Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Shrub Handbook
• Home • Up • Tree Handbook • Shrub Handbook • Native Pond and Wetland Plants • Cacti, G. C. & Vines •

This site has moved to  www.nativeplantproject.org

Native Shrubs

of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas

Landscape Uses and Identification

by the Native Plant Project

the online version

 

Table of Contents

Introduction Selecting Shrubs Planting Shrubs
Pruning Shrubs Plant Comunities FURTHER READING

Acknowledgment

Shrubs
(A-Z)

Black Brush Brush-Holly Cenizo Chapotillo Chilipiquin
Coral Bean Desert Lantana Desert Yaupon Drummond's Turk's Cap Hachinal

Heart-Leafed Hibiscus

Low Croton

Manzanita

Mexican Caesalpinia

Mexican Trixis

Nopal Prickly Pear

Oregano

Sierra Madre Torchwood

Shrubby Blue Sage

Skeletonbush

Tamaulipan Fiddlewood

Texas Baby-Bonnets

Texas Kidneywood

Texas Lantana

Torrey's Croton

Treculs Yucca

White Brush

Yellow Sophora

 

Introduction 

An estimated 1,200 native flowering plant species grow in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas, and many of these species are considered shrubs. A shrub differs from a tree in that they are low growing, multi-stemmed woody plants usually not having a single trunk. The Native Plant Project has selected some of the most "ornamental" or "landscape appropriate" shrubs from the numerous native species available to be featured in this handbook. Most are beautiful ornamentals, some are even valuable for wildlife use, but all make excellent landscape plants. 

Shrubs native to the Lower Rio Grande Valley have advantages over shrubs brought in from elsewhere. Shrubs from this region have the genetic factors which ensure greater probability for survival. They are preadapted having evolved to tolerate local climatic extremes, local soils, and local diseases and pests. Most of these species are xeric-adapted. This means they require little supplemental water, tolerate drought well, and conserve much of the extra water which exotic shrubs require. Native shrubs have evolved with temperature and rainfall extremes and were relatively unharmed during the Christmas freezes of 1983 and 1989 which devastated the non-native plantings. A little extra water though may greatly lengthen the flowering period of xeric-adapted shrubs and trees. 

Using native shrubs helps conserve rarer species which are vanishing due to habitat clearing. Within the four-county (Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy) Lower Rio Grande Valley area over 98% of the natural habitat has been converted or cleared for urban, agricultural, or industrial use. Establishing rare species in landscapings spreads out the individuals so one catastrophe cannot take out a specie all at once and also provides an alternative seed source in the event the last individuals of a species are eradicated from natural habitat. 

Some of our native shrubs are readily available from most nurseries in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Rarer ones can be found only at the few nurseries specializing in Lower Rio Grande Valley natives. (See list inserted in handbook.) More and different native plants will become available if you demand them. The Native Plant Project will provide sources upon request; the availability of native shrubs changes as nurseries change their available selections due to demand. 

Founded in 1982, the Native Plant Project's purpose is to protect and conserve the native plants (including endangered), habitats and environment of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and promote the use of local native plants in local landscapes. One method it uses is disseminating information about native plants and habitats. Its definition of a native plant is one indigenous to the four-county area of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. 

The Native Plant Project encourages the protection of native plants through conserving and restoring native habitats in refuges, natural areas in parks, wildlife management areas, and private sanctuaries. It works to protect both natural habitat and human-influenced environment. It encourages the conservation of native species through inclusion in local landscapings. The Native Plant Project works cooperatively with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Natural Heritage Program, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and many private organizations toward protecting Endangered Species, including those local natives imperiled but yet unlisted. 

The Native Plant Project currently holds general meetings eight times per year. Members are advised of meetings, field trips, and other activities through The Sabal, which conveys information on the native plants, habitats, and the environment of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The Native Plant Project periodically updates and issues lists of endangered species of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and checklists of its woody plants. 

Selecting Shrubs

The choice of a native shrub, like any other plant, should be dictated by landscaping need and the desired effect. Given the limits of purpose and site, finding a native shrub which will handsomely fulfill every requirement is no problem. Once a choice is made, there remains only a few shrub location and planting tips to be observed. 

  • Obtaining Plants

 First, get your shrub from a reputable, reliable nurseryman. DO NOT transplant from the wild, not only is this rarely successful, it diminishes our threatened natural plant and animal habitats. A healthy, vigorous looking small shrub is much preferred over a large one, and smaller specimens suffer less transplant shock. With smaller shrub's, chances of survival and rapid growth are very high, they are cheaper, and within a year their size equals those which were initially 2 to 3-times larger.

  • Site location

Second, most native shrubs do well on most Valley soils. Poorly drained areas should be avoided or mounded for drainage and the shrubs planted on top of the mound. Also many of our native shrubs will grow on a site where a large portion of the soil near the root area is covered by blacktop or paving. Make sure the plant has plenty of growing space and not to plant shrubs too close to houses or pathways. 

Planting Shrubs

  • When to plant

 The best times to plant in the Lower Rio Grande Valley are late-autumn (to allow for root establishment and dormancy before any freeze) and mid-February after danger of freezing has passed. Planting during the hotter months can be done but requires much more water, care and maintenance and is equally more stressful on the plant and you than during the cooler late-autumn through early-spring months.

  • Preparing the site

A hole should be dug sufficiently deep and wide enough to hold the full root system. In very poor soils it should be wider and deeper. As the hole is dug, the soil from the top 4 to 6 inches, which is richer should be kept separated from the subsoil. Discard the subsoil and replace with the top soil or improve the subsoil by mixing at least 1:1 subsoil to moist peat moss or excess media from the pot in which the shrub was growing.

