Regional Picks: Focal-Point Plants – Southern Plains

Fine Gardening - Issue 134

1. Yellow Butterfly Vine

Name: Mascagnia macroptera

USDA hardiness zones: 8 to 11

Size: Climbing to 12 to 20 feet

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; drought tolerant

A vine needs color or interest to be a focal point: Yellow butterfly vine has both. The flowers, which look like bunches of small yellow orchids, start to bloom when the weather warms in April. Lime green seedpods, resembling large butterflies, turn burnt orange as they age. If you remove these older pods, the plant will continue to bloom until frost. This vine is mostly evergreen in Zone 8 and needs only a trim to keep it inbounds. The shiny foliage appears to be resistant to drought, disease, and deer.


2. Giant Timber Bamboo

Name: Bambusa oldhamii

Zones: 8 to 11

Size: Up to 40 feet tall, clumping to 4 to 6 feet wide

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

The clumps of this bamboo are well behaved, not invasive. I have them planted in my own yard, where there is little growth from the plant until late summer, when the new canes emerge. After eight years, the height seems fixed at 20 feet. Maintenance is limited to breaking off any new unwanted canes and culling out older ones before the new ones emerge. I keep my bamboo trimmed back to a few canes deep because I use this bamboo to hide an ugly utility pole.


3. Variegated Century Plant

Name: Agave americana ‘Marginata’

Zones: 9 to 11

Size: 6 to 8 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil; drought tolerant

Variegated century plant is sure to grab attention, but plant it at least 4 feet from any path because the spines are razor sharp. I love the way the strappy leaves, broadly striped with yellow on the margins, twist and curl back, suggesting movement. The look is big and bold, although the plentiful pups that form at the base of this plant are tiny and cute. Watering is optional, but this plant needs excellent drainage. It survived the winter here in Austin with temperatures in the teens, so perhaps it is hardier than commonly thought.


4. ‘Charles Grimaldi’ Angels’ Trumpets

Name: Brugmansia × cubensis ‘Charles Grimaldi’

Zones: 10 to 11

Size: 10 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade, preferring afternoon shade; prefers moist, well-drained soil

The foot-long flowers of ‘Charles Grimaldi’, which appear sporadically in spring and summer and nonstop from autumn until frost, have an intoxicating nighttime perfume. The plant’s foliage is large, coarse, and plentiful. It wilts badly if exposed to afternoon sun, although it will perk up again when the sun moves on. Remove the lower leaves to lessen wilting.


Gail Sapp honed her gardening skills renovating ugly properties. Her own garden was a stop on 2009’s Inside Austin Gardens Tour in Austin, Texas.

Photos: #1, #2 and #3, Jerry Pavia; #4, Saxon Holt

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