Southwest Regional Reports

Underused Perennials for the Southern Plains

Fine Gardening - Issue 187
Wooly Ironweed



1. Spring Obedient Plant

Spring Obedient Plant
Photo: Ray Matthews, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Name: Physostegia intermedia

Zones: 6–9

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist soil

Native Range: Southern United States

Spring obedient plant makes a lovely addition to wetland gardens with its long terminal spikes of pink or purple flowers. It is easy to grow and can tolerate light shade and moist, heavy soils. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are attracted to its tubular blooms. Spring obedient plant blooms from early spring through midsummer, while its cousin, fall obedient plant (P. virginiana), blooms from late summer into fall.


2. Wooly Ironweed

Wooly Ironweed
Photo: Norman G. Flaigg, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Name: Vernonia lindheimeri

Zones: 7–9

Size: 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Native Range: Mexico and southern Texas

Woolly ironweed is a flamboyant wolf in sheep’s (wooly) clothing. Early in the season it sends up inconspicuous stems that radiate narrow, gray-green leaves. Terminal clusters of whitish flower buds appear at the tops and then burst open into vibrant, fuchsia flowers that contrast beautifully with the muted leaf color. Wooly ironweed tolerates heat and cold, caliche and clay, and it does not spread aggressively like many other species in the Aster family.


3. Pigeonberry


Name: Rivina humilis

Zones: 7–10

Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native Range: Southern United States, the Caribbean, Central America, and tropical South America

Pigeonberry is a sprawling, perennial herb that likes to grow in the shade of trees or shrubs. Its whitish pink flowers, while very small, are clustered into attractive bottlebrush spires. Abundant red fruits, which are reminiscent of chile pequin, often appear while the flowers on other stems are still blooming, creating an attractive counterpoint.


4. Velvet-Leaf Mallow

Velvet-Leaf Mallow
Photo: Melody Lytle, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Name: Allowissadula holosericea

Zones: 7–9

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial shade; well-drained, rocky soil

Native Range: Southern United States

This drought-tolerant mallow with fuzzy, heart-shape leaves is so distinctive that I know a horticulturist who named his daughter after it. Velvet-leaf mallow has delicate, yellow-orange, five-petal flowers that bloom as long as the weather is warm. The fuzzy leaves are an open invitation to passing humans; hardly anyone can resist reaching out to touch them. Plant it in a dry garden spot that gets too much dappled shade for the more typical xeric plants.

Karen Beaty is a horticulturist for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

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