myrtle relative which does well here in fertile soil with adequate water. The edible fruit is an added bonus. Generally hardy Eupatorium betonicifolium Padre Island Mistflower Native evergreen ground cover with attractive light blue flowers

Evolvulus glomeratus Blue daze Low shrub used more as a small scale ground cover. Usually does well here but occasionally gets chlorotic


Euphorbia species Euphorbias A huge diverse genus, including many which resemble cacti though unrelated. Most succulent types grown here are tender and can suffer damage in moderate freezes and worse in extreme cold. The poinsettia, E. pulcherrima, and the excellent crown of thorns, E. milii and hybrids, are also in the genus. Give good drainage. Their sap is caustic E. pseudocactus

E. trigona E. resinifera

E. ingens

E. tirucalii

E. pulcherrima Ferocactus species Fishook barrel cactus


Generally hardy barrel cacti, can grow a few feet high. Grow dry

E. lactea E. caducifolia

E. milii hybrid E. neriifolia

F. religiosa F. lutea

F. microcarpa Ficus species

Fig, higuera

Widely planted tropical trees, shrubs or vines. Most are extremely easy to grow here and quickly make large trees but a moderate freeze can kill back branches on the more tender species and a severe prolonged frost will kill all the tree species way back, usually to the ground. This makes removal of dead wood difficult. Some of the more commonly seen species here are: F. benghalensis (banyan), a large tree with aerial roots which is rather tender but recovers, F. lutea (F. nekbudu, Zulu fig), a species with large leaves and good ability to recover from frost, F. microcarpa (F. nitida, Indian laurel), a dense tree with some cold tolerance and consider-


able variability. Ficus religiosa (bo tree) is the most vigorous species in South Texas, capable of volunteering here. It has leaves which resemble a cottonwood tree. More rarely seen is F. cotinifolia, which is native less than 100 miles south of the border (but no hardier than most other figs). Perhaps the best tree species for South Texas is F. rubiginosa (Rusty fig); it usually tolerates moderate freezes with minor damage and does not grow to an overly large size. It is also very attractive Other figs of note are Ficus ‘Green Island’, a rather tender but low growing shrub which is easily controlled and tolerant of coastal conditions, and F. pumila (Fig ivy), a vigorous vine much hardier to cold. Avoid the tempting F. benjamina or rubber tree (F. elastica), they are too tender for use here F. rubiginosa


F. ‘Green Island’ F. pumila

Fouquieria species Ocotillo Interesting Southwestern and Mexican twisted shrubs, often leafless, which can grow here in dry, perfectly drained cactus beds. The hardiest is F. splendens (left), which is leafless most of the year. Several Mexican species are occasionally seen here, they are a bit more tender (below) but hold their leaves longer. Even more tender but easy to grow and very impressive is the Madagascar ocotillo, Alluaudia procera (lower left)

Fraxinus berlandieri ‘Fan-Tex’ Fan-Tex ash, fresno Probably the best (or least-worst) ash adapted to our region, most attractive in its younger years. Arizona ash (F. velutina) is more common but not attractive

Forestiera angustifolia Elbow bush Hardy evergreen native shrub which can be grown as an attractive casual specimen or clipped into submission for a more formal landscape plant as shown


Graptopetalum paraguayense Ghost plant The most common and easiest hens-and-chicks type succulent to grow here. Good for small beds or pots

TOP - Galphimia gracilis (glauca) Thryallis Freely blooming root hardy evergreen shrub with yellow flowers much of the year. May need occasional pruning RIGHT - Grevillea robusta Silk oak Evergreen fairly hardy Australian tree with nice orange flowers in late spring. Likes sandy or loamy soils


ABOVE - Hamelia patens Firebush Robust easy Mexican shrub with prolific red to orange flowers most of the year. Variety glabra, African firebush, is an especially good landscape plant (pictured)

RIGHT - Harrisia bonplandii (H. pomanensis) Lanky sprawling columnar cactus very well adapted to South Texas. Hardy in our region, easy from cuttings BELOW - Havardia (Pithecellobium) pallens Tenaza Native shrub or small tree, mostly evergreen, with masses of creamy flowers after spring-summer rains LOWER RIGHT - Hechtia glomerata Guapilla Spiny terrestrial bromeliad native to South Texas and Mexico. Easily grown in a dry garden. Dyckia is a similar South American genus with colorful foliage (inset)


ABOVE - Heliconia species Heliconias Bananalike plants with ornamental flower spikes. The lower growing varieties are better adapted for this area; larger types frequently get tattered by our winds UPPER RIGHT - Helietta parvifolia Barreta Small tree native to NE Mexico and a small area near Rio Grande City. It is an easily grown evergreen hardy to all but the worst freezes, which can kill it to the ground RIGHT - Hesperaloe species Red yucca These common landscape plants in Central Texas and Arizona do well here in sunny areas with well drained soils. The most common species in general cultivation is H. parviflora, with pink or rarely yellow flowers (inset). Plants known as H. campanulata may be hybrids with the giant white-flowered hesperaloe, H. funifera. These plants are relatively common in South Texas yards (pictured). They often have variable flower colors 65