  • Setting the shrub

The depth of the top of the root system should NOT be lower than the top of the hole, it usually kills the shrub when planted too deep. Remove the shrub from the container. If roots are so numerous they are encircling the soil ball, cut the root ball to a depth of 2 inches with a sharp knife vertically to encourage the roots to grow outward. After setting the shrub in the hole, soil should be added gradually working the first lot in firmly at the base of the root ball, then filling the hole with more soil. The shrub may be raised and lowered during the filling process to eliminate air pockets thus bringing the roots in closer contact with the soil. When filled tamp the area firmly with your feet.

  • Watering

 The soil around the shrub must be watered thoroughly after the plant is set in place. A ring of soil at the perimeter of the filled hole, 4 inches high, should be made for holding water. The frequency of watering depends on the type of soil, the size of the shrub and the amount of rainfall. The soil ball around a newly planted shrub can dry out rapidly and Valley showers cannot be depended upon to supply sufficient moisture during the critical first year of growth. During mid-spring, summer and mid-fall months water all newly planted shrubs for the first 4 to 6 weeks as often as 3 times a week by filling to the top of the soil ring (during the rest of the year a weekly soaking over a 4-week period should be sufficient). Then every two weeks thereafter for the first year, you should provide ample moisture for your shrub to survive and grow. Then let nature do the watering.

 Pruning Shrubs

 Shrub pruning may be necessary for a variety of reasons. The method and timing can vary depending on the species, age, and condition of the plant. The main reasons for pruning, aside from wanting to create or maintain a rigid, formal appearance, are: 

  1. to remove broken branches which resulted during planting.
  2. to remove dead branches, or to remove areas infested with insects or disease. 
  3. to correct or improve the shape; for example, a branch may spoil the general balance of the plant, or may grow into other plants or a pathway, or may cross other branches on the same plant and shut out light and air to the center of the plant.
  • What and how to prune.

 Regular pruning is not necessary for most species, or may not be needed at all. To achieve an irregular or informal "natural" looking shrub or hedge which fits into every landscape, except the most formal of designs, the cutting back of individual branches should be done at various levels, removing individual large, medium and small branches, thus creating a soft appearance. Shearing off uniformly the outermost few inches of growth creates a hard, formal outline of a trimmed hedge. REMEMBER when pruning make all cuts at the base of a branch, i.e. at the branching point, leaving only a cut flush with the remaining branch or a stub of less than 1/4 inch (6 mm). Pruning to achieve a "natural" look should be carried out in three stages: 

  1. Removal of large branches is to be made below the center near the base of the shrub. The object being to shorten the overall height of the plant and to open the center for light penetration and air movement. Only one or two such cuts are necessary. The branches removed are from parts of the shrub which are the most crowded and where their loss will be the least noticed. Also they will need to be removed because they are unattractive, damaged or diseased. Care should be given to cutting large branches because their removal will dramatically alter the look of the shrub. 
  2. Removal of medium sized branches is made after the removal of larger ones, to continue the opening of the shrub for air and light penetration and to create uniformity in shrub density; however, care should be exercised to avoid drastic or too much pruning. The overall look of the plant must be taken into account during the pruning progress. Removing branches over the entire shrub one by one and stepping back from the plant to assess the overall effect of balance and density is the best procedure. 
  3. Removal of some of the growing tips is the final pruning stage. This pruning removes only 1 to 3 inches (2 to 8 cm) of growth and is used to continue the opening of the shrub by effecting the overall density. The overall look of the plant will be a soft, feathery appearance resulting from the removal of growing tips here and there over the entire shrub. 

Remember the purpose of pruning, except for diseased or damaged branches, is to control growth, and this process should occur gradually throughout the year as opposed to severe pruning once a year. Regular pruning throughout the year results in more air and light penetrating the plant and, for Cenizo especially, produces in leafy growth from the older wood, giving a fuller, healthier, more attractive plant.

  • When to prune.

The best time for pruning depends upon the shrub, generally after flowering and fruiting is completed. Shrubs that lose their leaves, either in winter or during a drought, this is the best time to prune as they are bare and it allows for the best assessment of the shrub's overall shape and health problems, and for ease in seeing where cuts are to be made. Otherwise, light pruning to control growth throughout the year is acceptable. 

Plant Communities of the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Plant communities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) are part of the South Texas (or Rio Grande) Plains which constitute most of the Texas half of the Tamaulipan Biotic Province. The entire Lower Rio Grande Valley lies on the Gulf Costal Plain which extends across the LRGV and Rio Grande to the Sierra Madre Oriental and its outliers. The western part of the LRGV (Falcon Woodland) is also the easternmost part of the shrub-dominated Chihuahuan Desert. Plains and brush land plants reach the LRGV from the north and more eastern plants line the Rio Grande. Several plants have disjunct Trans-Pecos and LRGV distributions. Costal plants reach the LRGV from north and south. Subtropical plants also lend their unique character to the LRGV's subtropical appearance. 

Water availability, soil type, and temperatures are the predominant non-human determinants of the LRGV's unusually varied and unique vegetational communities and habitats. Five major vegetational areas include barrier islands, coastal, riparian woodlands, shrublands (chaparrals), and sandplain grassland. These five general areas each consists of many diverse associations and habitats. The LRGV lacks perennial streams and few historic springs survive.

The four-county LRGV is enclosed by the Gulf of Mexico on the east, waterless Sand Plain containing La Sal Viejo and La Sal Del Ray on the north, and an arbitrary (county) line on the west between Flacon Reservoir (in the Chihuahuan Desert) and the Sand Plain. The Bordas Scarp in Starr County is the major component of relief. The Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) separates the Texan and the Tamaulipan portions of the LRGV. The nonpolitical southern boundary is another waterless area between the Rio Grande and the Rio San Fernando. The area of Rio Grande Delta consists of the floodplain broadening eastward, including Cameron, Willacy, and southern Hidalgo Counties and a similar area in Tamaulipas.

