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Going Native: Our Top 10 Native Plants for Houston

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Native plants. The term has different meanings for different gardeners. There are Texas natives, US natives and those plants that act like natives. All in all, what most of us want in our garden are low maintenance plants that are attractive and functional. Plants that are not invasive and are a benefit to wildlife. When you plant a garden, it is not just for you – it is a habitat for all living things around you. So with that in mind, here is our list of 10 native plants for Houston that do just that. Many are heat and drought tolerant – cheerfully returning year after year in your garden.

 

1Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – Drought tolerant native that is a butterfly magnet. Profuse blooms spring through summer. Elongated stems with soft lavender petals attached to an iridescent cone. It prefers full sun to partial shade in well draining fertile soils. 2-5 feet tall. Perfect for cut flowers, lasting about a week. NATIVE. Outstanding performer in the garden.

Purple Coneflower

Purple Coneflower

2Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’) This perennial coneflower has cheerful golden yellow flowers with black centers that offer long-lasting continual blooms. A drought tolerant perennial with large blooms up to 5 inches across that make great cut flowers. A sure winner for a Houston garden. NATIVE.

Black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia Goldstrum

3Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) – Native to the US. This is a shade loving perennial grass with oak-like flower spikelets and a clumping habit. Low maintenance and known for it’s large graceful seed heads and blue-green bamboo-like leaves. Soft brown color during most of winter, by February you can cut it down at the base and it will grow again in spring. Good for controlling soil erosion. NATIVE. 2-4 ft tall.

Inland Sea Oats

Inland Sea Oats Spikelets

4Southern Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera can also be referred to as Morella cerifera) This multi-trunked, evergreen shrub can reach 20 ft. in height. Light olive green foliage with a spicy fragrance. Female plants produce pale blue berries in the winter. There are separate male and female plants so if you want berries, you’ll need to have a male plant nearby. In colonial times, the fruit’s waxy covering was used to make fragrant candles. Makes an excellent screen plant for shielding areas from view. Prefers moist soil and full sun to part shade. Attractive gray bark. NATIVE.

Southern Wax Myrtle

5Pride of Houston Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) Nice upright single or multi-trunk small tree. Small dark green leaves with a pale gray bark with white blotches. Female plants have attractive red berries in winter that are good for wildlife. They also make lovely holiday displays. You’ll need to have a male plant nearby for the female to produce berries. Drought tolerant. Takes full sun to shade, but produces fruit best in sun. Pride of Houston is an improved variety of the NATIVE YAUPON. 12-25 ft tall.

Yaupon Holly Pride of Houston

Yaupon Holly with immature berries

Yaupon Holly Pride of Houston - Female plant (Courtesy of Elizabeth Barrow)

6 Texas Lantana (Lantana horrida also referred to as Lantana urticoides) – A native to Texas, this variety of Lantana has yellow to orange flowers that is attractive to butterflies. Very drought tolerant as well as salt tolerant. Deer resistant. Hardy in our zone 9 (may need some protection in severe winters) Prefers well draining soil. Full to part sun. Spreading shrub 3-6 ft. Blooms all summer long. NATIVE.

Texas Lantana

7 Red Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. Drummondii) – A native shrub of Texas and Mexico, it is also known as Drummond wax-mallow. This spreading 2-3 ft tall shrub prefers shade to part shade. Bright red hibiscus like flowers with overlapping petals that never fully opens to form a column for the stamen to protrude. Flower resembles a Turkish turban hence the name Turk’s cap. Very useful for shady spots.

Red Turk's Cap

8Texas Olive (Cordia boissieri) Wonderful fast growing native tree with ever-blooming large white flowers. You can see these in person at Buchanan’s. There are two large ones planted on the west side of the parking lot. They are blooming now. Drought tolerant once established. Produces purple fruit edible for wildlife. Grows about 15 ft tall and has about the same size spread. NATIVE.