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis

Chinese hibiscus

Tropical shrubs with beautiful flowers in many colors. Most cultivars will grow here, the easiest and most dependable through the years probably being the old fashioned red type (upper left). Anything harder than a light freeze may kill the plants to the ground. Forms with variegated leaves are sometimes used for foliage color. They prefer irrigated conditions with good soil. There is an interesting small native species, H. martianus, with attractive red flowers (below)


UPPER & LOWER LEFT - Hibiscus tiliaceus (Talipariti tiliaceum) Sea hibiscus, mahoe Very vigorous and easy growing large shrubs to small trees, tolerant of coastal conditions but easily frozen back in cold weather. They can get large and out of hand in warmer areas. The variegated form (below) has attractive foliage and is useful for color when used with discretion

Holmskioldia sanguinea

Chinese hat plant

Unusual shrubs with colorful bracts resembling tiny Chinese hats. Rare here but reportedly not hard to grow. Sometimes casually mistaken for bougainvillea


Huernia schneideriana Red dragon flower Small South African succulent related to starfish flowers, they have small red flowers and are easy to grow in a dry well drained bed. Takes some shade but little frost

Hylocereus undatus Night blooming cereus Tropical climbing cactus which forms an attractive vine in trees or on supports. Spectacular large white blooms at night. Expect problems in a hard freeze

Hyphaene coriacea Doum palm Rugged, tough but attractive African fan palms with silver-green foliage and colorful stems. Plants often branch at the base or along their trunks. The variety sometimes known as H. natalensis is a form of coriacea and may be the hardiest to cold. A hard freeze can defoliate them but they should recover


Ilex vomitoria


Evergreen Texas shrub, highly used as a landscape plant. Here it is not quite as well adapted but will survive in good soils. The most commonly used form is the dwarf (pictured). Desert yaupon, Schaefferia cuneifolia (left), can be substituted if clipped and is better adapted


Ixora species Ixora, flame of the woods Gorgeous tropical shrubs with red, pink or yellow flowers much of the year. They are generally adapted to irrigated conditions in the Valley but may need occasional treatment for chlorosis. Tender and may have to be replaced after a severe freeze. There are numerous forms which vary from dwarfs to medium shrubs 69

Jacaranda mimosifolia Jacaranda Ferny evergreen tree with beautiful sky blue flowers in late spring and rarely later. They are easy to grow in cultivation though it may take a while to get to blooming stage. A severe freeze can cut the plants back to the ground or the main trunk

Jasminum species Jasmines Flowering vines or shrubs with white fragrant flowers. Some species can get chlorotic here but many are well adapted to our area, such as J. nitidum (pictured). Mostly root hardy in extreme cold, they are typically not as aggresive as many vines. The genus Cestrum (inset) are often called jasmines because of their intensely fragrant flowers


Jatropha species


Flowering shrubs with generally red or pink flowers much of the year. The best and most popular variety for South Texas is J. integerrima (below), a popular root-hardy shrub. The compact form is an excellent landscape plant. Jatropha gossypifolia (left), J. multifida (middle left) and J. podagrica (lower left) are more tender plants which may freeze out but often reseed themselves


ABOVE - Junipers chinensis ‘Torulosa’ Hollywood juniper One of the few conifers in South Texas which does not look out of place in many landscapes. Give full sun and well drained soils which are not too dry. Good at the coast and thrives in windy sites. Several similar, more horizontal forms of juniper do well here also, as shown to the right UPPER LEFT - Justicia brandegeana Shrimp plant Very popular profusely blooming herbaceous shrubs with pale yellow to salmon colored bracts resembling shrimps. Easily grown in our area but needs an occasional shearing to look its best. Mexican honeysuckle, J. spicigera (middle left), also makes an easy shrub here and is an old favorite. Malabar nut, J. adhatoda, (lower left) makes a larger tropical looking bush with large leaves and pale flowers


K. blossfeldiana

K. tubiflora

K. diagremontiana

K. fedtschenkoi K. gastonis-bonnieri


K. luciae

K. marmorata Kalanchoe species Kalanchoes A diverse group of African succulent plants, many of which grow with little to no effort in our region. Severe cold may ruin the foliage but most types used here will return the following spring. The most common is what has been called the “true� K. blossfeldiana; it is an excellent easy landscape plant with red flowers. Other good choices are K. marmorata as a ground cover and K. fedtschenkoi, the Donkey ear types K. gastonisbonnieri and mortagei and the paddle plants thyrsiflora/luciae. Several types grow so well here they escape, like K. tubiflora