The tree-life and water distribution somewhat characterize these five areas. The barrier islands lack trees and the few scattered shrubs never exceed one meter in height. The coastal communities have a few stunted Texas Ebonies or Honey Mesquite trees on holophytic shrub-covered lomas. Freezes permitting, characteristic Black Mangroves shrubs grow near the coastal brackish waters or marshes. The riparian woodlands and palm jungles cover open or dense shrub layers which line the Rio Grande and its resacas. The dry shrublands consists of short trees and shrubs with taller trees around depressions and potholes. The Sand Plain and its bordering habitat lack trees except for isolated groupings surrounded by a sea of grass. Many shrubs in western and northern LRGV can shed leaves during drought stress and regrow them after rain.

Because of the little variation in temperature across the LRGV, our trees and shrubs can be grown under a wide range of conditions with only minor modification of site or care. Riverbank-adapted plants require more water then will other natives. Where necessary, this handbook includes such site modifications in hope of improving success when planting one of the LRGV native shrubs in your landscape.

 TRECUL'S YUCCA, Palma Pita 
Yucca treculeana - Agavaceae, Agave Family 

Description: Woody trunk from spiny agave-form rosette, with clusters of sharp-pointed leaves, dead leaves often hang as skirt. 
Height: To 25 ft., usually 6 to 12 ft. 
Flowers: Small, creamy-white in clusters (panicles) extending above foliage; late Winter - early Spring 
Fruit: Reddish-brown, fleshy capsules drying woody 
Foliage: Evergreen, simple, elongated leaves 
Spines: Short, black spines at leaf tips 
Bark: Dark-reddish-brown, thick with fissures and ridges breaking into plates 
Growth Rate: Fast (about 1 foot per year) 

Requirements
Sun: Full sun to partial shade, growing eventually above surrounding shrubs 
Soil: Many types 
Drainage: Well-drained Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None, if not planted near walkways 
Propagation: Seeds, cuttings from rhizomes, stems or pups 

Native Habitat: Clay lomas, chaparrals, thornforest clearings, laguna isles 

Wildlife Use
Flowers - pollinating moths 
Fruit - moth caterpillars 
Nest sites - Northern Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Gray Hawk, Harris' Hawk, Cactus Wren 
Leaves - White-tailed Deer, livestock Young trunks consumed by Javalinas 

Comments: Native people used every part of plant; roots once used as soap; requires pronuba moths for pollination; striking accent plant 

 

 

 

Mexican Trixis, Hierba del Aire
 Trixis inula - Asteraceae, Aster Family 

Description: A weak-stemmed, much-branched, ascending shrub 
Height: 3 to 6 ft. 
Flowers: Bright-yellow flowers in heads 0.8 inch wide 
Fruit: Achenes with bristles (like dandelions) 
Foliage: Simple, alternate, long oval, to 4 inches long, green 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Straw-colored to brown 
Growth Rate: Medium 

Requirements
Sun: Shade, partial sun 
Soil: Loamy, well drained clay loams 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed, semi-hardwood cuttings 

Native Habitat: Thornforests, palm groves, chaparrals 

Wildlife Use: Leaves - White-tailed Deer 

Comments: An attractive, unarmed shrub, flowering through much of year

 

Skeletonbush, [ none found ] 
Viguiera stenoloba - Asteraceae, Aster Family 

Description: Short, dense shrub with many yellow sunflower-like flower heads 
Height: To 3 ft 
Flowers: Terminal heads with yellow ray and disk flowers; flowers quickly after rainfall anytime of year 
Fruit: Achene (like sunflower seed) 
Foliage: Simple, alternate, drought-deciduous, narrow strip of blade along midrib and a couple of skinny lobes 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Gray, older stems develop narrow ridges and shallow fissures 
Growth Rate: Fast 

Requirements
Sun: Full 
Soil: Sandy loam, caliche, gravelly 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: Water increases flowering and leafing 
Propagation: Seed, softwood cuttings 

Native Habitat: Chaparral openings 

Wildlife Use: Nectar - Butterflies Leaves - Cattle and deer 

Comments: One of the lower Rio Grande Valley's most attractive shrubs to butterflies and human eyes 

 

Nopal Prickly Pear, Nopal 
Opuntia lindheimeri - Cactaceae, Cactus Family 

Description: Large, erect to sprawling cactus with flattened stems called pads or joints 
Height: To 12 ft or more 
Flowers: Large, 4 inches in diameter, usually yellow, also red, salmon, or orange, from areoles; March-June 
Fruit: Large, berry purple when ripe, from areoles 
Foliage: Minute, deciduous, tenure brief, from areoles 
Spines: Large, pale-yellow spines and tiny, yellow or brown ones from areoles 
Bark: Light-brown on trunks 
Growth Rate: Fast 

Requirements
Sun: Prefers full sunshine, grows slowly in shade 
Soil: Many, from sand to saline clay 
Drainage: Well Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed, cut pad and plant 

Native Habitat: Coastal sand dunes, clay lomas, grasslands and savannahs, woodlands, thornforests, chaparrals, nopalerias, deserts 

Wildlife Use
Fruit - birds, mammals, Texas Tortoises, Coyotes 
Pads - Southern Plains Wood Rats, Javalinas, cattle, White-tailed Deer, Texas tortoise 
Nest sites - Southern Plains Wood Rats, Cactus Wrens, Common Ground-Doves, White-tipped Doves, Verdin 
Water - from pads 
Nectar - hummingbirds, butterflies, bees 

