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Regional Picks: Best Natives – Southern Plains

Fine Gardening – Issue 173

1. Rock Rose

Name: Pavonia lasiopetala

Usda Hardiness Zones: 8 to 9

Size: 2 to 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

Rich, clear, showy, and pink, the 1½-inch-wide hibiscus-shaped flowers of rock rose bloom from spring to frost, unfurling with sunrise and curling back before the waning of the day. A short-lived woody perennial, rock rose reseeds readily and thrives equally in heat or along a woodland edge in semishade, where it beckons skippers and other butterflies to drop by for a nip of nectar. This garden workhorse perfectly unites with neighbors such as mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea, Zones 8–10) and gaura (Gaura lindheimeri, Zones 6–9) to flesh out the interior or front edge of a bed. Periodic trimming encourages compact growth and abundant budding.

 

2. Bushy Bluestem

Name: Andropogon glomeratus

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall

Conditions: Full sun; moist to wet soil

The southern half of the United States is gifted with this underappreciated upright clumping grass. Bright green foliage in spring warms to copper in fall, and silvery cotton-candy-like plumes billow forth for a luxurious autumn display. Seed-eating birds and mammals appreciate the winter food source; skippers and satyr caterpillars nourish themselves on the greenery before pupating; and many other animals scavenge leaves for lining nests, so delay grooming until late winter. Bushy bluestem loves heat, tolerates salt, and combines well with swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata, Zones 3–9) or giant coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima, Zones 4–8) in a rain garden or any bed that stays moist.

 

3. Orange Zexmenia

Name: Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida (syn. Wedelia texana, Zexmenia hispida)

Zones: 8 to 11

Size: 1 to 3 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; dry to medium well-drained soil

Forming low floral hummocks, orange zexmenia is best suited in the foreground of a border. Throughout the warm season, golden daisylike flowers are succeeded by goldfinches that feed on the nutrient-rich seeds ripened in the old flower heads. Post-pilfering, shear plants lightly to keep them bushy and blooming. Nectar draws in pollinators, and bordered patch, sierra metalmark, and lacinia patch butterfly larvae host on its leaves. Orange zexmenia loves heat, lives long, and grows easily. It is robust enough to squeeze out most weeds, but excess water or shade produces legginess. Following a hard frost, clip stems to the base.

 

4. Woolly Stemodia

Name: Stemodia lanata

Zone: 8

Size: 4 to 6 inches tall

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

Woolly stemodia forms tiny pale blue flowers from spring to fall, but the foliage has the most appeal. Creeping tightly to the ground, its soft silvery fingers drop roots at each node, spreading indefinitely. It calls for a double take, rambling across gravel mulch or dribbling over the lip of a pot or a wall. Gardeners frustrated by heavy deer browsing may find hope with this heat- and drought-resistant perennial. It dies back in cold winters, but may remain evergreen—or “evergray”—in protected areas.

Andrea DeLong-Amaya is the director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

Photos: millettephotomedia.com

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