Kigelia pinnata Sausage tree Tender tropical tree with lush leaves and pendulous dark flowers followed by unusual fruits which resemble hanging sausages. Root hardy

Karwinskia humboldtiana Coyotillo A native evergreen shrub which is very tough and easy to grow. Best if pruned

RIGHT - Lagerstroemia species Crepe myrtle

Koelreuteria elegans ssp. formosana Goldenrain tree Chinese subtropical tree with yellow fall flowers followed by often colorful papery fruits. Easy to grow here for the most part, rarely gets chlorotic

Deciduous shrubs to small trees grown for their attractive summer flowers in many colors. Most common are the “true” crepe myrtle, L. indica, and its hybrids such as ‘Basham’s Party Pink’. They are hardy to cold but the species is more prone to powdery mildew than the hybrids. Much more beautiful is the Pride of India, L. speciosa (L. flos-reginae). The flowers and foliage are much larger and more spectacular but the plant can die back in even a modest freeze. The plant known locally as the “queen myrtle” has been grown here many years and is of undetermined origin; it may be a hybrid and has reasonable cold tolerance and very attractive light purple flowers


Lagerstroemia sp. (Queen Myrtle) L. speciosa

Lagerstroemia ‘Basham’s Party Pink’ L. indica


LEFT - Lantana species Lantana Abundantly flowering shrubs or ground covers in many colors. Much used but some may be short-lived or lack vigor over time LOWER LEFT - Leucaena pulverulenta Leadball tree Large slightly weedy native evergreen tree, easily grown and very fast. Existing trees can be left in place but they are a bit coarse BELOW - Leucophyllum frutescens Texas sage, cenizo Grey or green soft foliaged native shrub with lavender or white flowers usually right before or after rains. Plants need well drained soils, not too wet. Best if pruned occasionally

OPPOSITE PAGE - Licuala spinosa Mangrove palm Tropical clumping fan palm which likes water. Established plants appear to be root hardy in cold


Ligustrum japonicum Wax leaf ligustrum Very common landscape shrub useful for its glossy evergreen foliage. Plants can be pruned to shape and make a conservative choice for a shrub which blends into tropical landscapes


Liriope gigantea Giant liriope, lilyturf This robust large liriope is the best adapted lilyturf to South Texas conditions. The variegated form known as ‘Aztec grass’ (below) is actually the species Ophiopogon intermedius. It is the only other recommended liriope/monkey grass for this area. They are very nice for landscaping

Livistona chinensis Chinese fan palm Handsome, slow growing fan palm well suited to South Texas, even in heavy clay soils. Attractive even when young. Leaves may burn in a hard freeze but recover UPPER RIGHT - Livistona decipiens (L. decora) Ribbon palm Australian palm with unusual deeply divided leaves giving the palm a shredded look. Faster than L. chinensis. Generally hardy in deep South Texas Livistona mariae Central Australian fan palm Tough palm with attractive red new leaves when young. A moderate grower. Slightly frost tender - the variety rigida is a bit hardier. L. nitida is similar and even hardier


ABOVE - Livistona muelleri A smaller tough livistona from north Queensland which tolerates heat very well. Not as frost hardy as the other livistonas grown here RIGHT - Livistona saribus Taraw palm An attractive tropical looking livistona from Southeast Asia. Likes water and poorly drained or clay soil. Forms with green spines are hardier


Lysiloma watsonii (thornberi) Desert fern Graceful small ferny tree or large shrub from Arizona, resembling a large guajillo. A more refined subsitute for leadball trees (Leucaena species) and very much deserving of wider use here

Malphighia glabra Barbados cherry Variable evergreen shrub with pink flowers and edible red fruit. It tolerates pruning and shearing well; smaller forms can even be mowed as a ground cover. Native to a wide area including South Texas. Easy LOWER LEFT - Malvaviscus arboreus Mexican turk’s cap Well adapted shrub with abundant red pendulous flowers much of the year. Our native turk’s cap is smaller and has upright flowers (inset)

Manfreda species

Texas tuberose

Low herbaceous succulents suited for dry beds. Several are native to Texas, including M. maculosa, longiflora and variegata


Mangifera indica


Common and easy tropical fruit tree adapted to most irrigated soils in our area. They freeze back in almost any cold but usually recover once established. Unlike many fruit trees, seedlings generally produce good fruit

Mascagnia macroptera Butterfly vine Resilient Mexican vine with yellow flowers and ornamental seed pods. Well suited to South Texas conditions

Mansoa hymenaea

Garlic vine

Easily grown tropical root-hardy vine with nice purple flowers fading to white. It is commonly misnamed Cydista aequinocticalis