Comments: Any dropped piece of pad grows into a new plant; one of most valuable native plants for wildlife; still one of most used for human food; national emblem of Mexico 

 

Mexican Caesalpinia, Retamilla 
Caesalpinia mexicana - Caesalpiniaceae, Caesalpinia Family 

Description: Shrub to tree with green leaflets contrasting with bright-yellow flowers and tan pods. 
Height: To 30 ft, usually half that 
Flowers: Many, small, bright-yellow flowers in clusters (racemes); much of year 
Fruit: Tan, inflated, oblong pods with light-brown seeds 
Foliage: Alternate, leaflets dull-green above and paler beneath 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Smooth, mottled, light or dark-gray, older trunks fissured 
Growth Rate: Fast 

Requirements
Sun: Starts in partial shade, adapts to full sunshine 
Soil: Various 
Drainage: Medium 
Water: Medium 
Maintenance: Little 
Propagation: Seeds 

Native Habitat: Woodlands, thickets, open woods, especially near resacas 

Wildlife Use
Flowers - butterflies 
Leaves - caterpillars of Emesia Metalmark 

Comments: One of the most popular native home landscaping plants in lower Rio Grande Valley 

 

Desert Yaupon, Capul 
Schaefferia cuneifolia - Celastraceae, Staff-tree Family 

Description: Intricately and densely branched shrub with small leaves and orange fruit 
Height: To 6 ft, usually 2 to 4 ft. 
Flowers: Male and female flowers on separate plants; inconspicuous, greenish to white, solitary or clustered in axils; after rainfall throughout year 
Fruit: Orange to bright-red, 2-seeded, little flesh 
Foliage: Drought-deciduous, simple, alternate or clustered, pale-green, sessile, wedge-shaped leaves 
Spines: Unarmed Bark: New branches silvery-gray, older wood brown to grayish-brown 
Growth Rate: Slow 

Requirements
Sun: Full Soil: Gravelly, caliche, various 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low Maintenance: Periodic pruning encourages compactness 
Propagation: Seeds, cuttings, root sprouts 

Native Habitat: Brushlands, chaparrals, gravely hillsides 

Wildlife Use
Fruit - Northern Bobwhite, Scaled Quail, Cactus Wren, Coyote, Southern Plains Wood Rat Nests in branches 

Comments: Makes good hedges or specimen plants; the bright fruit contrasts vividly with the green leaves Low 

 

Low Croton, Salvia 
Croton humilis, Euphorbiaceae, Spurge Family 

Description: Short shrub with oval leaves and white flowers 
Height: To 3 ft rarely to 7 ft 
Flowers: Unisexual on one plant or on separate plants, small, white, in clusters (racemes); nearly all year after rains 
Fruit: Globose capsules with 3 lobes and 3 seeds 
Foliage: Simple, alternate, toothless, green, to 3.2 inches long Spines: Unarmed Bark: Light-brown to pale-gray 
Growth Rate: Slow 

Requirements
Sun: Shade Soil: Sandy, loamy, sandy clay 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed 

Native Habitat: Clearings in thornforests, thickets, chaparrals 
Wildlife Use
Seed - Mourning Dove, White-tipped Dove, other doves and birds 
Leaves - Tropical Leafwing 
Flowers and Fruits - Gray Hairstreak caterpillars 

Comments: Low Croton feeds hungry butterflies, caterpillars, and seed-eating birds and pleases the human eye 

 

Torrey's Croton, Salvia 
Croton incanus, Euphorbiaceae, Spurge Family 

Description: Tall, slender shrub with whitish, straight branches, all parts covered with thick, short hairs 
Height: Over 6 ft. 
Flowers: Light-green, unisexual flowers in elongate clusters (racemes); nearly all year after rainfall 
Fruit: Three-lobed, oblong capsules, 0.25 inch long 
Foliage: Simple, alternate, deciduous, oblong, to 2.4 inches, gray-green above and pale beneath 
Spines: Unarmed Bark: Gray and tomentose to smooth, gray, and hairless later 
Growth Rate: Medium 

Requirements
Sun: Partial shade, emerging into sunshine 
Soil: Clayey, sandy, gravelly, caliche 
Drainage: Well Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed 
Native Habitat: Thickets, thornforest, chaparrals 

Wildlife Use
Seed - birds and small mammals 
Leaves - caterpillars of Tropical Leafwing 

Comments: Long known as Croton torreyanus 

 

Texas Baby-Bonnets, (none found)
 Coursetia axillaris, Fabaceae, Bean Family 

Description: Rounded, densely-branched shrub with pink flowers 
Height: 5 to 7 ft. 
Flowers: Pale-pink, solitary or few in axillary clusters (racemes), primarily March with occasional reflowering later 
Fruit: Reddish-brown, flat pods to 1.6 inches long, split open and throw ripe seeds 
Foliage: Alternate, 3 to 5 pairs of dull-green leaflets 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Light to dark-gray, ashen 
Growth Rate: Fast 

Requirements
Sun: Partial shade to full sun 
Soil: Loamy, clayey; caliche ridge 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seeds 

Native Habitat: Thornforest 

Wildlife Use
Seeds - several species of birds and mammals 

Comments: Rare due to habitat loss, little is known about plant 

 

Texas Kidneywood, Vara Dulce 
Eysenhardtia texana, Fabaceae, Bean Family 

Description: Much-branched, large shrub with small leaflets and many fragrant white flowers 
Height: 6 to 12 ft 
Flowers: White, small (0.2 inch), numerous in slender, elongate clusters (racemes); throughout year after rainfall 
Fruit: Short, flat, one-seeded, brown pod, 0.4 inch long 
Foliage: Alternate, drought-deciduous, many leaflets, dull-green above, paler below, aroma distinctive 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Light-gray and smooth, breaking into thin, elongate plates with age 
Growth Rate: Fast 

Requirements
Sun: Full sunshine, light shade 
Soil: Sandy, caliche, gravelly 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed, softwood cuttings

Native Habitat: Chaparrals 

Wildlife
Use
Leaves - browsed by White-tailed Deer, livestock, caterpillars of Mexican Dogface and Reakirt's Blue Fruit - doves, turkeys, jackrabbits 
Nectar - bees, butterflies 

Comments: Flowered daily in Edinburg through drought and freezes from Spring 1995 into 1997. 