Mature Texas Olive

Texas Olive

9Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) This traditional cottage garden plant flowers constantly from late spring until hard frost. Drought tolerant tough perennial that prefers full to part sun. Grows about 3 ft tall and as wide. Red flowers with a pale green small leaves. A good food source for hummingbirds!

Autumn Sage

10Gulf Coast Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) Tough native perennial grass with a large, airy seed head that grows about half as tall as the entire plant. The spikelets are purple and in fall the plant takes on a feathery, deep pink hue. Perfect for mixed perennial beds, specimen plant or in a meadow. When planted en masse – it adds graceful soft movement in the garden. NATIVE. Full to part sun. Clumping habit 2-3 ft. tall.

Many gardeners neglect planting grasses in their beds in an effort to focus only on flowering plants. Most of the gardens I’ve seen that are truly breath-taking incorporate grasses into the design. They’re a place for your eye to rest in the landscape and help your flowering perennials stand out.

Gulf Coast Mulhy Grass

This list is some of our favorite native plants, and there’s lots more that are suitable for Houston area gardens. Want to learn more about native plants? Come to Buchanan’s.

If you want a low maintenance, beautiful garden – start with natives. It’s not too late to plant. Visit Buchanan’s Native Plants today and our native plant experts will help you pick out the right plants for your garden.

Here are a few helpful links about native plants for Texas:

Native Plant Society of Texas
Explore plants at the Wildflower Center

Jacqueline D'Elia is a freelance garden writer, photographer and organic gardener living in Houston. She earned a BS in Horticulture from Texas A&M. She blogs about her garden antics at Southern Post Journal. Follow her on Twitter @JDElia.

21 Responses to “Going Native: Our Top 10 Native Plants for Houston”

  • Michelle:

    In the second purple coneflower picture above, there is a tree with vivid purple blooms in the background. What kind of tree is it?
    Thanks.

  • It is a Vitex agnus-castus ‘Montrose Purple’ and Buchanan’s does carry it. Call us to check on availability. It is a very pretty small or multi-trunked tree similar to Crape Myrtles but performs better.

    From Heidi Sheesley of TreeSearch Farms:

    Vitex is a fast growing, colorful, tough little tree that produces 4”-6” panicles of blue flowers at least three times from mid spring through summer. ‘Montrose Purple’ is a new selection with slightly larger foliage & magnificent blooms that are 3 times larger & have a richer, dark blue color than the standard Vitex. A drought tolerant, sun loving small, single or multi-trunked tree averaging 18’ x 18’. Another outstanding ornamental tree that requires no irrigation once established. Butterflies!

  • Jason:

    Dear Jacqueline,

    Can you give me some advice on purchasing and transplanting into my garden at home?

    Is it ok if I were to purchase some of these plants now and transplant them in immediately?

    Should I wait until fall or spring? Does this all differ with each plant?

    Thank you for the help!

  • Jason, generally you can. I would recommend you come in and visit with one of our plant specialists. They’ll be able to help you make the right selections for your garden. This weekend is the perfect time. We are open on Monday too! Happy Gardening!

  • I recognize those coneflowers! They are still going strong out here on my corner of Katy. As I commented on Buchanan’s Facebook page, the Vitex in bloom is the #1 subject of questions from my neighbors and passersby.

    For Jason, I want to say that it does all differ with each plant. Heat loving plants are more agreeable to being planted at this time of year than those that need cooler weather to look their best. My experience has been that plants grown in peat-based potting mixes, which is what many growers use for 4 inch pots, will need to be watered up to 3 times a day to prevent the peat from drying out and hardening.

  • I do not have any place to plant things, as I’m in an apartment. I think that if I did have my own yard, I’d enjoy having a lot of native plants, especially wildflowers. They’re so important for the animals in particular, as we take over more and more of their former habitat.