Maytenus phyllanthoides Mangle dulce A low evergreen shrub or ground cover native to coastal areas. Useful for difficult areas with poorly drained or saline soils. It is more common under cultivation in Arizona than here

Melaleuca species Paperbarks, tea trees Australian trees or large shrubs not commonly seen here though some appear to be very well adapted to local conditions. Among the best are M. leucadendra/ argentea, especially the forms with silver leaves (pictured left), and some of the smaller types such as M. bracteata (below). Both are relatively tolerant of alkaline soils. The cajeput tree, M. quinquenervia, is sometimes seen here but can be prone to chlorosis in some soils


Microsorum diversifolium Kangaroo fern Tropical fern useful as a ground cover or edging plant in shaded, irrigated areas. Leaves burn off after a freeze but recover

Monstera deliciosa Ceriman, Swiss cheese plant Running or climbing aroid with attractive large leaves. Needs some irrigation but is fairly tough. It is slightly hardier to cold but a little more salt sensitive than pothos (Epipremnum). Frozen plants will return from the stem or root


ABOVE - Murraya paniculata Orange jasmine Evergreen shrubs with attractive fragrant white flowers. They are tropical and may die back (but recover) following a freeze UPPER & LOWER LEFT - Musa species Bananas Well known medium to large tropical plants grown more for their lush foliage than their fruit in our region. Many varieties may grow here, but the best for landscaping tend to be smaller and more compact which minimizes wind damage to their leaves. All forms like irrigated conditions and fertile soil 84

LEFT - Myrcianthes fragrans Tamaulipan myrtle Attractive very well adapted nearnative evergreen large shrub to small tree with white flowers and nice smooth trunk. Should be hardy here LOWER LEFT - Myrtillocactus geometrizans Branching, often bluish cactus successfully grown in cactus beds here. Tolerant of some cold but may die in an extreme freeze BELOW - Myrtus communis Myrtle Hardy evergreen shrub to small multi-trunked tree, depending on the variety. Works best as a hedge here


LEFT - Neobuxbaumia polylopa Totem pole cactus One of the best large saguaro-like cactus for South Texas, easily grown in a cactus bed here. Tolerates light shade and our freezes BELOW - Neoregelia species Fingernail plants Handsome bromeliads with colorful foliage. The best adapted types here are forms of N. spectabilis or N. cruenta (pictured)

Nephrolepis exaltata Sword fern Macho fern One of the best ferns for South Texas soils and water. A robust cultivar called Macho fern is escpecially vigorous here


Nerium oleander


Some of the most common landscape shrubs in South Texas with flowers in many colors from white to yellow to pink and red. The dwarf varieties are especially popular since they stay smaller and bloom almost constantly. Mostly well adapted and easy here though some diseases affect their vigor. Tired plants can often be rejuvenated by cutting back severely. The dwarf varieties are slightly cold tender but all recover well. Good coastal tolerance

Nopalea (Opuntia) cochenillifera Nopal Frequently cultivated cactus in South Texas generally resembling a large prickly pear (Opuntia) but with more attractive, glossy green pads


Ochrosia elliptica Kopsia Attractive tropical evergreen shrub suited to local conditions if irrigated. Takes light frost, root hardy in a severe freeze. A good coastal plant

Odontonema stricta Firespike Brazilian shrub with red flowers throughout the year. This shrub prefers a fairly protected spot in a lawn or courtyard and may get chlorotic if too dry Opuntia species Prickly pears Common native/Mexican cacti suited for dry gardens. Best for areas where thorns are not an issue. Most varieties grown here are hardy or nearly so. All are very easy O. leucotricha

O. ficus-indica

O. microdasys

Opuntia ‘Old Mexico’


Otatea aztecorum Mexican weeping bamboo Graceful bamboo which likes well drained soil and sun. Tolerant of some cold, a hard freeze can kill it back

UPPER RIGHT - Pachycereus species A diverse group of mainly Mexican cacti. The most frequently seen here is the fence post cactus (left), P. marginatus. More impressive are the cardon cacti from Northwestern Mexico such as P. pringlei or pecten-aboriginum (right). The species seen here can handle ordinary cold but may suffer damage or death if unprotected in a severe prolonged freeze


Pachypodium lamerei Madagascar palm Dramatic treelike succulent from Madagascar with attractive white flowers. May rot in wet or poorly drained areas. Tender to cold

Pandanus species Screw pines Tender dracaenalike plants common throughout many areas of the coastal and inland tropics. Mostly suited for the coast Parkinsonia species Retama, palo verde Easy, xeric fast growing yellow flowering trees. Our local palo verde P. (Cercidium) texana is beautiful in bloom (see intro). Some nice hybrids with retama have been developed in Arizona (below)