 

Coral Bean
Colorin Erythrina herbacea var. arborea, Fabaceae, Bean Family 

Description: Large, spiny-trunked shrub with large, tubular, scarlet-red flowers at tips of rigid, ascending branches 
Height: To 25 ft, usually 6 to 12 ft. 
Flowers: Large, in terminal clusters (racemes), tubular, scarlet-red, to 2.1 inches long 
Fruit: Thin elongate, dark brown to black pods, open to expose scarlet-red beans 
Foliage: Alternate or clustered, leaflets 3, persistent, each leaflet with 3 lobes; to 3.2 inches long 
Spines: Stout, recurved thorns on trunk and branches Bark: Green to reddish-brown, smooth 
Growth Rate: Medium 

Requirements
Sun: Full sunshine to light shade 
Soil: Loamy, sandy 
Drainage: Medium 
Water: Medium 
Maintenance: Little 
Propagation: Seed, cuttings, shoots from old roots, divisions of root stalks 

Native Habitat: Wooded edges 

Wildlife Use
Bark, stems, and beans poisonous to fish and wildlife 
Flowers - hummingbirds 

Comments: This very attractive shrub requires careful placement to avoid contacting thorns 

 

Yellow Sophora, Tambalisa 
Sophora tomentosa, Fabaceae, Bean Family 

Description: Short, densely-pubescent, rounded shrub 
Height: 3 to 6 ft 
Flowers: Elongate, terminal clusters (racemes), bright-yellow or yellowish-white; Spring to Fall 
Fruit: Long, slender pod to 5 inches long, strongly constricted between brow seeds 
Foliage: Alternate, grayish leaflets, deciduous 
Spines: Unarmed Bark: Green to light-brown Growth Rate: Medium 

Requirements
Sun: Full sun 
Soil: Sand 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed 

Native Habitat: Sand dunes 

Wildlife Use: Lookout perches 

Comments: Often tallest plant in sand dunes 

 

Brush - Holly, Coronillo 
Xylosma flexuosa, Flacourtiaceae, Flacourtia Family 

Description: Evergreen, thorny shrub with olive-green leaves and persistent red berries 
Height: To 20 ft, usually 5 to 10 ft. 
Flowers: Small, unisexual on same or separate plants, in axillary clusters; at intervals throughout the year. 
Fruit: Clusters of persistent, round, red 2 to 8 seeded berries 
Foliage: Evergreen, simple, alternate or clustered, variably sized, oval, olive-green or darker and paler beneath 
Spines: Single, slender, straight spines of variable length Bark: Smooth when immature, breaking into scales later, gray to brown. 
Growth Rate: Slow to medium 

Requirements
Sun: Shade to full sun Soil: Various 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: Little 
Propagation: Seed, softwood cutting 

Native Habitat: Palm groves, resaca banks, brushy thickets, clay lomas 

Wildlife Use
Fruit - birds Comments: Attractive specimen shrub with contrasting olive-green and persistent red to purple berries 

 

Shrubby Blue Sage, Mejorana 
Salvia ballotiflora, Lamiaceae, Mint Family 

Description: Aromatic leaves, much-branched, with many attractive blue flowers after showers 
Height: 5 to 8 ft 
Flowers: Blue petals to 0.5 inch long, short clusters (racemes); after rainfall anytime of year 
Fruit: Four nutlets within folded, brown calyx 
Foliage: Simple, opposite, oval, green leaves, variable in size with moisture available, to 1.6 inch long, scent of crushed leaves unique 
Spines: Unarmed Bark: Gray to black, smooth on young stems 
Growth Rate: Fast 

Requirements
Sun: Full, partial shade 
Soil: Caliche, gravelly, sandy, sandy loam 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: No fertilizing, too much fertilizer or water causes it to grow leggy 
Propagation: Seed, softwood and hardwood cuttings 

Native Habitat: Brushy hillseeds, chaparrals, thickets, brushlands, thornforests 

Wildlife Use
Nectar - butterflies 
Leaves - Painted Lady caterpillars use some Salvias as cover 

Comments: Very attractive 

 

Hachinal, Willow-leafed Heimia 
Heimia salicifolia, Lythraceae, Loosestrife Family 

Description: Spreading, densely-branched shrub with narrow leaves and bright-yellow flowers 
Height: To 9 ft, usually half that 
Flowers: Yellow bell-shaped, solitary, petals drop soon after opening; Spring to Fall Fruit: Dry, brown, 4-celled capsule 
Foliage: Simple, opposite, narrow 
Spines: Unarmed Bark: Gray to brown 
Growth Rate: Medium 

Requirements
Sun: Shade 
Soil: Alluvial, clay 
Drainage: Poor 
Water: Medium 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed 

Native Habitat: Resaca banks, riverbanks, pothole margins 

Wildlife Use: None known 

Comments: Attractiveness diminished by quick drop of petals 

 