  • Barbara Lyles:

    THE VITEK LOOKS SO VERY INTERESTING. BUT RIGHT NOW, I AM HARD PUT TO KEEP MY PLANTS ALIVE WITH THE HEAT AND NO RAIN. ALSO, HAVING TO WORK TO KEEP MY LARGE MAGNOLIA TREE ALIVE. I DRIP WATER IT SEVERAL HOURS EACH WEEK. LOVE GETTING YOUR NATIVE PLANT PICTURES. MANY THANKS!

  • Jennifer Bayles:

    I bought a dormant vitex four years ago. It grows wonderfully well but the blooms are sparse and pink. It gets a good 9 hours of full sun daily. I had no idea vitex even had a pink variation, or is it an acid/PH issue similar to hydrangea?

  • Don’t think so. There are varieties in pink and white as well as purple and blue. Kathy Huber mentions it here:
    You can also read about them here:

  • JW:

    My turk’s caps have thrived in my backyard despite approximately 3 years of near-total neglect. They are in full sun and have barely been watered during the last several summers, even this year with the drought. They have even outlasted my salvia, which I really thought was impossible to kill! They have expanded as they matured, but are not invasive which I love! I also love that they have plenty of branches along the ground as well so I don’t have to edge/mulch/prune, and can just let the grass grow around them. They also make it through the winter pretty well; mine were still green even after our unusually cold winter. I did cut them back to about a foot tall once the cold let off, though, and they’ve regrown beautifully – nice and full. I really recommend them as well-mannered, non-invasive, easy-care (really practically NO-care) plants.

    The feature here lists them as 2-3 ft tall and about the same width, but mine are a good bit larger than that. They are about as tall as I am (5 ft), and possibly wider as well. It’s hard to tell, as the branches of individual plants tend to interweave as they expand.

  • There is considerable droppage (is that a word) from the Vitex. Just like mimosa’s you will get the circle of blue/purple. Therefore, be careful where you plant it. You wouldn’t want to put other flowers under it in the bed that could receive the “purple rain”.

  • Barbara Duvall:

    Thanks for the helpful native plants list. That is all I am ever going to plant, natives that don’t require much water at all.

  • Giovanna:

    Thank you for the list! Turk’s cap looks promising!
    I am looking for easy care plants for my backyard; I don’t want to create raised beds and just want to plant something that may thrive on the existing soil. I need some advice from anyone: I have an 8′ tall wooden fence as a backdrop – and I would like to plant something at least 5 or 6′ tall to ‘soften’ it. The spot receives some sun in the morning and then lots of shade in the afternoon. Someone suggested pride of Houston yaupon; but I am concerned it would get too large (mainly too wide) and I’ve also heard that it suckers – how bad is the suckering? I was thinking about planting turk’s cap and some other herbaceous plants below and in front of the yaupons. I would appreciate any suggestions of other plants that might work! Thanks!

  • Kate S.:

    I planted a Chitalpa tree last year, and it has grown well, but developed fungus. I have been waiting to apply dormant spray, but it still has not dropped its leaves and it is now the first of February. Also, I would like to know if I should prune it. Any advice?

  • Brian:

    I have planted many lantana over the years, each one a triumph of hope over experience. They ALWAYS get infested with lace bugs, stop blooming and look terrible. One year I treated them with a systemic insecticide, and they bloomed great, but I never want to do that again, for the sake of the butterflies (and other things). This year, I’ll pass.

  • I have noticed similar issues with some varieties of Lantana. Check with one of our staff at the nursery to find out more.

  • Check with Natasha at the nursery.

  • Please check with Natasha at the nursery.

  • Cathy C.:

    I have room for one more tree in my yard, and really want a Japanese purple magnolia (not sure if that is the name), but is that a ‘native’ tree, and will it do well, help the birds, butterflies, bees, etc.?

  • Stephanie Howser:

    What kind of succulents do you have that are hardy in our weather?

  • Call or visit the nursery and speak to some on our staff.