ABOVE - Parthenocissus ‘Hacienda creeper’ Tough hardy Mexican vine resembling an evergreen Virginia creeper, thriving on hot sunny walls Pedilanthus tithymaloides Devil’s backbone Interesting tropical foliage plant which does very well here. Variegated types are most ornamental FAR RIGHT - Pereskia species Primitive leafy cacti which form shrubs or vines. Most are grown for their colorful flowers (inset) and P. aculeata (pictured) has even naturalized


Petraea volubilis Queen’s wreath Well adapted Mexican vine with handsome blue flowers in spring. A hard freeze can cut it to the ground

Peltophorum species Yellow poinciana Ornamental, flowering, easy tropical trees. Best are P. pterocarpum (pictured) and the slightly hardier P. dubium. Root hardy in bad cold 91

Phaulothamnus spinescens Snake eyes Rustic, very tough dense evergreen native suitable for screening

Persea americana Avocado, aguacate Tropical root hardy fruit tree widely used as an ornamental. Best to buy locally grown varieties

Philodendron species


Shrubs or vines with very nice large tropical foliage. The most common is the easy and bold looking split leaf philodendron, P. bipinnatifidum (selloum), pictured upper left. A nice smaller cultivar of this species is ‘Xanadu’ (middle left). Other cultivars are available. P. xevansii (below) is a bipinnatifidum hybrid and has especially tropical looking foliage. Many other species are more vining, such as the Mexican P. radiatum, which looks like a climbing version of split leaf philodendron, as well as some ground cover types such as P. burle-marxii (lower left), a fast small philo which is very tender but recovers quickly. Most forms of split leaf philodendron will tolerate some frost


Phoenix species

Date palms

Small to large single or clumping feather palms, armed with long spines at the base of the leaves. The best dates for use in South Texas are the true date P. dactylifera, especially for drier areas (upper left), the clumping Senegal date P. reclinata (left), and the pygmy date P. roebelenii (above). The true date is hardy in South Texas, P. reclinata may freeze to the ground in extreme cold but recovers, and the pygmy date may be lost in a hard freeze if not protected. The true date is prone to Texas Palm Decline but is quite not as susceptible as P. canariensis or sylvestris 93

Pithecellobium dulce Guamuchil This common Mexican shade tree is sometimes cultivated in South Texas and is very tolerant to all our growing conditions except freezes, which will kill the plants back. A fast grower Phyllanthus emblica (Emblica officinalis) Indian Gooseberry New to South Texas, it makes a beautiful tree with its soft lush foliage. Apart from being a bit sensitive to cold it seems to have no other problems growing here if irrigated some

Pittosporum tobira Pittosporum Much used hardy evergreen shrubs, prone to dieout especially if neglected. Give water and good soil, they tolerate coastal sites 94

Plumbago capensis Cape plumbago Common shrubs with light blue or white flowers. Easily grown and takes some shade. A native species has small white flowers Plumeria species Plumeria, zuchil Tender Mexican shrubs or small deciduous trees with limber succulent stems and flowers in many colors. The white flowered forms seem to be the easiest to grow and recover better after cold

Polyalthia longifolia Asoka Striking Indian tree with lush shiny leaves. The pendulous form is more common. Can take a light freeze, full hardiness not tested here 95

Podranea ricasoliana Pink trumpet vine Healthy well adapted vining shrub easily grown in South Texas. Freeze dieback is temporary

LEFT - Podocarpus macrophyllus Japanese yew Popular subtropical conifer which can grow here in irrigated sites which do not get too dry. Tolerant of some coastal exposure. Hardy but slow BELOW - Porlieria angustifolia Guayacan Attractive native evergreen shrub with purple flowers. Slow but very nice. Tranplants poorly, buy in containers

Portulacaria afra

Elephant jade

Small succulent South African shrub, not often seen here but suited for dry well drained beds or pots. Should be root hardy in severe cold and low forms can be kept as a ground cover. A nice underused plant with good potential 96

Prosopis alba/chilensis hybrids South American mesquite, algarrobo Common landscape trees in Arizona which occasionally make their way here, where they do very well. Many are fast growing and need to be staked when young. More tender than our native mesquite but still hardy enough for South Texas. Most forms hold their foliage for much of the winter

Prosopis glandulosa Honey mesquite Probably the most abundant native tree in South Texas, it is often kept for shade or occasionally used for landscape jobs. Quite hardy and tolerant of almost any condition; high winds may break some branches or tilt the trees over. Old trees often have much character with their leaning branches