Manzanita, Acerola,  "Barbados Cherry" 
Malpighia glabra, Malpighiaceae, Malpighia Family 

Description: A ground cover (especially if mowed), shrub, hedge, or tree with dark-green leaves, pink flowers, and red fruit 
Height: To 20 ft, usually 4 to 6 ft. 
Flowers: Pink, attractive, uniquely shaped, bilateral, short, axillary clusters (cymes); March-October
Fruit: Red, fleshy, 3-seeded, edible 
Foliage: Evergreen, simple, opposite, oval, dark-green, smooth edges, sessile 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Smooth grayish brown with white pin-head sized spots 
Growth Rate: Medium 

Requirements
Sun: Shade to full sun 
Soil: Various 
Drainage: Medium to well 
Water: Low to medium, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: susceptible to nematodes 
Propagation: Seed, from cuttings, layering, grafting to nematode-resistant rootstock 

Native Habitat: Riparian woodlands, thornforest, chaparrals, palm groves 

Wildlife Use
Fruit - Coyotes, Raccoons, birds 
Leaves - White-tailed Deer, caterpillars of Cassius Blue, Brown-banded Skipper, and White Patch 

Comments: Highest known Vitamin C content of any fruit; requires native bees for good fruit set 

 

 

Heart-Leafed Hibiscus, Tulipan del Monte 
Hibiscus martianus, Malvaceae, Mallow Family 

Description: Short, leafy shrub with large, showy, crimson flowers 
Height: To 2 ft 
Flowers: Large, showy, solitary, brilliant-crimson, 2.5 inches wide; throughout year after rainfall 
Fruit: Oval capsule to 0.8 inches long, few-seeded 
Foliage: Alternate, simple, to 3.2 inches long and wide, broadly oval to weakly lobed, green, weakly toothed 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Smooth greenish-brown with white pin-head sized elongated spots 
Growth Rate: Slow 

Requirements
Sun: Usually in partial shade protected by spiny shrubs 
Soil: Gravelly, caliche, others 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Fresh seed, softwood cuttings 

Native Habitat: Chaparrals, matorral, thornforests 

Wildlife Use
Leaves - caterpillars of Columella Hairstreak and Western Checkered Skipper eat Hibiscus leaves but are not recorded from this species 

Comments: Long known as Hibiscus cardiophyllus; inconspicuous until it flowers, one of the most spectacular native flowers 

 

Drummond's Turk's Cap, Manzanilla 
Malvaviscus drummondil, Malvaceae, Mallow Family 

Description: Large, often vine-like shrub with large, lobed leaves and long, vermilion-red flowers 
Height: To 10 ft, usually 2 to 5 ft. 
Flowers: Solitary, vermilion-red petals do not spread, to 1.4 inches long, reproductive parts extend from within; throughout year 
Fruit: Bright-red, 5-seeded, berry-like, edible, turban-shaped 
Foliage: Simple, alternate, large, 3-lobed, 2-4 inches long and wide 
Spines: Unarmed Bark: Smooth, greenish to light-brown with light-brown pin-head sized spots 
Growth Rate: Medium 

Requirements:
 Sun: Partial shade to full sunshine 
Soil: Many, loamy, sandy 
Drainage: Medium 
Water: Medium 
Maintenance: Keep from over running other shrubs 
Propagation: Seed 

Native Habitat: Mesic woodlands and palm groves 

Wildlife Use
Fruit - many birds and mammals 
Nectar - hummingbirds, butterflies 
Leaves - caterpillars of Glassy-winged Skipper 

Comments: Very attractive to butterflies and birds 

 

Black Brush, Chapparo Prieto 
Acacia rigidula, Mimosaceae, Mimosa Family 

Description: Several-stemmed, rigid-branched, large shrub with dark leaflets and spectacular displays of creamy-white flowers 
Height: To 25 ft, usually 6 to 10 ft. 
Flowers: Small, dense, creamy-white in elongate, axillary clusters (spikes); February, reflowering sparsely later 
Fruit: Linear, reddish-brown to black pods, to 3.2 inches long, open and drop seed 
Foliage: Dark-green leaflets, few per leaf, alternate 
Spines: Paired, white, straight, spines to 1.1 inch long, at nodes 
Bark: Whitish to light-gray, smooth, and tight 
Growth Rate: Slow to medium 

Requirements
Sun: Full sun to partial shade 
Soil: Sandy loams, calcareous, gravelly, caliche 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed 

Native Habitat: Chaparrals, thornforests 

Wildlife Use
Nectar - bees, butterflies 
Leaves - White-tailed Deer, Cattle 
Seeds - Northern Bobwhite 
Nest sites, cover 

Comments: Similar in appearance to small Texas Ebony and often confused with it in chaparrals unless pods found 

 

 

Sierra Madre Torchwood
Amyris madrensis, Rutaceae, Citrus Family 

Description: Small, slender, leafy, pretty tree 
Height: To 18 ft, usually 6 to 10 ft. 
Flowers: Small, inconspicuous, white to greenish, perfect; Spring to Autumn 
Fruit: Linear, Ovoid drupe, ripening black 
Foliage: Shiny, attractive, compound, leaflets wavy-margined, leathery, rhombic, 5-9 pairs plus terminal leaflet, crushed leaflets have citrus scent 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Mottled, light-to-dark-gray 
Growth Rate: Medium 

Requirements
Sun: Usually in shade in understory, growing towards light 
Soil: Loamy 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed, softwood cuttings 

Native Habitat: Subcanopy of tall thornscrub, thickets 

Wildlife Use: None reported 

Comments: One of most attractive native foliages in LRGV; freeze-hardy to 20.5  F; the wood ignites easily, hence the generic name of torchwood 

 