ABOVE - Pseudobombax ellipticum Shaving brush tree Deciduous small spreading Tamaulipan tropical tree with very showy spring blooms in white (rarely red) which resemble old shaving brushes. Needs well drained soil, severe frost may kill back the branches LEFT - Psidium cattleianum Strawberry guava Handsome dense evergreen shrubby tree with thick glossy foliage, smooth bark and edible fruit. Useful as a small tree or hedge and is well adapted LOWER LEFT - Psidium guajava Guava Very easily grown Brazilian tropical fruit tree or large shrub sometimes seen in local gardens. Frost sensitive but frozen plants return from the ground OPPOSITE PAGE- Pyracantha species Tough evergreen shrubs popular in Texas with attractive winter berries. Here there are some varieties that do well enough. Best as a hedge, though many natives and tropicals make nicer choices 98

BELOW - Pyrostegia venusta Flame vine Vigorous tropical vine not usually seen in South Texas but adapted to our conditions. They put on a brilliant display of orange flowers in late winter. Root hardy

Quercus virginiana Live oak, encino High quality landscape tree used in much of Texas and the South. It is the only oak consistently adapted to the soils of South Texas. Generally a slow grower but most plants in the trade have been selected for slightly faster growth. Hardy and resistant to high winds Quesnelia quesneliana This is probably the easiest “tank� (water holding) bromeliad to grow in South Texas. It is very tolerant to our bad irrigation water which kills or burns many other bromeliads. Quickly reproduces by suckers and recovers if its foliage is damaged in a freeze 99

Quisqualis indica Rangoon creeper Fast growing adaptable vine with red flowers which fade to white. Though tropical it has been grown in protected sites up to Central Texas Randia rhagocarpa Palo cruz Dense evergreen native suitable for casual hedges or screens or sheared for a more formal look. Tough and easy to grow

RIGHT - Raphiolepis indica Indian hawthorn Extremely common evergreen shrubs with white spring flowers frequently used throughout the South. It is important to use the most disease resistant varties. They may need soil amendment in strongly alkaline sites 100

Ravanea rivularis Majesty palm Tropical palm resembling a coconut which has flooded the nurseries in recent years. They will grow here even though a bit tender to cold and have high water and nutrient needs

RIGHT - Rhapis excelsa Lady palm Very attractive dense clustering fan palms which make beautiful shrubs or screens. Well adapted to South Texas conditions and a beautiful choice for our area. An extreme freeze may kill plants back but they have returned for many decades. Rhapis subtilis (above left) and the handsome R. multifida (above right) also grow here 101

Ravenala madagascariensis Traveler’s palm Bird of paradise relative which usually clumps and resembles a banana plant here. Impressive when trained to a single trunk. Avoid windy sites

Rosmarinus officinalis Rosemary Low evergreen shrubs sometimes used in local landscapes. There are many forms, the trailing variety prostatus the most popular. Well drained soils a must

Roystonea regia Royal palm Beautiful massive feather palms, easily grown in areas usually free from frost. They are tender and need to be protected or replaced in the event of a severe freeze Rhoeo (Tradescantia) spathacea Oyster plant Popular, easy landscape plants grown for their attractive foliage, which is a nice indigo blue underneath and green or variegated above. Both are available in larger (top) or smaller (bottom) forms. The leaves are damaged by cold but recover fast 102

Russelia equisitiformis Firecracker plant Wispy shrub with many small red flowers at the ends of fine pinelike branchlets. Easily grown but situate carefully

Ruellia peninsularis

Ruellia brittoniana Mexican petunia Flowering perennial frequently used here and elsewhere in warm regions, very easy to grow if watered in dry times. A dwarf compact variety known as ‘Katie’ (pictured) is especially nice. Flowers are mostly blue. Other ruellias can be grown here; the shrubby Baja ruellia (R. peninsularis), upper right, is excellent if trimmed 103

Sabal mauritiiformis Tropical palmetto Rare but beautiful lush palmetto native to Mexico. It is the most cold sensitive, but plants have survived severe freezes here but with protection from buildings. Sabal yapa is similar. Several other rare palmettos do well here, including the blue (S. uresana) and Hispaniola palmetto (S. domingensis)

ABOVE- Sabal mexicana Texas palmetto Well known native palm tree long cultivated in the southern third of Texas. Naturally tolerant of our conditions, including severe cold RIGHT - Sabal minor Dwarf palmetto Small usually trunkless palmetto seen farther north. Very cold hardy and well adapted here but is usually passed up here in favor of more ornamental palms UPPER RIGHT - Sabal palmetto Florida palmetto Tough hardy palm tree difficult to distinguish from our native palm (it has smaller fruit). Grows as easily here as our native sabal and has more wind resistance 104

Sansevieria trifasciata Mother-in-law tongue, Snake plant Attractive colorful African succulent plants available in many sizes and forms. Leaves are frost tender but regrow in spring. Other species are seen here also Sapindus saponaria Soapberry Hardy native tree with rather coarse temperate looking foliage. Some forms are more attractive than others but usually the plants look ordinary. Easy