Chapotillo, Texas Torchwood 
Amyris texana, Rutaceae, Citrus Family 

Description: Attractive, green, compact in shade, woodier, fewer leafed in full sun Height: To 6 ft 
Flowers: Small, greenish-white, aromatic, clustered in terminal panicles; Spring to Fall, perhaps longer 
Fruit: Small, globose, black, fleshy drupes 
Foliage: Evergreen, shiny, trifoliate, aromatic (citrus-scented) 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Mottled-gray, roughened, often lichen-coated 
Growth Rate: Medium 

Requirements
Sun: Shade to full sun 
Soil: Loamy, sandy, other types 
Drainage: Well-drained 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed, fresh or dried up to 1 year; softwood cuttings, with rooting hormone 

Native Habitat: Understory of mesic woods, Ebony Woodland, to dry chaparral 

Wildlife Use: 
Fruit - variety of birds 
Leaves - Giant Swallowtail caterpillars, White-tailed Deer 

Comments: Members of the genus are lumped under the generic term, torchwood, because the wood ignites easily; forms buds and awaits rainfall, then the buds open quickly 

 

Cenizo, Texas Ranger, purple sage 
Leucophyllum frutescens, Scrophulariaceae, Figwort Family 
Description: Much-branched shrub with dense, ashy-gray foliage and purple flowers after showers 
Height: To 12 ft, usually 5 to 8 ft. 
Flowers: Showy, solitary, axillary, pale-violet to purple, white and pink cultivars; appear quickly after rainfall throughout year 
Fruit: Dry, 2-valved capsules 
Foliage: Evergreen, simple, alternate or clustered, ashy-gray, elliptic, untoothed leaves 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Grayish-black to aging black and roughened with small scales 
Growth Rate: Fast 

Requirements
Sun: Prefers full sun, green forms do occur rarely in shade 
Soil: Caliche, sandy, gravelly, arid 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant, green forms are more water tolerant 
Maintenance: Cotton root rot problem, do not fertilize, shade causes cultivars to grow leggy 
Propagation: Seeds, cuttings 

Native Habitat: Chaparrals, caliche and gravel ridges 

Wildlife Use: Leaves - caterpillars of Theona Checkerspot 

Comments: Green forms, naturally found in Cameron Co., will withstand irrigation and maintain foliage from ground level up 

 

Chilipiquin, Bird Pepper 
Capsicum annum, Solanaceae, Nightshade Family 

Description: Broad-spreading, round top, green, zigzagging twigs bearing many small, white flowers followed by small, red peppers 
Height: To 7 ft, usually half that 
Flowers: Small, white, solitary or in pairs, 0.3 inches wide; throughout year 
Fruit: Small-red (ripe), pungent peppers 
Foliage: Simple, alternate, oval leaves with smooth edges or with tiny teeth, dull-green above, paler below, to 1.5 inch long 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Green to light-brown 
Growth Rate: Fast 

Requirements
Sun: Naturally in partial shade, to full sun 
Soil: Loamy 
Drainage: Medium 
Water: Medium 
Maintenance: Little 
Propagation: Seeds 

Native Habitat: Riparian woodland, mesquite-granjeno woods, chaparrals 

Wildlife Use
Fruit - Wild Turkey, Northern Mockingbird 
Comments: All peppers are cultivars of this species 

 

White Brush, Chaparro Blanco 
Aloysia gratissima, Verbenaceae, Verbena Family 

Description: Slender, aromatic, much-branched shrub with long spikes of white flowers 
Height: To 15 ft, usually half that 
Flowers: Numerous, small, tubular, white flowers in terminal, elongate clusters (spikes); following rainfall any time of year 
Fruit: Small, dry, two nutlets enclosed in calyx 
Foliage: Simple, opposite, drought-deciduous, shape varies with moisture received, vanilla-scented,usually toothless 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Tan or gray, young twigs four-sided 
Growth Rate: Fast, pioneer species in abandoned farm fields 

Requirements
Sun: Full sun to partial shade 
Soil: Various, poor, sandy, caliche, gravelly 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: Pruning back results in more flowers and more compact growth 
Propagation: Seed, cuttings 

Native Habitat: Gravelly hills, chaparrals, thickets, woodlands 

Wildlife Use
Nectar - bees, butterflies 
Leaves - Cattle, Sheep, Goats Cover 

Comments: An attractive ornamental profusely flowering in landscapings

 

Tamaulipan Fiddlewood, Negrito 
Citherexylum berlandieri, Verbenaceae, Verbena Family 

Description: Crooked shrub or small, gnarled tree with numerous white tubular flowers followed by long persistent fleshy fruit 
Height: To 27 ft, usually 6 to 10 ft. 
Flowers: White, small, tubular, densely clustered (racemes) near tips, February through Summer 
Fruit: Persistent, 2-seeded, shiny, fleshy, yellow to red to ripe black 
Foliage: Deciduous, simple, opposite or crowded, lance-head shaped, yellow-green, darker above, toothless or few-toothed near tip 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Mottled-gray, smooth and tight 
Growth Rate: Fast 

Requirements
Sun: Full Soil: Clay, others 
Drainage: Medium 
Water: Medium 
Maintenance: Little 
Propagation: Ripe seed 

Native Habitat: Clay lomas, thickets, palm groves 

Wildlife Use: Fruit - birds Nest sites and cover 

Comments: Attractive leaves, flowers, fruit on specimen shrub

 

Texas Lantana, Hierba de Cristo 
Lantana horrida, Verbenaceae, Verbena Family 

Description: Low, much-branched, wide-spreading, aromatic, with showy heads at branch tips 
Height: To 6 ft, usually half that 
Flowers: Many-flowered, rounded heads of short, tubular, red, orange, and yellow flowers; March to December 
Fruit: Fleshy, edible, black or dark-blue, containing 2 nutlets 
Foliage: Simple, opposite, toothed, oval leaves, dark-green above, paler beneath 
Spines: Occasionally prickly 
Bark: Gray or brown 
Growth Rate: Fast 

Requirements
Sun: Full sun to partial shade 
Soil: Best in sandy, loamy 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: Little 
Propagation: Seed, root partitions, or cuttings 

Native Habitat: Clay lomas, resaca banks, scrub, old fields, thickets, swamps, rich sandy woods, gravelly hills, chaparrals, roadsides 

Wildlife Use
Nectar - hummingbirds, butterflies 
Fruit - Northern Bobwhite, Greater Kiskadee, Northern Mockingbird,other birds 
Leaves - Painted Lady caterpillars use some Lantanas 

Comments: Poisonous to livestock 

 

Desert Lantana, Hierba Negra or Negrita 
Lantana macropoda, Verbenaceae, Verbena Family 

Description: Short, slender, densely pubescent, erect shrub with attractive white flowers 
Height: To 3 ft Flowers: In rounded, dense heads, short tubular, white or pink with yellow centers; after rainfall throughout year 
Fruit: Thin-fleshed, fruit splits into two 1-seeded nutlets 
Foliage: Simple, opposite, deciduous, long-oval, aromatic blades to 1.75 inches long 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Gray or brown 
Growth Rate: Medium 

Requirements
Sun: Full sun 
Soil: Gravelly, caliche 
Drainage: Well Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed, root partitions, or cuttings 

Native Habitat: Chaparrals, grasslands, fencerows, gravelly hillsides, deserts 

Wildlife Use
Leaves and fruits browsed by White-tailed deer 
Leaves - caterpillars of Gray Hairstreak, Painted Lady caterpillars use some Lantanas 
Nectar - butterflies 

Comments: Short, often-flowering, and attractive to butterflies

 

 

Oregano, Redbud Lippia 
Lippia graveolens, Verbenaceae, Verbena Family

Description: Short, slender, erect, aromatic shrub with small heads of creamy-white flowers 
Height: To 3 ft rarely (30 ft) 
Flowers: Fragrant, short tubular in short cluster (spikes), creamy-white to yellowish with yellow centers; throughout year after rainfall 
Fruit: Dry fruit, splits into 2 nutlets 
Foliage: Simple, opposite, deciduous; blades oblong, green, to 2.5 inches long 
Spines: Unarmed 
Bark: Light brown 
Growth Rate: Medium 

Requirements
Sun: Full sun 
Soil: Caliche, gravelly, loamy, rocky 
Drainage: Well 
Water: Low, drought tolerant 
Maintenance: None 
Propagation: Seed, root partitions, or cuttings 

Native Habitat: Chaparrals, open desert scrub, roadsides 

Wildlife Use: Leaves - White-tailed Deer, caterpillars of Bazochi Hairstreak Nectar - butterflies 

Comments: Short, often-flowering, and attractive to butterflies

 

 

 

FURTHER READING

 Everitt, James H., and D. Lynn Drawe. 1993. Trees, Shrubs & Cacti of South Texas. Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock. 213 pp. 

Ideker, Joe (ed.). 1984-on. The Sabal, vol. 1- on. [a publication the NPP dedicated to the native plants of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas]. 

Ideker, Joe. 1994. Checklist of Woody Plants Native to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, 1989 revision. The Sabal 11 (1): 2-6. 

Lonard, Robert I., James H. Everitt, Frank W. Judd, with Norman A. Browne. 1991. Woody Plants of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Texas Memorial Museum, University of Texas at Austin., Misc. Publ. No.7. 179 pp. 

Miller, George O. 1991. Landscaping with Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest. Voyager Press, Stillwater, MN. 128 pp. 

Native Plant Project. 1994. Native Trees of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Landscape Uses and Identification. Native Plant Project, Edinburg. 37pp. 

Nokes, Jill. 1986. How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest. Gulf Publishing, Houston. 404 pp. 

Vines, Robert A. 1960. Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of the Southwest. University of Texas Press, Austin. 1104 pp. 

Wasowski, Sally 1995. Native Gardens for Dry Climates. Crown Pub. Group. 210 E. 50th, New York, NY 10022. 

Wasowski, Sally, and Andy Wasowski. 1994. Gardening with Native Plants of the South. Taylor, Pub. Co. Dallas, TX. 208pp. 

Wasowski, Sally, and Julie Ryan. 1985. Landscaping with Native Plants: Landscaping Region by Region. Texas Monthly Press, Austin. 

Wasowski, Sally with Andy Wasowski. 1988, 1991. Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region. Texas Monthly Press, Austin. 406 pp. 

Produced by The Native Plant Project 

Printed by Gateway Printing, Edinburg, TX 

Printed on recycled paper using environmentally friendly ink 

THE NATIVE PLANT PROJECT
 of the Lower Rio Grande Valley

 The Native Plant Project currently holds general meeting eight times per year. Members are advised of meetings, field trips, and other activities through The Sabal, which conveys information on the native plants, habitats, and the environment of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas. The Native Plant Project periodically updates and issues lists of endangered species of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and checklists of its woody plants. 

Native Plant Project
P. O. Box 2742 
San Juan, TX 78589 

Acknowledgment
The Native Plant Project wishes to thank it's Board members for producing this handbook. 

This site no longer updated go to  www.nativeplantproject.org
Content by the Native Plant Project - P.O. Box 2742 - San Juan, TX  78589
All Rights Reserved

 This site designed and maintained by Bert Wessling. Comments Welcomed.