Scaevola frutescens Sea lettuce Frost tender but highly salt tolerant leafy shrub, useful for warm coastal areas

ABOVE - Schefflera actinophylla Schefflera Tender but vigorous and easy tropical foliage tree. Not a bad tropical tree for yards since they occupy a small footprint and are relatively easy to prune back after a freeze UPPER LEFT - Schefflera arboricola Dwarf schefflera A fine landscape shrub well adapted for general use here. Comes in many sizes, with several variegated types. Tolerates most cold but can die back in a very hard freeze LEFT - Selenicereus spinulosus Native/Mexican night blooming cereus which forms a ropy vine in trees. Very nice large white flowers at night. Much hardier to cold than the other climbing cereus 106

Senecio confusus Mexican love vine An old favorite in South Texas, this easily grown vine gives beautiful orange flowers from late fall to spring. Tolerates light frost, heavier cold may temporarily kill it back. May be renamed Pseudogynoxys chenopodioides

Senna (Cassia) fistula Golden shower tree One of the best adapted tropical flowering trees for South Texas, it grows with almost no care here. Give it full sun and plenty of room to spread. Beautiful yellow flowers in late spring. Significant freezes can cut it back but the trees reliably return the following spring


Senna species Cassias Vigorous tough shrubs, sometimes trained into small trees, with yellow flowers usually in fall but often earlier. Easy growers

Setcreasea (Tradescantia) pallida Purpleheart Easy drought tolerant green to purple ground cover for well drained soils in sun or shade

Serenoa repens Saw palmetto Bushy Florida palm which likes water but needs well drained soils. Slow growing but tolerant of cold and coastal conditions. The blue forms are the prettiest RIGHT Solandra maxima Cup of gold Interesting vine or shrub with huge yellow flowers and large lush tropical foliage. The evergreen leaves are especially useful in deciduous trees 108

Sophora secundiflora Texas mountain laurel, mescal Popular hardy native evergreen shrub much loved for its fragrant spring flowers. Give it well drained soil here and don’t overwater. Necklace pod, S. tomentosa (below), makes an easy shrub with prolific yellow flowers. It needs frequent pruning to stay attractive

Stachytarpheta urticifolia Porterweed

Stapelia gigantea Starfish flower Interesting small African succulents with large smelly flowers. Useful for a cactus bed but plants are sensitive to severe cold 109

Low shrub with nearly continuous small attractive blue flowers. Easy to grow but needs to be cut back or trimmed like a perennial on occasion to keep it looking nice

Stenocereus pruinosus Tamaulipan cereus Columnar near-native cactus easily grown in our area. Generally hardy, severe cold can cause dieback but plants recover Stetsonia coryne Argentine toothpick This cactus is a slow grower but has so far proven well adapted. Young plants have taken frost but not prolonged freezes in Central Texas; older plants have not yet been fully freeze tested in South Texas

Strelitzia species Bird of paradise South African bananalike plants with flatly arranged leaves. The giant bird of paradise, S. nicolai, is often used as a subsitute for bananas. Exposed plants easily have their leaves damaged in winds. The shrubby species, S. reginae, is grown for its very showy colorful flowers. It likes some irrigation and grows at the coast 110

Syngonium podophyllum Nephthytis Robust, easily grown vine or ground cover. Frequently used as pot plants farther north but here they easily survive with a little water. The nicer forms have colorful leaves which often revert to green and grow larger when allowed to ramble free Syagrus romanzoffiana Queen palm Popular feather palms common here and in most citrus districts throughout the world. While usually hardy an extended severe freeze can take out exposed plants. Cocos plumosa is an old synonym


Syzygium cumini Java plum Large evergreen tree resembling a eucalyptus when yound and a ficus when larger. Not hard to grow here but the top growth is tender

ABOVE - Tabebuia aurea Silver trumpet tree Well adapted Paraguayan tree with silvery leaves and brilliant yellow flowers in spring. A hard freeze can kill them back but they are otherwise easy to grow here. May need staking when young. Other yellow tabebuias are grown here UPPER RIGHT - Tabebuia impetiginosa Trumpet tree Medium sized deciduous tree with beautiful late winter flowers. It is part of a variable group of trumpet trees that range from Mexico to Argentina. The Argentine trees appear to be the hardiest to cold and are popular in Central Florida RIGHT - Tabernaemontana divaricata Indian carnation Handsome evergreen tropical shrubs with attractive white flowers. They like rich soil and ample irrigation. Root hardy and a good substitute for gardenias in our alkaline soil 112

Taxodium mucronatum Montezuma cypress, sabino, ahuehuete Beautiful large native tree with fine weeping foliage. Prefers wet areas but will tolerate some drought. Not for coastal areas Tecoma stans Esperanza Popular shrub, easily grown here in irrigated sites, with almost constant attractive yellow flowers. A hard frost may cut it back but plants regrow quickly


Tecomaria capensis Cape honeysuckle Another popular landscape plant in South Texas, it makes a shrub or weak vine with profuse red or salmon flowers. Well adapted and very desirable

Thevetia peruviana Yellow oleander Beautiful shrub or small tree with glossy narrow foliage and yellow or apricot colored flowers. Very well adapted, hard freezes can hurt it but it recovers fast

Tipuana tipu Tipu Large fast growing evergreen Argentine tree with small but attractive yellow flowers. Hard freezes or high winds may damage branches Thyrostachys siamensis Monastery bamboo Slender elegant Thai bamboo with narrow leaves and willowy habit not too unlike Otatea. Appears well adapted so far, a severe freeze may cut it to the ground

Thunbergia grandiflora Bengal clock vine Vigorous root hardy tropical vine with light blue flowers. Well adapted, can get out of hand 114

Tulbaghia violacea Society garlic Attractive hardy flowering perennial herb suited for edging or small-scale ground cover

Trachelospermum species Well adapted hardy evergreen vines or ground covers suited to much of southern Texas. The most common is Asian jasmine, T. asiaticum (top). It is a frequently used ground cover. Confederate jasmine, T. jasminoides, tends to be vinier and has impressive white flowers in spring


Ulmus crassifolia Cedar elm, olmito Native elm suitable where a rustic but attractive hardy deciduous tree is wanted. Local forms do best here

LEFT - Viburnum awabuki Mirrorleaf viburnum Beautiful shrub or small tree with shiny tropical foliage, little used here though there are nice examples in Brownsville. Probably needs good soil and sufficient water ABOVE - Viburnum suspensum Sandankwa viburnum Hardy dense evergreen shrub well suited to most irrigated landscapes in South Texas Viguiera stenoloba Skeleton leaf goldeneye Rustic and hardy profusely flowering native perennial. Good for drier areas, may have to be pruned occasionally to look its best


Vitex agnus-castus Chaste tree Hardy deciduous small tree with attractive blue flowers in late spring. Selected cultivars have larger more impressive blooms LOWER LEFT -Washingtonia filifera California fan palm Stocky hardy fan palm best suited to desert climates but performs well enough here BELOW -Washingtonia robusta Mexican fan palm Tall slender fast easily grown fan palm, the most common palm in South Texas. Numerous old trees froze out in 1983, but many now seen are hybrids with W. filifera and tolerate more cold


Wedelia trilobata Wedelia Vigorous ground cover almost constantly in bloom with yellow flowers. Can be mowed high or trimmed, does well near the coast. Frosted plants recover quickly Wodyetia bifurcata Foxtail palm Tender attractive feather palm resembling a smaller royal. Requires similar growing conditions, expect to protect or replace in case of severe cold

Xylosma congestum Xylosma A good tropical looking but hardy large shrub or hedge with nice shiny foliage. Grows well under cultivation in good soils which are not too dry. Our native X. flexuosa makes an interesting casual rustic shrub (inset)


Yucca species

Y. aloifolia Y. filifera

Y. recurvifolia Y. treculeana


Y. linearifolia

Spanish daggers

Unique North American plants noted for their stiff, often sharp leaves and beautiful cream flower spikes. Most are well adapted here though some can rot or be attacked by rhino beetles. Some have variegated cultivars. Among the better performers in South Texas are: Y. aloifolia from the Southeast, which makes a sprawling shrubby clump and is sometimes shy to bloom, Y. elephantipes (guatemalensis), a beautiful tender type not quite as stiff and well adapted to our garden conditions (most plants sold today are hybrids), Y. filifera, an abundant tree native just south of the border which makes a large impressive tree with pendulous flower stalks, Y. recurvifolia, a short species which has been overused in many landscapes, Y. linearifolia, a new species in cultivation with narrow leaves, Y. rostrata, one of the best with beautiful blue leaves, and of course our native Y. treculeana Y. rostrata

Y. elephantipes

Zamia furfuracea Cardboard palm This is a very easily grown cycad in South Texas; the foliage is burned by frost but recovers quickly in spring. Zamia loddigesii (bottom) is closely related. Both tolerate coastal or adverse conditions. Other zamias grow here such as the Florida coontie Z. integrifolia or the fernlike Z. vasquezii (Z. fischeri), right

Zanthoxylum fagara Colima Rustic native shrub which makes a good screening plant with its dark dense evergreen foliage. Responds well to shearing or cutting back and can also be trained as a small tree. Easy to grow and drought tolerant, does well near the coast 120

Plants for South Texas  

Guide to plants suitable for cultivation in south Texas

Plants for South Texas  

Guide to plants suitable for cultivation in south Texas